Science in Christian Perspective



The Scriptures and the Scintific Method*
Professor of Zoology, 
Wheaton College

From: JASA 4 (March 1952):  6-8

A baccalaureate speaker told this story to impress his audience with an example of heroic self-sacrifice. A blacksmith was resting in his doorway, looking at the street. He saw a mad dog running after a small boy. The smithy rushed to grapple with the dog but was badly bitten while the child was escaping. He knew that in the death throes of hydrophobia, he would likely injure people near him so he forged, handcuffs to fasten to himself that his death agonies might hurt no one.

As I heard this story, I thought, "How noble-but how incomplete." There is another chapter to be added by the research endeavors of a leading French scientist. Pasteur believed that hydrophobia affected the nervous system because it developed so slowly after one had been bitten. He reasoned that the causative agent could be weakened and injected into animals to make them immune to the disease. He removed a spinal cord from a rabbit which had died of hydrophobia, dried the cord fourteen days and injected a solution of it into a dog. The dog was unaffected by the injection. Successive injections were given of cords dried thirteen days, twelve days, down to that of a rabbit dying the same day. These injections protected animals who were bitten later from developing rabies.

Pasteur had conquered rabies in dogs-but would his method protect human beings? He was soon given the answer. An Alsatian boy, Joseph Meister, was on his way to school when a mad dog knocked him down and bit him fourteen times. The local doctor could bind the wounds but urged the mother to take the boy to Pasteur for a cure. Pasteur hesitated to try his treatment but two doctors told him it was not only an opportunity but his duty. Hence the injections were given and met with complete success. Not long afterwards, a shepherd lad, Jupille, was bitten while protecting his companions. Treatment begun six days after the boy was injured prevented all symptoms of hydrophobia. (These accounts, and other successes of Pasteur are told in "Health Heros, Louis Pasteur," by G. T. Hallock and C. E. Turner for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.)

Observe that diseases are conquered not by self sacrifice in moments of dramatic heroism but by the painstaking toil of scientists in the laboratory. They make guesses, try out their guesses, and make others if the first ones fail. They keep on until some one is successful. Witness Ehrlich's 605 failures but the next attempt a success so that he named his drug 606. This scientific method is characterized by careful observation, planned experimentation and the deriving of conclusions.

The Scriptures have encouraged this procedure in gaining valuable truth and explanations of experience. This is obvious in what is probably the oldest book of the Bible, the history of Job. He may have been a contemporary of Abraham. Job was in difficulty and distress, he was "down in the dumps" and on the dump heap. In his misery he said, "I desire to reason with God," (13:3). He felt that a direct contact with the Almighty would solve the mystery of his suffering. A modem poet has phrased the idea in this fashion, "What is all science then but pure religion, seeking everywhere the true Commandments?" Job sought the truth and God showed it to him by the scientific method in asking Job to observe natural phenomena and draw conclusions from them. God gave Job one of the earliest examinations in science on record: "I will demand of thee, and answer thou me."

What holds the earth in place? What determines the size of the sea? How are day and night regulated? Why is there cold with its snow and hail and ice? Why are the constellations kept in their constant configurations and rapidly moving stars controlled without collision? "Knowest thou the ordinances of the heaven, canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?" These questions were phrased in majestic poetry which digs into the depths of geology, drives into the distances of astronomy, forces answers from physics and calls upon the combinations of chemistry for solution.

Job did not know the answers. His lack of understanding led him to humility and silence. "I will lay mine hand upon my mouth." (40:4). A similar attitude is held by competent scientists. Hear Huxley's words, "Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before facts as a little child, follow humbly where nature leads, or you shall learn nothing."

But God had not finished. He said to Job, "Behold now . . . " (40:15): Where is food for the wild creatures? Can you hunt prey for them? Who provides for the raven his food? What is the time when the wild goats of the rock bring forth? Can wild creatures be tamed to do man's will or the wild ox be bound to the furrow? Whose ability made an ostrich swifter than the horse? "What time she lifteth herself up on high, she scorneth the horse and his rider." Did Job adapt the horse to be a companion of Cossacks and cavalrymen? "He goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword."

