Science in Christian Perspective



Bases of Scrp tural and Scientific Investigation
Chairman, Department of Philosophy
Shelton College, Ringwood, N. J.

From: JASA 7 (September 1955): 15-20.

It is significant for the history of evangelical Christianity that two groups of scholars whose interests are generally thought to be quite distinct should be convened to discuss interrelationships between Biblical theology and the sciences. The popular trend is to view them as basically unrelated as I shall have occasion to indicate in this study. But it is my own hope that whatever the results of this particular conference, some of the groundwork will be laid for an increasingly cooperative investigation of apparent problem areas and hence for the promotion of true Christian scholarship for the glory of God both in the sciences and in Biblical studies.

As members of these organizations we find ourselves in agreement in at least three fundamental areas. (1) Our respective societies are composed of men and women who are Christian in more than the normal sense of that word. We are united in the profession of personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God as Savior. This is the indispensable basis for becoming a Christian. (2) Members of both societies accept the full authority of the Bible as God's Word. This is perhaps the central factor which makes this joint conference unique on today's theological horizon. The doctrinal affirmation of the Evangelical Theological Society is the brief but comprehensive statement, "The Bible alone and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and therefore inerrant in the autographs." It is difficult to see how one can really be considered a Biblical Christian-though some may be believers in Christ-if one relects this core of truth.  Certainly from the point of view of the Christian theologian one's attitude toward the Bible as the authoritative Word of God is a basic issue today. We maintain with Christ that "the Scripture cannot be broken." (John 10:35). (3) It follows that we should be agreed in our confession of the sovereignty of the God of the Bible. The American Scientific Affiliation in its doctrinal platform lays emphasis upon the fact that there is one sovereign God who is "the Author of the Book as well as the Creator and Sustainer of the physical world about us" with the added correlary that there can, therefore, "be no discrepancies between Biblical statements and scientific observations when both are properly interpreted." The A.S.A. volume, Modern Science and Christian Faith1 went a long way towards exhibiting this harmony in scholarly fashion.

For the purposes of this study I shall assume that we meet as Christians humbly grateful to Almighty God for His love and saving grace. What I shall have to say will pertain to the second and third factors: the investigation of Scripture taken as Divine authority and the investigation of the physical, biological and human-social realms taken as aspects of reality owing their origins and the continued process of their existence to the theistic, Creator-God of the Bible. The limitations of our topic do not permit a defense of these presuppositions but what we shall have to say will be pertinent to such a defense.

It is the purpose of this paper to consider the nature of an interrelation between investigative activity in the sciences and that involved in the understanding of that special body of literature known as the Holy Bible.

To this end I shall labor under the assumption, which I believe to be justified, that the intelligent investigative procedures employed with notable success in the physical sciences involve a rigorous and fundamentally healthy type of critical thinking which can and does illuminate the investigative methods to be employed in the social, historical and theological sciences. We readily admit at the start that each science, including systematic Biblical theology, has its own scope and objective, its own category and terminology, its distinctive investigative techniques which prove fruitful because they are appropriate to specific subject-matter or contexts and problems. Yet there are at least two natural factors which lead us to suppose that knowledge and reality are, or ought to be, integrated and hence, mutually illuminating. These two reasons are consistent with and a partial confirmation of presupposition three, with which we agreed to begin, namely, that there is one sovereign Creator-God behind both the universe and the Bible.

The first reason why we take the sciences to mutually illuminating is taken from scientific theory working" toward unification. Here I find myself in agreement with scientists like James Clark Maxwell, who argued for an analogical relationship between the sciences which he called "physical analogy." He said, "By physical analogy I mean that partial similarity between the laws of one science and those of another which makes each of them illustrate the other.'"2 'Maxwell's own theory of electrodynamics took into account phenomena of electromagnetism and thus prove to be more comprehensive than the Cartesian- Newtonian view of mechanical motions. And now we have the theory of quantum mechanics with its attempt to include, among other things, the foundation of the chemical elements in electrical energy.

No doubt the last word has not been said on the matter, but I do not believe the present status of physical theory justifies the feeling of some that consistency and continuity have gone by the board!

I like the humor more than the philosophy behind Sir William Bragg's statement that physics uses "the classical theory on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and the quantum theory on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays."3 When the historian of science Sir William Dampier suggests the possibility of a third set of ideas for Sunday-the religious, I just don't like it. Behind such an incoherent world view is the assumption of a Kantian dualism in which religious faith is a matter of the will or feelings, while science is said to be an outcome of reason. I have argued the dangers and non-necessity of such a view elsewhere.4 We may simply remark here in passing that Christian faith involves the conviction of the whole man with the aid of the Holy Spirit and in the light of reasonable evidences. Such a viewpoint stands in sharp contrast to neo-orthodoxy and neo-liberalism. It is a view which is, I believe, consistent with Scripture as Nvell as affording a vital point of contact between Christian evidence and the sciences.

In any case, the measure of success thus far attained in the physical sciences toward a unified field theory is indicative of their analogical character and their illustrative interrelationship. In addition, I find myself in general sympathy with the efforts of Kurt Lewin, Ernst Cassirer, and others5 to extend this analysis to the social sciences, and, I would add, the historical and theological sciences. In the total system of true knowledge each branch of study may illuminate the methods and basic questions of the others. Of course, one can push the mathematical-quantitative side of the physical sciences and the qualitative-creative side of the social studies.6 Indeed it is important for the sake of clarity and for the fruitful focus of limited human abilities that we do not lose sight of important distinctions between investigative contexts. But without any intention of "reducing" one discipline to another, it is important not to overlook unifying similarities in the midst of essential dissimilarities.   

There is a second reason why we feel justified in expecting to find illuminating points of interrelationship between different areas of knowledge, including science and theology. This reason is a methodological one and is really basic to the first and more theoretical consideration. I have in mind the scientific method which the empirical sciences have in common, and which in the generalized form of its logic of critical thinking is basic to the investigation of the Scriptures as elsewhere. This brings us to a consideration of some of the essential features of the logic of science.

Investigation is systematic inquiry or research. As a human activity investigation is stimulated by various lines of interest and by prevailing problems. Relevant to specific problems and interests it can be said to be an activity which involves appropriate procedures for the acquisition of relevant data and the interpretation of that data within a meaningful, consistent and perhaps useful system of thought.

When we become self-conscious concerning that function of man directed toward the acquisition and systematization of knowledge, we see that it involves actions and ideas not uncommon to daily life. AsVictor F. Lenzen has said in his Procedures of Empirical Science,7

Science, like philosophy, seeks to refine and augment where necessary the "common sense" of ordinary life and to be more consciously discriminating and systematic in its approach to problems-practical and theoretical-arising in daily life.

Observation, of course, is fundamental to the sciences, so much so, that it is rather fashionable to suppose that science is comprehended in the slogan, "Get the facts!" This is a useful motto if it is not conjoined with a distrust of reason's role in the acquisition of truth. To put the point briefly we may say that what is needed to solve a problem or to satisfy an intellectual interest is to get all the relevant data, facts that have something to do with the question at hand. Obviously the rational ability as well as the "know how" of the investigator is called for here, whether scientist or theologian. Ideas must be employed as guiding hypotheses in seeking out the facts and in establishing and defining their relationship to the problem at hand. Experimentation and verification, of course, involve a constant return to the facts as well as to systems of interpretation.

Morris Cohen8 gives us an interesting example of the healthy interplay between "well-reasoned ideas" and facts in the initiation of discovery.

Surely Newton was not the first to see that the moon revolves about the earth, and that apples and other objects fall to the earth. But no one before Newton saw embodied in all these phenomena the common mathematical relation which we call the law of gravitation. To look for and see the latter, one had to have the following in mind: (1) Galileo's law of falling bodies and Kepler's law of planetary motion, (2) the analysis of circular motion into centrifugal and centripetal components--according to the principle of the parallelogram, and (3) the daring and unorthodox speculative idea (which Newton derived from Boehme and Kepler) of a parallelism between the celestial and the terrestrial realm.

