Science in Christian Perspective


Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and the
Role of the
American Scientific Affiliation

From JASA 8 (December 1956): 8-10.

It is an honor for me, who have taken nothing more than elementary physics and chemistry, and who am in no way qualified to speak to you in your own fields, to be invited to meet with you this morning. It would be presumptuous to assay to discuss even the correlation of science and theology in terms of specifics and particulars, and one must therefore restrict one's self to reference to certain principles of biblical theology and their general application to the field of the physical sciences, as well as to mention certain related problems that are currently before us, particularly in the field of Christian work in our universities.

It is a matter of concern and regret that so very seldom is the theologian qualified to discuss questions in the field of the physical sciences, or the scientist adequate to consider the problems of biblical theology. As a consequence, too often the evangelical theologian distrusts the Christian scientist, and the scientist is prone to feel that the theologian is wandering around with his head in a bucket.

I An essential presupposition of Holy Scripture is the existence of the personal God who has disclosed Himself-His character and His will-through the Bible.

This God is a Being of truth, justice, holiness, and redemptive love. It is inconceivable that such a God, with all His attributes of Deity, could be guilty of or permit error in His revelation, whether He is speaking of Himself or of the physical universe He created. It is therefore necessary to. postulate that God's self-disclosure, His revelation, when properly understood, even though it is mediated by and through finite fallible man, has been preserved free from error.

However, if this position is granted, we are immediately confronted with the problem of communication. God's mind has been conveyed to man verbally. But what do I understand by these words? What is their meaning and their interpretation?

Problems of the correlation of science and Scripture appear, in part, to center around the question of interpretation and the extent to which God, in His act of inspiration, accommodates or limits Himself to the knowledge and culture of the day in which the particular record of Scripture was given, and consequently, the allowance that must be made for such accommodation is understanding the real thought of God.

'While fully admitting the necessity for such interpretation, does not the heart of the problem lie in our own inner attitude? While making full allowance for that degree of light that science can shed upon Scripture, none the less, must we not of necessity confess that as Christians we must start first with God and His divine revelation, and rather interpret science by Scripture than the reverse, Scripture by science? While this may not be an absolute or an exclusive approach, none the less, must not this be the basic essential approach to the question, if we are to be truly Christian in our thinking and interpretation? While at all times we must beware of reading our own ideas into the Bible, and of taking our interpretations of Scripture as Scripture, we must likewise avoid confusing scientific theory with scientific fact. The Bible is one' book, one revelation, and in our approach to an understanding of Scripture, we must of necessity. interpret Scripture by Scripture.

Sometimes there appears to have been a tendency, in our eagerness to show that there is no real conflict between true science and true biblical interpretation' to give the impression that the whole problem lies in the direction of interpretation of Scripture, and that. too eagerly we have endeavored to interpret or reinterpret Scripture in the light of scientific dictum. Apart from errors that have occurred in this process, perhaps a general atmosphere and point of view has arisen in which the university student is prone to approach the Bible, not in the simplicity of childlike faith, but with a superior attitude that human reason and interpretation must be imposed upon it, if the true mind of God is to be understood; and perhaps this has created a climate in which Scripture is subordinated to human intelligence and reason and understanding. This can be exceedingly dangerous. Therefore, I would suggest that here is one area in which the American Scientific Affiliation could give leadership to the undergraduate university world, particularly the secular university world, and at all times insist that we as Christians start with God and His revelation, and that as a principle, human reason, understanding, and interpretation must submit itself to "Thus saith the Lord."

The Christian scientist is not in a different category to that of the ordinary Christian. All Christians must approach the understanding of the physical universe with the consciousness that as fallen men we are not only finite but sinful. Our hearts are desperately wicked. Our minds naturally are darkened, and our reason,, as part of the whole man, has been adversely affected by sin, and therefore of itself is unreliable. The Christian must be aware that Satan, the god of this world, this physical universe, is the enemy of God and hates all that which glorifies God, and he would cast doubt upon God's truth and honor. As such, Satan will tempt man to glorify his own intellect and reason and discover, rather than to glorify God. He will endeavor to encourage man to be wise in his own conceit, and to reach those conclusions which will glorify man and his understanding rather than God, which will glorify man's wisdom and understanding rather than Clod's truth. Therefore, if conclusions are reached which shed doubt upon the authenticity of Scripture, Satan, in a sense, has made a point, and God is dishonored. In like manner, if the supernatural can be explained away in terms of the natural, God, to that extent, is dethroned in the hearts of those reaching such a conclusion. This is not to say that we want to insist upon absurd and magical elements in Scripture rather than understanding the true explanation of things as they are. The Christian, in humility, must t1unk God's thoughts after Him, and if the Bible is God's Word, he must submit all he knows and discovers to the Word of God, provided that Word is rightly understood. However, it is gloriously true that the Christian has a mind enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and this because as a regenerated man he is taught by the Spirit on the bases of faith. His enlightenment is not on the basis of human reason, but on the basis of faith in the sphere of the operation of the Holy Spirit.

This danger of pride of intellect and the enthronement of reason is equally a danger for the theologian as it is for the scientist. The theologian is constantly tempted to reduce the infinite wisdom of God to a syllogism, to confine the revelation of God to the limits of human logic and understanding, so he has, for instance, at times endeavored to reduce the sovereignty of God and election by grace, together with human responsibility and response, to a synthesis which neither honors God nor satisfies the human ego; and it, is as great a blasphemy for the theologian to impugn God's justice, in the light of human comprehension of divine revelation of Scripture, properly understood, in the light of scientific understanding, particularly when the course of scientific history so often has witnessed, through the years, radical modifications of scientific dogma.

In this area also, such a movement as the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship looks to the American Scientific Affiliation for leadership. The university undergraduate needs the example and the teaching of the Christian scientist who exemplifies Deuteronomy 29:29: "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."; and again, I Corinthians 13:12: "For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." An attitude that is the light of God and eternity, all our knowledge is somewhat tentative, and even our understanding of the divine revelation must be expounded in humility, rec ognizing human fallibility and weakness, is bound to have a salutary effect upon the university student who. is bombarded constantly by the dogmatic assertions of unbelieving university professors. Surely the Christian scientist must reject the absolutizing of scientific ' contention when this contradicts the teaching of Scrip ture properly understood. We must always remember the words of Hebrews 11:3: "Through faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that that which is seen was made out of things which do not appear."

A very, very great need is for the Christian scientist to be completely current on the latest scientific theory and dictum, to be fully aware of all the issues of his field; if possible, even to be an authority, to some extent, in his field, but at the same time to be an example of faith, rather than of human, rationalistic-. logic, and a man who is willing to suspend judgment; where there continues to be a conflict, seemingly, between science and the Scriptures, after all avenues of unstanding Scripture have been explored, and he has before him what seems to be a refutable evidence which contradicts the Scripture.

If the Bible is God's Word, it is inerrant. If there is conflict between human understanding of the physical universe and our understanding of the teaching of Scripture, then the Christian is forced to accept the teaching of Scripture in UW trusting God to vindicate Himself. From one point of view, for a Christian to rely upon his finite, fallible understanding of truth, rather than upon divine revelation, is to trust himself and his reason rather than to trust the Living God.

Admittedly, the Bible is not a scientific textbook, deals principally with questions of faith and morals. In many cases, its statements relating to the physical universe are in general terms, often couched in poetic prose. This being the case, there is latitude and flexibility in interpretation, thus legitimately providing a basis of understanding and agreement with much, scientific discovery regarding man and the world. However, when the Bible deals with questions of faith and morals, it is usually precise, and a similar latitude and flexibility is not provided. For instance, there nay be some latitude of interpretation regarding the geographical scope and intensity of the Flood, but there is no possibility of evading the moral judgment of God upon mankind and his wickedness, so that mankind was destroyed, apart from Noah and his family, who were pure Adamic stock. The Scripture states clearly that Noah and his family were saved, and that the rest of mankind perished because of sin, and by "mankind" is meant those descendants of Adam into whose nostrils had been breathed the breath of life. Possibly there may have been hominoid creatures physically resembling man, who may have continued to exist some where, finally becoming extinct, but such were not mankind.

