Science in Christian Perspective



I. W. Knobloch, Ph.D.

I have been sharing with readers of this column my thoughts on a variety of topics as they affect the development of a philosophy by the student. The views expressed below are quite controversial and I rather imagine that many will disagree with me on this or that interpretation. If anyone feels strongly enough about these matters, they are hereby invited to write down their views and I will promise to include them in a column in the near future.

Sooner or later the student must come to grips with some of the really controversial aspects of modem Science. Some of these are listed below together with some viewpoints on each in an effort to promote the development of a philosophy.

Some people place all the woes of the world at the doorstep of science forgetting that many of the good things of life are traceable to science. Evil is in men's very being and has been with us a long time. Evil started before science did. It is caused by man , s essentially evil nature and is not caused by nor can it be cured by science. Its cure, if possible, lies in the province of the humanities and behavioristic studies. Wars existed before science. Science and technology have merely transformed it. Would it not have been treasonable for scientists to forego war work? Shall we destroy science because men are evil? Do we prefer ignorance to understanding and darkness to light? If all men hated error as strongly as do the scientists, the world would be a much better place to live.

Reality is anything which can be said to exist. A toothache is real to the person experiencing it. A real thing can be transitory or semi-permanent. The real world can only operate successfully if it assumes that real things such as houses, sidewalks, trains, bullets, food, grass and so forth exists. One must remember that our concepts of reality are derived largely from our senses and these sometimes play tricks upon us. Johannes Muller showed that man's unaided senses give him no reliable evidence of knowledge of the external world. Our sensations do not depend upon the kind of stimulation. For example, light rays, and blows on the head both produce sensations of light in the retina of the eye. Our belief that a chair still exists there is a hypothesis which needs to be tested by looking again at the chair. Matter, the non-realist says, exists as a form of wave and this is not comprehensible to our minds. Nature in her elemental forms of electrons and so forth, is so complex that we lack the ability to form adequate pictorial concepts. Electrons are many steps removed from the direct perception of our senses.

The ordinary business of the world is carried on, however, in the belief that a primitive reality exists. The "non-realistic" viewpoint of some physicists should not be discouraged, however, because it may be productive of interesting and important ideas.

One of the pillars of Science is the concept of law in nature. Certain relationships have been found to remain constant or fairly constant. Objects normally fall to the earth, water seeks its level, plants with chlorophyll make carbohydrates, are but a few of thousands of examples which might be cited. Nature's laws are built upon the concept of an orderly cause and effect relationship. The present causes the future and not vice-versa. Causal laws are continually being discovered by man and the relationship found to occur regularly seem to be inherent and not capricious chance.

To make sure we are dealing with a cause and effect relationship we use the controlled experiment and we duplicate or even reduplicate our experiments. Controlled experiment helps us to avoid obvious errors. If winter follows the fall of the leaves on the trees is the latter the cause of the former? Obviously not since both are related to temperature drop. What causes malaria mosquitoes? Only in part is this true because the insect carries a protozoan which might cause the disease. Does the moon act as a cause of malaria? Its power to cause tides will create favorable mosquito habitats such as pools and thus we see a causal connection which we might not have thought of at first glance. We wish to make the point here that causal laws are vastly more complex than ordinarily considered.

In many problems, in fact, one cannot ascertain the entire chain of causes associated with a given effect. Our universe is made up of limitless things organized on apparently endless levels. We are discovering that causal law relationships cannot represent absolute truth because we can never examine every aspect of any matter. There are random disturbances or contingencies which our finite minds neglect to take into consideration. However there seems to be deterministic cause and effect relationship in the world. We know this because the laws have predictive value and we can look into the future and make very good estimates of what will happen. Science has made great progress because of faith in the reality of the causal laws.

However, at the macroscopic level, things go wrong, as we have pointed out. Variations and chance fluctuations occur. We cannot always predict events with absolute certainty. Our laws may be called statistical laws. All behavior ultimately must be based on the activities of the atoms themselves or the various particles constituting the atoms. These particles apparently, to our finite minds, act capriciously and randomly. They are apparently indeterministic. Thus we have a paradox in nature--determinism and indeterminism. How are we to reconcile such a situation?

Let us assume that events are chaotic at the subatomic level. Because of millions of chaotic events occuring more or less simultaneously, the statistical law of chance teaches us that the effects of these chaotic events cancel out each other and we can have a trend, an approximately regular and predictable behavior. Separate black and white grains of sand appear as black and white to an ant crawling over them but they appear as grey when viewed from a distance. In the Kinetic Theory we have statistical regularities appearing at the macroscopic level despite the alleged randomness of the movements of the molecules at the microscopic level.

In conclusion then we must ever be wary of dogmatism in our classical approach to nature via the laws of cause and effect. On the other hand, we note that there is order in nature despite the randomness of submicroscopic particles. Another word of caution might be in order. Since we are, historically, but reading the first page of the "book" dealing with submicroscopic matter, it might be unscientific to assume that the randomness we think is present is really present.

Could it not be that behind apparent disorder there is a type of order not comprehensible to our minds. Order after all, may be a matter of relativity.