Science in Christian Perspective



I. W. Knobloch, Ph.D.

From: JASA 11 (September 1959): 21.

It was my belief that the recent series here listing points about biology would stir up a hornet's nest because of the controversial nature of the material. However, to date, I have received only one reply. This was from Dr. William Tinkle and with his permission, the letter is quoted in full below.

Instead of criticising your views as expressed in the September journal I agree whole-heartedly. I regret the typographical errors here and there but think they are not your fault.

Your paragraph, "Is Science Evil" illustrates the present unfavorable position of biology in public esteem. This situation is not realized by many people, for we are said to be living in a scientific age. It is not biology, however, which occupies the headlines but physics and chemistry applied to warfare. Even the chemists and physicists are not accorded wholesome appreciation but are regarded as wizards, doing the dirty work which our national existence requires.

There is a little appreciation, we must admit, for medical research. But where, at the present, is there honor for men like Louis Agassiz and Asa Gray who introduced to us the living world and taught us to love it? We still have such men and women, devoted, big souled, underpaid, some of them devout Christians. If we could get the ear of the public to explain our kind of science, no one would ask if it is evil.

Another condition which gives me concern is the subservience of science to national governments in the last few decades. Science, unlike magic, is supposed to be reported objectively and fully, so that any one who understands the data can check the correctness of the conclusion and apply the principle so obtained. The international status thus attained has helped preserve the peace of the world, increasing common purposes and understanding. We even suspect, as in the case of Russian genetics, that political interference leads to erroneous science.

The workers themselves are very glad when such restrictions are lifted. At the Second U. N. International Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, "The American scientist who said 'This is pure joy to be able to talk freely' spoke for most participants." (Science, 26 Sept. 1958)

Science can not be evil if it leads to correct theories and laws, but we do not vouch for the soundness of all that passes as science. That is one reason we have an American Scientific Affiliation. And of course we deplore the improper use of the results of research.

Dr. Tinkle mentions Russian Science and it is planned to say something on this matter soon.

It is the present writer's opinion that recombination or hybridization is one of the most important methods evolved by "Nature" for the production of new species. From time to time, we shall bring important articles to your attention, dealing with this subject. Below is a short review of such an article by Dr. Stebbins.

The Inviability, Weakness, and Sterility of Interspecific Hybrids, by G. Ledyard Stebbins. Advances in Genetics 9, 147-215 (1958).

Dr. Stebbins is one of the leading biologists of our time and beside doing a great deal of fact-finding, he is able to draw facts together into generalizations. This is an important part of science because from generalizations (or principles) we may frequently make useful predictions.

The title is an exact lead to the contents of the article. The fact that there are thirteen pages of cited references is a good indication of the solid substance of the article. As some readers of this column are aware, the present writer is an advocate of hybridization as an important method of speciation and it is a trifle disconcerting to read of the many cases of sterility among hybrids. However, after recounting, in one section, the cases where the sterility of the hybrids increase after the first generation, he subsequently cites examples of the reverse situation.

In his conclusion, Dr. Stebbins is of the opinion that his speculations and generalizations are premature. However, he is quite definite in believing that "the causes underlying the erection of barriers of reproductive isolation and therefore of the origin of species, differ considerably from one group of organisms to another". He also believes that no further causes of the origin of species need be searched for since reproductive isolation is sufficient. With this philosophy, the present writer cannot agree because he feels that we are but on the very threshold of discoveries regarding the nucleic acids and heredity, the production of man-made heredity through the substitution of desirable acids for undesirable ones, and similar intriguing topics.