An area of some concern is the temptation to the Christian scientist to devote himself to the study of the physical universe at the expense of the study of God and His Holy Word. The callow undergraduate is given t he impression that even to a Christian, this physical universe is of greater importance and significance than the unseen world of the spirit and the things of God, on the basis of the amount of time devoted to each. It is tragic when the Christian scientist, known as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, knows relatively little of the Word of God, apart from special passages dealing with scientific subjects, while he is well versed in his own field, which could mean that in reality he has not reafly been taught by God the Holy Spirit.

Truth concerning this physical universe, though very important, is temporal and temporary. God's truth and revelation is eternal. It is a tragedy for any Christian, be he scientist or not, to be an ignoramus concerning the truth of God, while being literate and vocal in another field. I would dare to suggest, in the light of the Word of God, that in the final analysis, truth concerning the physical universe can only be properly understood in the light of the divine revelation, and that apart from Scriptures, scientific knowledge is out of true perspective, and therefore is improperly comprehended. True knowledge of God is eternal truth. Knowledge of the physical universe is only of temporary and tentative significance. It is true that the heavens declare the glory of God, and much can be learned of God from the world around us. However, such knowledge is fragmentary compared with that knowledge of God that is declared and expounded in the Scriptures. "The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

Furthermore, it is suggested in the Scripture that knowledge we acquire in this life is with us in the life to come, and that in the life to come, there will be progress in knowledge and in understanding. Is it therefore impossible to conceive that in that coming day, there will be men who are intellectual giants concerning the things of this world, but who will be relative babes as they conceive in that eternal school of the knowledge of God and His infinite wisdom. There may be others who know We of this world and yet relatively speaking, who may be giants in the things of God, and who will be ahead of many of us when we see our Saviour face to face. This is not for one moment to suggest that we should take an anti-intellectual attitude toward human knowledge and research, but only to suggest that devotion to this knowledge at least should be accompanied by an equal interest in the things of God and in the study of Scripture.

May I venture to suggest, therefore, that the mem bers of the American Scientific Affiliation give serious thought to the encouragement of a more complete understanding of spiritual truth, not, as has been said before, to the neglect, in any way, of scientific investigation, but in addition to it. Such an emphasis by men of science upon the Word of God, in an era preoccupied with material existence, could have a profound effect upon today's university undergraduates, Christian and non-Christian.

In conclusion, may I, on behalf of the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, express our appreciation to the American Scientific Affiliation. To many of you, we must seem somewhat obscurantist and reactionary. But I would remind you that our primary field is the undergraduate who is with us but four brief. years. Seldom is he an intellectual. Frequently 'he comes to us, if he is a Christian, as an unweaned spiritual babe. Of necessity, we are preoccupied with the elementary aspects of the Christian life, working in what is a veritable Christian kindergarten, even though it is in the university. We appear to be living in a day of intellectual decline. Relatively few students are interested in knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Most read only that which is assigned to them. Basic motivations in education are utilitarian. The type of student we are working with today is different to what it was fifteen years ago. Then we had a fair proportion of men and women coming up to our universities from evangelical homes and churches, students who were true Christians. Today, the very great majority of these young people are going to Christian institutions on the tertiary level. That means we have to create our own constituency, and as a result, thank God, the majority of students active in the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship comes f rom non-evangelical backgrounds, and a very great number of them are converted during their undergraduate days. However, ,this again only emphasizes the kindergarten aspect of our work, and we believe our primary task is to establish the Christian in Christ Jesus. We have not found the role of Christian evidences and apologetics an impressive help in dealing with a non-Christian, although sometimes it is an open door to gain a hearing for the Gospel. Rather, we have found Christian evidences and apologetics an aid in confirming the faith and belief of the young Christian. While it is true that there is something to be believed, and Someone to be received, in the matter of regeneration, in the final analysis it is the heart of the man that must be touched by God the Holy Spirit, as birth from above is essentially a divine act and operation. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that the Christian scientist can be the greatest possible help to us to the degree to which he is a man of God, a man of the Spirit, a man who knows the Word of God, a man who can present Jesus Christ. In this context, his academic standing and his scientific knowledge is invaluable. It is this that will give him an entree to the universities and to the minds and hearts of students, but, having reached the student audience, the primary need is not a discussion of some aspect of science and Scripture, helpful though that may be, but rather a presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ, in all His suf ficiency, to meet every need, although perhaps presented in the content of the speakers scientific field.