Science in Christian Perspective



Russell Heddendorf, M.A.

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 24-25.

At times, it is appropriate to view the roots of one's ancestral tree from its contemporary extremity. In the case of ASA, it is particularly rewarding and challenging, for our original ancestor was of a particular stalwart nature.

In their attempts to study the many facets of society, sociologists constantly return to the study of the relationship of systems of knowledge with social systems. The most significant vein which has been traced in the sociology of knowledge is the reciprocal relationship between science and society. Lately, this has become increasingly concerned with the impact of society upon science.

In his studies in this area, Professor Robert Merton of Columbia University has indicated that a scientific view requires a particular social environment for proper growth. He has chosen the Puritan ethic of the 17th century as an ideal expression permitting the cultivation of the scientific view which was nurtured at this time. "The deep-rooted religious interests of the day demanded in their forceful implications the systematic, rational, and empirical study of Nature for the glorification of God in His works and the control of the corrupt world."1 In comparing the Puritan society of the day with the more numerous Catholic societies, he points out that the former was particularly in agreement with the requirements of modern science. "The positive estimation by Protestants of a hardly disguised utilitarianism, of intra-mundane interests, of a thorough-going empiricism, of the right and even duty of 'libre examen', and of the explicit individual questioning of authority were congenial to the very same values found in modern science."2 This conflux resulted in the eventual flowering of the Royal Society.

The leading lights of the early Society, such as Boyle and Ray, had as their conviction the belief that the end and all of existence was the glorification of God. It is this view which provided for the objective and systematic observation of natural phenomena, since "if Nature is the manifestation of His power, then nothing in Nature is too me-an for scientific study."3 Merton notes that although Catholic predecessors of the Puritans conceived that study of nature should have as its end the glorification of God, it was the scientific method of the Puritans which made the achievement of the end a reality.

The particular relationship between Puritanism and its effect upon the Royal Society becomes more pointed when it is realized that forty-two of the sixty-eight original members were clearly Puritan. "Considering that the Puritans constituted a relatively small minority in the English population, the fact that they constituted sixty-two per cent of the initial membership of the Society becomes even more striking."4

The critical point here, however, is that this was not principally an apologetic group. Rather, the ethos of each force was so compatible with each other that there was a mutual strengthening. This is a fact worthy of much reflection in a day when the secular view of religion and science is that they are at polar extremes. Is there a social environment which may once again draw the poles together? What types of social development might bring together a unique compatibility

of the spirits of Protestantism and science? What, if any, changes in religion and science would be necessary for the development of such a conflux? What would be the role of ASA relative to such changes?

1. Robert Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. Glencoe, Illinois; The Free Press, 1949, p. 329.
2 Ibid., p. 346.
3 Ibid., p. 335.
4 Ibid., p. 337.