Science in Christian Perspective
Wayne U. Ault, Ph.D.
From JASA 10 (December 1958): 29-29.
Since the geoscientists comprise a fair percentage of the membership of the A.S.A. it is only fitting that we rejuvenate this column on geology and related fields. This column can serve as a means for you to express your opinions. Your letters or prepared discourses are invited. Also, there is the need for all the geoscientists to get better acquainted. To this end a questionnaire has recently been mailed to everyone so listed in the current directory. Any new members who are geologists, geochemists or geophysicists and who did not receive a questionnaire can write me through the editor of the journal. This column can also serve to announce new books in our fields. Since any one of us likely finds time to read only a few new books in his own specialty why not take time to write a paragraph or more on the next ne%v book you read and share your evaluation with the membership. This service can be especially helpful to members in other scientific disciplines.
Now that summer is approaching and our thoughts turn more intently to the annual convention it seems fitting to comment on the perpetual problem of obtaining papers for the program. These desirably would be on subjects of widest possible interest arising from the sciences, current problems such as the emphasis of science in education, or the summary of progress in certain fields which have philosophical implications. And it hardly need be mentioned that it takes those most intimately acquainted with the topic to give an understanding of the whole problem. The symposium or panel technique of presentation has been successfully used to give variety and a cross-section of opinion. With due respect to those who are faithfully active and willing to submit papers it seems on looking over the membership list that there are many men active in their fields from whom we would like to hear. There are many good reasons why some busy men do not volunteer.
This is where the local A.S.A. groups and also the kindred professional groups such as chemists, biologists, etc. working more closely together can be an advantage. It is possible that these groups will undertake to study, discuss and present topics of current interest, thus bringing to the program the benefit of a spectrum of viewpoints, more or less tried, tested and matured. In one's own field on technical and scientific subjects one has the benefit of the criticism of his colleagues and a body of tested principles. He is able to ask for criticism on his paper before he presents it in public. On philosophical aspects it may be more difficult, but it is equally necessary to obtain constructive criticism. Since there is room on an annual program for only a limited number of papers it is not possible for this to serve as a sounding board for isolated untested philosophies which are presented for the first time. It is unfortunate if the local A.S.A. group is inactive such that individuals cannot share their thoughts with one another in discussion.
Attention is called to a book The Bequest of the Greeks by T. Dantzig, Charles Scribner's Sons (1955) in which he describes what he calls "Pseudoniath". Professor Dantzig has written on the history of math for the layman and presents a small group of problems which it can be demonstrated have no solution.These problems (e.g. trisecting an angle, the Fermat problem, etc.) by their very sim plicity have always fascinated the amateur. And these individuals though not having any professional training in the field, nor understanding the proofs or all that is involved continue to present their own solutions to these problems which over the centuries have baffled the experts. Dantzig points out from his experience that unanimously they rise techniques in common. In their solutions they labor obvious detail and then skip over the critical points and assume that they have proved the problem. The "psendomath" feels that lie has a corner on eternal truth and proceeds to extend himself into Solving all problems in all fields of human knowledge and society. Such individuals are not a new phenomena but have been a problem to professional scientific societies since the days of Pericles. Finally, in the last century the reputable scientific societies, followed the lead of the French Academy which announced that it would not entertain any further solutions to problems such as trisection of the angle "or of any machine which lays claim to perpetual motion," etc. Experience of many years had "demonstrated that those who send in solutions of these problems understand neither their nature nor their difficulties, that none of the methods employed by them could ever lead to solutions of these problems, even were such solutions attainable . . . ." "Some of these individuals, being unfortunate enough to believe that they have been successful, have refused to listen to the criticism of geometers, often because they could not understand it, and have finished by accusing the examiners of envy and bad faith
The folly of such individuals resulted in loss of time and expense to their families. And, "To account for the singular fact that without studying the subject they have arrived at solutions which the most famous scholars have vainly sought-they persuade themselves that they are under the special protection of Providence, and from this there is but one step to the belief that any combination of ideas, however strange, that may occur to them are so many inspirations. Humane consideration therefore demanded that the Academy, persuaded of the uselessness of such examinations, should seek to offset by public announcement a popular opinion that has been detrimental to so many families . . . . ..."
Li kewise in any field of science it is very disturbing to see anyone offer papers, other than perhaps review articles, which are not in their own fields. It is equally unfortunate when an unprepared individual takes upon himself to synthesize related fields which even the specialists in those fields have not been able to integrate. One can usually detect the areas which such a person understands for there he is more likely to accept and even to use the current data available. But in other areas he will ridicule the conclusions of the specialists, ignore the body of demonstrated data on which these conclusions are based or select isolated statements from noted scholars to prove his point. Evangelical scholarship will do well to rejoice more over theses which can be demonstrated by experiment and proofs acceptable to all than over conjecture which, conditioned by prejudice, concludes that which one may want to hear. Dreaming is no substitute for research.
One is tempted to make some suggestions on ethical practices. Christian scholars should be the first to label their hypotheses and assumptions as such. For example, the author of a recent monograph which came to my hands accepts the C14 dates for man and then slips in the statement that we now have confirmation for pre-Adamic man. What he failed to prove was the date for Adam. It is very detrimental to teach as truth and fact that which is only assumption. working hypothesis, or conclusion. Many are the examples during the progress of human knowledge where the interpretation which gave a best fit to all the data had to give way to a better one when new data became available. One cannot afford to be in a dogmatic position such that he cannot entertain alternative viewpoints or accept a proof when it is given. Often all that is at stake in his own assertions.
Christians ought to be humble enough and wise enough to admit that we do not have all the answers in the physical sciences (or others for that matter). Picture Newton of nearly three centuries ago. Though a Christian and blessed with genius we realize that he did not know of radioactivity, relativity, and many other phenomena for they were not yet known. Likewise, if our Lord tarries, those of a century or two from now may look back on our state of knowledge as we do on that of the Dark Ages. Any synthesis made now in 1958 is based on limited knowledge, to be sure, but it should at least include the available data. And if one doesn't understand the techniques well enough to have confidence in the data then he should not be making the synthesis.
When one is so naive as to present new physical concepts which contradict established phenomena it would seem only reasonable that he should present some proof. Physical concepts should be capable of laboratory demonstration. Scripture taken out of context to support such hypotheses in contradiction to basic physics is a most unscholarly approach.
Consider the natural world. It is odd indeed for a Christian to speak disparagingly of the natural world or nature. But too often God's manifestations are only pictured as supernatural as if the natural world detracted from His glory. Nature is God's handiwork; natural laws are His laws! Must we not insist on this? To say that life springing from a seed and the production of more seeds is a natural or ordinary sequence of events does not explain the process or diminish the greatness of the phenomena. The uninterrupted stream of living things is an awesome fact. Let's not dismiss it under the term natural as atheistic. Does God only obtain glory from supernatural events? If this is our attitude then it may be that our understanding is blinded. If we have a proper view of nature, God's handiwork, then it seems we will be more likely to go to the natural world to learn. And if we learn something new* or contrary to our concepts let us seek to integrate the new data. Let its be able to change our thinking if necessary. There are some things which we accept on faith: God, redemption, the angels, the soul, heaven and hell-on the authority of the Scriptures even though we have not been able to investigate them with physical means. But the physical universe can be investigated by physical means and since God has allowed us to develop techniques, we ought to be willing to use them to learn.
The aim of the A.S.A. has been stated as reviewing, preparing and distributing information on the authenticity, historicity, and scientific aspects of the Holy Scriptures in order that the faith of many in Jesus Christ be firmly established. Well meaning individuals who are attempting to achieve these aims by explicit analogies presented with the attitude that now we have proof of certain scriptures may actually find themselves destroying faith in the Word. Temporal scientific views or private interpretations should not be tied to the Scriptures. At least one could label them as an opinion. Pastors who feel they have to teach young people that we have all the answers may actually lose the young folk when they enter high school or college and find out that perhaps the age of the earth and mankind is older than they were taught. The body of human knowledge is in a state of change or growth. Likewise interpretation of Scripture changes and contains a human element. Thus it can be destructive to equate in a dogmatic way a temporal, best approximation to the truth from a study of the natural world and a revelation which we hold to be accurate. It does not seem that a humble Christian 'will try to speak as an oracle when presenting his understanding (interpretation) of Scripture. Opinions stated dogmatically may win people but their relativity to the truth may be no better than the person's understanding or bias, Christian scholarship should be characterized by humility in appraising one's own abilities and truthfulness in presenting his assumptions and conclusions as such. We believe that God is the author of both the physical world and the scriptures and that when both are rightly understood they will be in perfect agreement.