Science in Christian Perspective



A Christian Looks at Science
Ronald H. Russell, B.S., B.Th.

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 7-8.

There are many major matters about which people are not in total agreement. Sometimes these divergencies are mild and innocuous while in other instances these schisms are deep and fundamental. This diversity of opinion clearly manifests itself when individuals with shallow talk supported with equally shallow thinking affirm that a definite conflict exists between science and theology. Unfortunately we do have pseudo-scientists and pseudotheologians, however, it is my belief that the true science is the handmaiden of true theology.

Let us consider for a moment the method of science, that is, the scientific method. John Dewey in a discussion of the scientific method envisioned every unit of thinking consisting of two parts; a perplexed, troubled, or confused situation at the beginning and a cleared-up, unified resolved situation at the close. Thus we see that the scientific method travels from perplexity to possible satisfaction, so indeed does theology but on a different and higher sphere.

The scientific road has five phases which Dewey calls Suggestion, Intellectualization, The Guiding Idea or Hypothesis, Reasoning in a Narrower Sense and Testing and Verifying or Disproving the Hypothesis by Experimentation. Scientific knowledge is grounded in sensation. If a scientist had no sense receptors he would be forced out of the field of research.

Regarding the fifth step in the scientific method, namely the testing and Verifying or Disproving the Hypothesis, there are two kinds of testing. The first is conducted by thought, this is deduction; the second is conducted by action, this is induction. The truth or falsity of the hypothesis will be demonstrated by the fifth step which is based on sensory experience. Therefore as was stated above all scientific knowledge is grounded in sensation. The scientist should not deviate from that which he cannot see, hear, smell, taste, or feel. He says, "I know" because he can say, "I have seen." My conviction on the existence of Euglena in a drop of water depended on faith until January 1956. Before that date I had read about them in books. I had been told by people that such organisms existed. But during that month I looked through a microscope and saw a Euglena. Of course, I still have to accept on faith the testimony of my in structor that what I witnessed darting about in the field of vision was a Euglena. But I am no longer on a priori grounds. I recognized it as having life because I saw it move.

Since sensory experience is prerequisite to conviction, science has nothing to say on questions, the proving or disproving of which does not involve experimentation. Science can neither affirm nor deny the existence of God and the unseen world about us. Science cannot affirm, that a miracle is impossible because if there is a God then a miracle is possible and science cannot dogmatically deny the existence of God. Nor will it ever be able to do so until some scientist has gone poking about in every corner of the universe with his microscope. Even then he could not be certain. Maybe his lens wasn't powerful enough. Can we believe our eyes? No! If I did, I would say that a Euglena is only a figment of the imagination, because when I looked into the lake located on campus, I did not see a single Euglena with the naked eye. Conviction based upon sense perception would affirm that Euglena have no objective existence. But though the unaided eye cannot see Euglena, the aided eye can. How can science constantly deny the existence of God? They don't know, and therefore cannot say. But they can say, "As far as we know, there is no God-but we don't know very far. There may be a God, but He is unknown to science". Because science can never ultimately arrive she should humbly remain within the restricted limits she has set for herself.

I On the other hand, the theologian who stoops to an attempt to "scientifically prove God" is, to say the least, doing that which is grossly unnecessary. Why turn your back on the higher knowledge of faith and submit the case to a lower and less trustworthy court? Shall I prove God by science? Not 1. 1 affirm God, Christ, Creation, Sin, Salvation, Miracles, Heaven and Hell on the grounds of God-given and sustaining faith. And after my affirmation, if any scientist forgets his restricted limitations and attempts to challenge me, I shall take his own scientific method and use it to drive him back to his own back yard which is so effectively enclosed by the fences of sense perception. The best argument against the objective existence of the unseen is only negative argument. Let science therefore concern herself with an exploitation of the visible world and leave the metaphysical and theological field to her betters.

There are two dangers of science. First of all, science is in danger of the mistake described above. She may speak when silence would more become her. She may forget herself and become a priori. This is a sin for her, though not for the theologian.

The other danger of science which I shall mention is the danger of too great specialization. Specialization of course, has distinct advantages. The whole gamut of truth is so vast that the labor in research must be divided. No man lives long enough to obtain omniscience. For example: the field of cytology (study of cells) is quantitatively a very small but qualitatively a very large part of the science of biology. We would not know much about the cell if men such as Brown and Wilson had not chosen to concentrate research on this small but very important field. Having cited the obvious advantage of specialization, we may now say that it tends to destroy perspective. Though the specialist is not one who has learned "more and more about less and less until he knows everything about nothing," he may have gotten himself into a position where he knows a great deal about a very little. The opposite extreme is "Jack of all trades" whose learning is so broad that it is shallow and who is therefore, "master of none." Either extreme is to be avoided. The practical thing to do would be at least to recognize the existence of other fields and know enough about them to avoid exposing yourself to adverse criticism by meddling in another scientific area.

The above is in no sense to be construed as an attempt to lampoon science or the scientific method. Science in her place is capable of tremendous good. The narrow-minded preacher who runs for office on a platform of "All Scientists in Hell" had better think twice and remain silent, or else drive the horse and carriage instead of his new Chrysler or Ford, because it was ~science, not religion that built his automobile. Theology is good in its place, but theology under the hood of a car is out of place. There the preacher needs thermodynamics. If it is better to push a button than light a wick, dial a radio than crank a phonograph, go United than oxcart-then science should stand up and take a bow.

There is much knowledge available on the level of the mature mind, unaided by revelation. We as Christians ought to seek that knowledge. We should utilize our God-given faculties which are available, namely sensory perception and natural reason. This is Science. When followed carefully, it yields tremendous dividends. Truly careful science and true theology complement one another.