Many more questions-but when Job had observed these animals and realized how they lived apart from his care or capacities, he knew there was a Power in control of the multitudes whether they were stars or living organisms. "Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do everything, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee." God had used science to bring Job to a better knowledge of Himself, of His wisdom and His power.

The problems presented to Job have been solved in part. The ancient question was, "Whereupon are the foundations of the earth fastened?" And the modern reply is, "Upon gravity." It has taken the reasoning and observing and experimenting of men as numerous as visible stars to come to the answers. The final conclusions of Newtons and Einsteins have opened even more laws to be pondered. The Scriptures called to Job's attention much that he had not recognized and called upon all scientists to be diligent in solving the riddles of the universe. Daniel was commended because he was "skillful in wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science." Our Lord said "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you' free." The inspired apostle urged, "Prove all things, cleave to that which is good."

The scientific method is needed today. Those who have read "On Understanding Science" by James Conant, President of Harvard University, will recall the illustrations of how knowledge increases as new machines are developed to search further into the mysteries of nature. In recent times the electron microscope is revealing a realm unseen by our formerly superb microscopes. Remember how the discovery of X-rays opened the world of atomic power.

The apostle wrote in I Tim. 5:10 that one of the good works is to "relieve the afflicted." Because of our awareness of viruses, we may be able to recognize and conquer and the causes of such ravaging diseases as infantile paralysis and encephalitis. Look at the succession of drugs which are wrestling with some of our diseases. First came sulfanilimide, then sulfathiazole, followed by sulfadiazine penicillin, streptomycin, aureomycin, terramycin and'neomycin. Often a new discovery opens new fields for research; in answering one question, we may raise a dozen others.

A knowledge of modern medical science and its methods will protect us from quacks. Dr. A. J. Carlson, physiologist for many years at University of Chicago, told a group of teachers meeting in St. Louis that one Who is untrained in science is a sitting duck for a modern quack. He quoted an advertising slogan

"Goodby scarf and gloves, 
She'll be wet to her skin 
But the wheat germ in-
Protects from within."

"It's a lie," he concluded. If we know enough of sound hygiene, we can avoid putting faith in preventives that do not prevent and remedies which do not heal.

Superstition is the opposite of knowledge. Charles Molik, minister from Lebanon, says that in large part Asia's troubles result from the lack of dissemination of the wisdom that rises from the use of the scientific method. Knowledge of the truth frees from the bondage of superstition.

All have enjoyed the comforts produced by engineers and inventors. We use the conveniences with little thought of the research and labor that have produced them. Compare the heavy tents made by St. Paul with the light-weight plastics now carried by the armed forces. Peter warmed himself by a fire of coals; now we have central and radiant heating. Paul capsized in a boat on the Mediterranean, but today he would have traveled in comparative safety. Saint and sinner alike are blessed by the technical advances from modern shops and laboratories. Need it be said that Christians who earn their living in scientific pursuits are helping their fellow men directly and also contribute their share to the support of Christian institutions. If any one may be a layman at all, surely the scientific world is as honorable a place as any other for one to work.

In our moments of relaxation we delight in the progress of recording the great music and art of the past. We may hear great opera on a very cheap radio and listen to a Churchill or a MacArthur in our own living rooms. Twenty pages of Tintoretto9s "Life of Chr!sV' photographed by polarized light to avoid glare and the dirt and varnish of four centuries could be bought for twenty cents with a late edition of "Life" magazine.

Science has answered our curiosity. Some of the students majoring in such subjects as literature were asked questions on the Graduate Record examination which they thought quite unnecessary. Why should they know anything about inheritance in the fruit fly? The answer is obvious; by knowing how heredity works in the fly we find how it may work in ourselves. So sometimes the proper study of man is not man but a fly.