I suspect that point three was not so "unorthodox" as Cohen supposes for a Newton who believed in one God behind and working through the universe, but the example points up the interplay between facts and reason.

The "observations" of science employ not only the telescope and the microscope, but also the use of physical principles, i.e., explanatory hypotheses, as instruments in the interpretation of microphysical entities. This is illustrated in the scintillation of a screen by a high-speed alpha particle, in the ionization of molecules in a cloud chamber producing water vapor condensation with a resultant track of water drops, and in the detection of radio active elements through the actuation of a Geiger counter.9

I know of no Geiger counter techniques for detecting the truth of Scripture! But what makes such developments possible ? Controlled, quantitatively measurable experiments ? Yes, but also the co-operative efforts of men observing and experimenting within the framework of guiding theories of laws and principles believed to hold for the field of investigation. The scientist must stand within this framework to get his results. So, too, the Christian who stands within the presuppositions enumerated at the start of our study, and who wishes to properly understand the data of the Bible, must have a like rational and rigorous concern for the evidence together with the principles of Biblical interpretation appropriate to the understanding of literature. There is in the generalized scientific methodology, we repeat, a principle drawing scientific and Scriptural investigation together in illuminating fashion.

Certain qualifications and recommendations begin to suggest themselves after this hasty appraisal of the investigative methodology of the sciences. We shall list some of these at the conclusion of our paper. We turn now to the principles of Scriptural interpretation.

III. Investigative Activity and the Scriptures

The increasingly popular way to approach the Bible is to make a distinction between the "core of the faith" in the Bible and the verbalization of the faith. It is claimed that one cannot employ to any degree the mental rigor of the scientific method in dealing with the "core of the faith," but one can freely-indeed, almost with a simple shrug of the shoulders-say that the Bible as a verbalization of the faith is full of error and that it is clearly incompatible with science. Because of the subjective nature of such a distinction it follows that what is meant by the "core of the faith," the "Word of God" within the Bible varies with the particular neo-orthodox or neo-liberal existentalists-speculative theologian. Men as different as Edwin Lewis10 and Paul Tillich have tried to settle on some kind of objectivity in "the Word become flesh" or the Jesus which is the Christ."

There are vital issues involved here, but I shall not try your patience by discussing them in this paper. We note only that subjective standards of menhowever sincere some of them may be-have replaced the authority of "all Scripture." But if the Bible claims to be the Word of God," and if all the relevant evidence tends to confirm this claim, then evangelical Christians cannot be satisfied with this wholesale "solution" of problems involving science and the Bible.

The Christian who takes the Bible seriously cannot "adjust" by adopting a "lower" view of the Bible in spite of the popularity of this "way out." The internal and external evidence for the authority of the Book is too conclusive for the honest doubter to brush it aside. The Lord has privileged us to live in a day not only when the challenge is great but also in a day when archaeology and the study of cognate languages and the cultures contemporary to Biblical times are providing a wealth of data confirming the historic convictions of the Christian Church that the Bible is indeed inerrant.

The article on "Biblical Archaeology" in the noncvangelical Harper's Bible Dictionary12 states:

Findings have not been conducted with an a priori viewpoint of "setting out to prove that the Bible is true"; but time and again irrefutable evidence has corroborated various Biblical narratives, like the siege of Jericho, the backgrounds of the Patriarchs, and the economic background of the Hebrew monarchy under Solomon ... Nothing has been found which lessens the preeminence of the Bible as a unique religious document and masterpiece of literature. Little or nothing has been found to disturb the faith of Jew or Christian.

Whatever else It may be that keeps men from returning to a "high" view of the Word it must neither be a fear of scholarly research among evangelicals concerning possible reinterpretation of problem passages nor a faulty impression left before the world of the true meaning and effect of inspiration.

Warfield has said that "the doctrine is that the Bible is inspired not in part but fully, in all its elements alike,-things discoverable by reason as well as mysteries, matters of history and science as well as faith, practice and words as well as thoughts." But we must be quick to add that this does not mean ,'mechanical dictation." Inspiration of Scripture means that the Holy Spirit acted in the lives of the writers of the Book so as to preserve them from error and contradiction in what they originally write as well as leading them to convey the thoughts in -meaningful words which God wished conveyed to men's minds. But this did not necessitate dictation.13 In the complex process of the composition of the Bible the writers possessed freedom to choose between possible words and phrases suitable to the purpose of expressing the mind of God. Their individual backgrounds and preparations (through natural cultural influences as well as more directly by God's Spirit) were undoubtedly causitive factors in determining the choice of some of these words. Hence the importance of learning all we can about these backgrounds for an adequate approach to Scripture. The subject matter itself influenced the style of writing. But in all, in the actual composition of the Bible the writers were preserved from error (were not free to err).

It is a problem of the science of hermeneutics to determine the proper contextual meaning of words or passages. The logic of its method is essentially the same as that already outlined. Like any science this is an ongoing process-well established in its essential outlines but not fixed in every detail. At times it is the physical or social sciences studying God's general revelation (though they may not own it as such) in nature and man which suggest new slants of interpretation of details, new perspectives and clarifying emphasis. If these suggestions are based upon facts, they are just as desirable to hermeneutical study as the study of cognate languages, of the cultures, and of the geography and history of the times of the Biblical writers.

The sciences may reveal new limits within which we may need to understand exactly what it is the writers originally intended to say. Theology is a science and thus it also gets molded accordingly even as in the past false theologies have led this science to sharp en up its definitions and expositions of unchanging fundamental. doctrine.

The nineteenth century Scottish theologian, Robert Flint, emphasized the idea of progress in the development of Christian theology. He did not agree with Charles Hodge that the task of the theologian is simply to systematize the facts revealed in Scripture. For Flint the task included the facts of general revelation and culminated in a general philosophy of religion, "the one general theological science."14 I shall not debate this difference of opinion, nor defend Flint's version of progress in systematic theology. The principle of development is sound even if we restrict our attention to the systematic investigation of Scripture. An interpretative science may develop. The presentation of the theology will change both with the accumulation of knowledge and with the attempt to meet current challenges with Scriptural truth. The principle of development here seems to me to serve as a good warning against unquestioning reliance upon even a Christian theologian's total system of thought.

The solution, of course, is not to forsake creeds and our Biblical-Reformed heritage and "get back to the Bible times," even if it were possible to retrace history We are grateful for the lives and investigative woll, of nineteen centuries of true Christian men and women-

Nor is the answer to be found in the popular slogan, "God says it, I believe it!" unless one is sure what it is that God has said. Fortunately, the Bible is quite perspicuous on all the essentials of its central subject matter: sin, salvation and the Christian life.

Charles Hodge 15 sees a good balance between the right of private judgment and the perspicuit y of Scripture. Bible believing protestants, be says, hold to a common faith

which no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian. They acknowledge the authority of this common faith for two reasons. First, because what all the competent readers of a plain book take to be_ its meaning, must be its meaning. Second, because the Holy Spirit promised to guide the people of God into the knowledge of the truth, and therefore that which they, under the teachings the Spirit, agree in believing must be true.

Hodge here is speaking only of the plainly revealed doctrines of the faith.

But all is not fixed and settled. Differences of interpretation appear and some of them in areas of potential relationship between the sciences and Scripture. We may push Hodge's recommendations and urge that under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with diligent cooperative investigation we seek the plain historical sense of Scripture, that is, the sense that it had when written and to the people to whom it was addressed, and that we use both Scripture to explain Scripture and relevant extra-Biblical knowledge to explain Scripture, remembering throughout the quest that truth is ultimately one. We ask, what is it that God has said? What is it that the writer was trying to put across here? The intelligent Christian tinder such circumstances cannot afford to feel that he has the final interpretation.

This does not mean that the Christian's attitude toward the Bible is thrown into a state of flux, nor are the essentials of our faith put on shaky ground by reserving an open mind as far as the evaluation of some of the details of Scripture are concerned. The Christian can ill afford to go underground here (merely holding on to received opinions) nor will he be driven into an unhealthy state of skepticism. Rather, he wil rest upon the great bulk of Scripture whose meaning is well established and will, in cases open to severa interpretations, seek to understand and to apply whatever is true from other disciplines in his investigation of Scripture.

1. We have had no thought of limiting experience to the rational investigative type recommended in this paper. The application of truth to every aspect of one's life for saving faith and Christian growth, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the love of God and of men, can neither be comprehended in critical investigation nor carried out in healthy fashion apart from it.

2. It follows that I would agree with fundamentalist scholars and others who criticize the Logical Positivist's tendency to make a god out of science. The dogma that "only" science yields truth is, however, no more fallacious than the dogma that science yields no truth, or that it is "merely" descriptive. If these characterizations hold for studies of nature, they hold for the science of hermeneutics.

3. We need a Christian world view which includes a positive approach to science, not a negative attitude. This is essential for reaching the minds and hearts of men with the challenge of the Gospel as well as for a system of truth which is based upon the full revelation of God. Dr.Jaarsma16 has put it well when be said that the Christian student of research must "recognize the validity of the scientific method in the gathering and classification of data, in the formulation of hypotheses, and in the verification of hypotheses. He uses this method, however, acknowledging not only its limitations . . . but employing it rightly oriented in the presupposition of Christian thought." And as Dr. John DeVries17 has said, "Truth can be obtained only by a proper evaluation of the dependence of these fields (science and Christian theology) on each other and not by ignoring one at the expense of the other."

4. Concerning this Christian world view I agree with Bernard Ramm, whose The Christian View of Science and Scripture18 has been a valuable stimulation to my own mind, that the Bible does not contain a developed cosmology. But, as I know he is aware, passages like Genesis one involve certain assumptions of a limiting as well as positive character-e.g., that the whole universe owes its existence to the power of God and owes the form of its continued existence to the creative and sustaining plan of God. The Bible has something to say to science which is determinative for its controlling assumptions. I would therefore recommend to the qualified Christian scientist that he seek an accurate and clear wording of his assumptions and the implications thereof with due regard to the pertinent truth of Scripture. This, of course, requires an equal effort on the part of the investigator of Scripture to carefully exegete the passages of mutual concern, clearly indicating possible variant interpretations. It is not enough for the exegete to present a perplexing array of opinions unless he shows to what extent they are within the possible meaning of the text.

5. Though Scripture is basically concerned with the theological, the spiritual, the moral, yet it is these basic concerns that guide the Christian philosopher and scientist and set the limits within which he operates and the presupposition on which he proceeds. So the Christian philosopher takes into account the supernatural God of the Bible. The Christian psychologist takes into account the doctrines of depravity and common grace, the conversion experience, and the work of the Holy Spirit. So, too, the Christian scientist cannot be a non-supernaturalistic type of evolutionist. He recognizes the fact of miracles. Science in turn may throw some light upon what God truly intended by the Bibles account of creation and the flood.

6. Inductive Biblical hermeneutics involves a cooperative enterprise. Truth is the goal. In it all the Christian knows that God's Word will be vindicated, the Book within which he finds the assurance of eternal salvation will be confirmed.

I conclude my remarks with a quotation from the stimulating sermon by Flint, "The Earth is the Lord's" (Psalm 24:1)19, published in 1859 by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In speaking of the general revelation of God in nature he says,

Surely, this glorious universe was never made merelv to satisfy the lower or animal wants of our souls-to fill us with food when hungry, with drink when thirsty. No; it speaks to everything that is higiiest and holiest in us. It should be approached with profoundest reverence. It will do little for us before we come to Christ; but there is no overrating what it will do for us after we have come to Christ.

Surely a Christian view of nature enhanced with scientific truth as well as artistic insight elevates and perfects created natural reality.

1. A cooperative symposium published by Van Kampen Press, 2nd edition, 1950. The A.S.A. Monograph Number One, Christian Theism and the Empirical Sciences by Cornelius Jaarsma (1947), lays stress upon three interrelated basic factors for a Christian life and world view: (1) the fact of a sovereign, personal God, (2) the fact of creation, and (3) the fact that God is Self-revealing.

2. The Scientific Papers of James Clark Maxwell, Cambridge University Press, 1890, 1, "On Faraday's Lines of Force," pp. 156-7, quoted by Ernest Nagel, "Symbolism, and Science," pp. 69-70 in Symbolism and Values: An Initial Study, Thirteenth Symposium of the Conference on Science, Philosophy and Religion, Harper, 1954.

3. William C. Dampier A History of Science and Its Relations with Philosophy and Religion, Cambridge University Press, 1943, p. 485.

4. "The Methodology of Christian Evidences," The Calvin Forum, May, June and August, 1954.

5. Cf. Kurt Lewin, "Cassirer's Philosophy of Science and the Social Sciences," The Philosophy of Ernst Cassirer, ed. Schilpp, Library of Living Philosophers, 1949.

6. Helen L. Whiteway does this in Scientific Method and the Conditions of Social Intelligence, Trade Printers, St. John's, Newfoundland, 1943. She follows Overstreet's Enduring Quest, Norton, 1931, in an effort to deal with the "fulness" of evolved reality. She is right in maintaining that experience is broader than knowledge, but does not adequately support her suggestion that esthetics may offer a "potent source for the method of social intelligence."

7. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science, Vol. I, No. 5, 1938, University of Chicago Press, p. 1. Lenzen restricts his attention to "things and phenomena experienced in observation." His word "prehistoric" I would take to mean pre-written documents, i.e. pre-3000 B.C.

8. Reason and Nature, an Essay-on the Meaning of Scienti fic Method, Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1931, p. 77.

9. Cf. Lenzen, op. cit., p. 26. "A Geiger counter is a tube in which a momentary current flows when a particle of sufficient energy passes through and produces ionization. The momentary current is amplified and actuates a mechanical counter which registers the number of particles that pass through the tube."

10. Lewis, now retired from Drew Seminary, Madison, New Jersey, might be called a "conservative" neo-liberal. See his sixty theological articles in the Harper's Bible Dictionary (1952), especially those on "Revelation" and "Inspiration." Lewis operates under a continuous tension between criticism of and respect for the Bible. He rejects the virgin birth , eternal punishment, the Biblical account of the origin of evil. With characteristic ambiguity he doubts the language of miracles and the resurrection while accepting them as events. See his The Biblical Faith and Christian Freedom, Westminster, 1954.

11. The reader is referred to the classic, scholarly study by B. B. Warfield, The Authority and Inspiration of Scripture, Oxford, and to the helpful symposium, The Infallible TVord, ed. Stonehousc and Wooley, Eerdmens.

12. Ed. M.S. and J. L. Miller, 1952, pp. 31-33.

13. In the New Bible Cominentary,, ed. Davidson ( mans', 1954), Andrew McNab (Superintendent of the Shank Hill Road Mission, Belfast) says concerning 11 Peter 1:1 "Here Peter declares that holy men of God were borne
along by the Holy Spirit as a vessel is borne along by the This does not involve any conclusion that they were unconscious instruments or mere machines; but it does most emphatically involves a control and a 'carrying' power which are quite yond anything that the human will or imagination can for itself. Here is a basis not only for the doctrine of inspiration of the Scriptures but also for the doctrine of entire trustworthiness or 'infallibility' thereof." This is healthy corrective to the introductory chapter on this topic.

14. Donald Macmillen, The Life of Robert Flint, Hoddegr Stoughton, London, 1914, p. 294. See Flint's Christ in upon Earth, Blackwood, London, 1865, pp. 164-5, 302f.

15. Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, p. 114, and pp. 106, 1

16. Op. cit., p. 10.

17. Essentials of Physical Science, Eerdmans, 1954, . 30.

18. Eerdman's, 1954.

19. Christ's Kingdom Upon Earth, p. 10.