Science in Christian Perspective



Walter R. Hearn, Ph.D.

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 24-27.

Many of you may be interested to know the outcome of the A.S.A. get-togethers announced in this column in the last issue of the Journal. I haven't had a detailed report yet from the dinner meeting held in San Francisco on April 14 in connection with the American Chemical Society meeting, but I gather that it attracted about a dozen A.S.A. chemists who had a fine evening of fellowship together. Dick Ferm performed a real service in making the arrangements.

Derek Nonhebel, a post-doctoral fellow from England who has been here at Iowa State this year, attended the meeting and enjoyed it very nitich. He told me that several chemists he met there said this had been their first opportunity to get acquainted with other A.S.A. members. Derek, incidentally, is a member of the Research Scientists Christian Fellowship in England, an organization somewhat similar to our own; I hope to pass on to 
you soon some of the things I have learned from Derek about activities of the R. S. C. F.

Our dinner meeting in Philadelphia on April 17 1 can report on first hand. Credit for its success goes to a number of people, including Elmer Maurer of the U.S.D.A. lab in Philadelphia and Wes Clayton, Neal Brace, and Art Nersasilan of the active A.S.A. local section in Wilmington Delaware Elmer had been considering the formation of a Philadelphia or Delaware Valley local section, and the Wilmington group voted to help out by holding their April meeting, in Philadelnhia as ajoint meetin I think there were probably about ten A.S.A. members attending the meetings of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, but several were tied up in other group dinners that evening and weren't able to j oin us. Altogether there were thirty-two of us, including about fifteen from Wilmington and several invited guests. After an excellent dinner, we introduced ourselves around the table, and then I gave a talk on "Some Conflicts Between Christianity and Science," stressing internal conflicts which some of us experience within ourselves, and indicating ways in which participation in the A.S.A. can help resolve such conflicts. I may discuss some of these points this column from time to time. Incidentally, most those attending the get-together were chemists, and the course of the lively discussion following my talk, this question was brought up: "Why should there be a special section devoted to chemistry in the journal, and what role can chemists play in the A.S.A. as clicniists?" Now there is a good question which some of you might like to toss around a bit in future issues of this column. My spur-of-the-moment answer went something, like this.

"I agree that the major areas of apparent external conflict between scientific and Christian thought seem to lie in the domain of physics on one hand and of biology and geology on the other hand, sort of bypassing chemistry in between. In the borderline fields of biochemistry and geochemistry, of course, there is obvious need for discussion of theological implications, of which I am personally very conscious as I see evolutionary considerations moving more and more from straight biology into my own field biochemistry How ever, I think that all of us, whatever our field of specialization, have a real contribution to make to the task of the A.S.A. in hammering out a Christian phil osophy of science. Each branch of science has its own patterns of thought, its own way of looking at reality, and an adequate Christian philosophy of science must consider all of these. Chemists have a unique contribution to make because it is they, rather than either atomic physicists or biologists, who work dallv with a statistical concept of nature. That is, when a chemist thinks of natural phenomena, he is usually thinking in terms of billions and billions of molecular events. in contrast to a physicist who may be thinking of discrete quantum events and individual electron~, or to a biologist who may be thinking in terms of only several thousand living organisms. The laws of molecular behavior are, after all, based on observation,~ of gram-moles of material containing 6x1023 molecules; compare this with the problem of establishing laws of human behavior from observations on a much, much smaller sample. (Have there ever been a **mole" or Avogadro's number of human beings oil the earth?) In our Christian interpretation of phenomena, we want to maintain the proper balance between the immanence of God in His creation and His transcendence over it, and our statistical view of molecular phenomena has a place in these considerations. What do we mean by "natural" and "supernatural" when we use these terms? In what ways does the Holy Spirit interact with His creation? When we pray about events which involve, at some level, the movement of molecules, how do we conceive of the ways in which God may act? In general, I think that Evangelical theologians have not grappled with these questions to the extent they deserve. The A.S.A. can at least provide a forum for the thoughtful discussion of such questions, and chemists of the A.S.A. have an obligation to contribute to the discussion with those particular tools of thought which the Creator has given its to use for His glory."

Well, maybe this will serve to open tip the discus sion in this column! I'm sure many of us feel that there is little direct theological implication of what we our selves do in the laboratory. We learn such insignificant things of a restricted
area about the particular specialized branch of onl discipline in which we have trained! What do we know of Science" even thou we work at it day by day? But why shouldn't we, as Christians, be more alert to relate what we are doing to all that anyone else has learned, and to bring these things together in a Christian philosophy of science? Even if our indi vidual contribution is but a partial one, why should we not try to glorify God through making it? Someone else may build upon our ideas, or, by seeing the short comings of our ideas, be led to better ones. I must
admit, in my own case, that taking this attitude has made my teaching and my own research seem more exciting and has stimulated me to read more widely and think more deeply than I had before. What role can chemists play? Well, there is always a need for scholarly, well-informed papers for our journal and for our Annual Convention programs. If you feel you are not yet ready to tackle such a major project, why not begin on a smaller scale by contributing some briefer comments to this column? In this way you might pose questions which you think are significant and stimulate others to continue their discussion in later issues. And if you prefer to begin on a still more modest scale, the Editor will welcome your contributions to his "Of Interest" column. These may be very brief comments on articles you have run across in the literature of possible interest to other A.S.A. members in line with the purposes of the Affiliation.

I do think that getting acquainted with each other is a good idea, so I'll continue reportificy oil VOUF activities as I hear from you, at least until we have all "checked in."