A proper interpretation of nature is in harmony with sensible interpretations of Scripture. The symposium of the American Scientific Affiliation, MODERN SCIENCE AND CHRISTIAN FAITH, is an aid to students of both the Bible and Science. It has the advantage over other books similar to it in that its authors have labored in the fields from which they harvested their chapters and others in the same fields gave their criticisms freely so that the possible prejudices of individuals have been dulled by opinions of others.

Any preacher who bases his illustrations on natural laws should take care to see that they are correct. My students often ask me if a certain theory about the blood of Christ is correct. It states that Christ was sinless because he did not inherit his blood from a male parent, who is the only one from whom an ordinary man gets his blood determiners. If I under stand genetics correctly and have accurately stated the theological hypothesis, it is biological nonsense. The men of our Affiliation are glad for each opportunity to evaluate the analogies the ministry makes with natural phenomena.

The erroneous conclusions of naturalistic philosophers are evident when they are combatted by that phase of the scientific method which demands that all possible explanations be considered before settling on any one. In the biological sciences evolution is still the most widely accepted explanation for the origin of all living things from a few simple beginnings. It is my conviction that a proper scheme of Creation will explain the facts that materialists have used to try to eliminate the idea of a Creator. I am confident that Christians do not need less science to keep them faithful but will increase in faith as they see more and more of science and how it is consistent with a Purposer and Sustainer in the universe.

Science not only has its advantages but also its limitations. This was revealed forcefully in a report in the Chicago Herald-American in the fall of 1948 as follows: "People of all nations must learn to live together peacefully in a world that science, if not properly used, could destroy."

"This is the challenge issued by Dr. E. R. Weidlein, director of the Mellon Institute, Pittsburgh, Pa.

"The dedication of science to high moral purpose must be preserved. It cannot too often be repeated that well-piloted science can no doubt bring us steadily toward a terrestial paradise in which want and disease can be banished.

"On the other hand, if directed toward ruinous ends, science can destroy mankind and possibly the very earth upon which we live.

" . . . Dr. Weidlein . . . spoke as a prelude to the opening of the National Chemical Exposition and National Industrial Chemical Conference, held at the Chicago Coliseum.

"Some 200 exhibitors at the Coliseum are demonstrating the 'ultra-ultra' in scientific advancements, which, one is led to believe, can virtually put the housewife and the workman into the 'push-button' bracket of handling their jobs.

"But, behind it all lurked the warning that Dr. Weidlein had given as to whether science will work for good or for evil."

Not all wisdom comes from wise men's heads. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, 'that we may do all the words of this law." By faith in revelation we understand much that we might never learn by observation and experiment. If all the users of the products of science had faith in God and did the words of His law, the fears of atomic weapons would be needless.

The types of scientists needed today were suggested long ago by Leander Keyser of Hamma Divinity School. These are his central thoughts with certain embellishments:

"One should be such a good astronomer that he knows all of the stars from Aldebaran to Vega and also has followed the Star of Bethlehem which leads men to Christ. One should be such a good botanist that he would know all of the flowers from Agaratum to Zinnia but should also possess the fragrance of the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valleys. A chemist that knows all the combinations of the elements from aluminum to zinc needs also to be preserved by the Man of Galilee who is the Salt of the Earth.

"It would be sad if one were a zoologist who knew all the animals from Aard Varks to Zebus but did not know the salvation of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world and did not possess the strength obtained from the Lion of the tribe of Judah. If one were a geologist who knew all the rocks from the ancient to the most recent but did not have his confidence resting on the Rock of Ages he would be lost. The physicist should know all of the forces and light and sound and heat, but he also needs to be illuminated by the Light of the World and have the power that works in the inner man.

"How tragic to be such a good mathematician that one could manipulate all the numbers and yet not be numbered with the great multitude which no man can number that will be singing the praises of our God throughout Eternity."

To be really wise is to recognize that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" and that growth should be in "grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ." "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever."