Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation
THE NEW CHALLENGE TO CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP
Robert F. DeHaan
From: JASA Vol. 12 (March 1960): 18-22.
Paper .presented at the 14th Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, Chicago, Illinois, June 1959.
Without doubt Christianity has been on the defensive for the last century or so. Within the life-time of many of us it has disintegrated-a child's castle at the water's edge, gradually being washed away by the waves of science and humanism until nothing more than a little nub of sand remains. Francis Bacon, to be sure, attempted long ago to prohibit science from entering the holy of holies of man's soul, where man meets his God. But as the philosopher Max Otto9 points on, the prohibition was just a temporary treaty, as it were, protecting the citadel of the human spirit from attack only as long as the army was busily engaged elsewhere. The rights of the spirit were to be respected only as long as they did not stand in the way of science. When they did, the fortress of theology would he taken, the mysterious holy of holies blown to bits, and man's "spirit" led off among the other prisoners of science.
Let us accept for the moment the validity of this description of the state of affairs as regards Christianity, and inquire how it came to pass. In order to understand the situation we need to look at the basic dimensions of Western Civilization. Scholars have noted that Western Civilization draws its inspiration from two ancient sources: the Greco-Roman and the Hebrew-Christian cultures. These two cultures form the cables, as it were, from which our modern culture is suspended, much as the span of a bridge is suspended from its cables. Modern thinking is intertwined with strands that spring from these ancient cultures and can eventually be traced hack to Rome and Athens on the one hand or to Jerusalem and Nazareth on the other.
Each of these two cultures has a genius of its own. The Book of Genesis gives a key to the interpretation of their significance. There we read that God created in man the instinct, urge, or call it what you will, to explore. understand, and conquer his universe.6 This urge was clearly expressed by the Greeks and the Romans. Their tradition is embodied in the scientific enterprise of our day.
Genesis also gives us the basis for an interpretation of the significance of the Hebrew-Christian culture. There we read the account of how God pronounced a on the seed of the woman, Eve, from whom should come the Savior of mankind.7 This blessing in the course of history came in the person of Jesus of: Nazareth, who is the dynamic source of power of the Hebrew-Christian tradition.
Western Culture has not often been
successful in integrating the lines of thought that stem from these two:
cultures. Only in rare individuals such as St.
and St. Thomas Aquinas has an approach to the
synthesis of the Greco-Roman and the Hebrew-Christian traditions of our
culture been achieved. There appears to be a deep-seated incompatibility
between the two modes of thought that makes one of them continually in the
process of gaining or holding ascendancy over the other. Thus in the Dark Ages
the Greco-Roman tradition was eclipsed to the point where the Western mind no
longer knew of its existence.
During the Renaissance, however, the Greco-
Roman tradition was relived and Western man began to respond to it with sympathy
and with spontaneous understanding, as Dr. William Pollard describes it. 11
Dr. Pollard goes on to liken the present era to the Dark Ages because one of the basic sources of our culture has been eclipsed. Ours is not a Dark Age, to be sure. Some might even call it brilliant. But for all its brilliance it is a pointless age. Or as Riesman, 13 May. 8 Cassirer. 3 and other critics described it is an empty, rootless era. The ethical neutrality of modern science has encompassed our culture and reversed the purpose that the Hebrew-Christian culture so manifestly supplied.
Yet the continual interaction and even conflict between these two powerful forces in our culture has been the strength of Western Civilization, I believe. They are both essential to our society. And neither one can be eclipsed indefinitely by the other because both of them represent the working out of man's most fundamental need to understand and have dominion over nature and\ to have fellowship with his Creator.
Let us narrow down this discussion of the Greco-Roman tradition to the contribution of two men of science who stand so clearly in its light and whose work has been so devastating to the fortress of the Hebrew-Christian tradition. I refer to Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud. In the estimation of Emil Bruner 2 these men along with Marx and Nietzsche have most profoundly influenced modern Western thought.
One hundred years ago, Darwin published the book, The Origin of Species.4 In the introduction to the Mentor Edition of the book, Sir Julian Huxley outlined the history and present status of the theory of evolution, He sums up the matter as follows: "Today, a century after the publication of The Origin of Species Darwin's great discovery, the universal principle of natural selection, is firmly and finally established as the sole agency of major evolutionary change."
One suspects, from remarks such as these, that Darwinism is something more than just a scientific theory that has stimulated untold amounts of research and therefore enhanced man's knowledge of himself and his universe. One finds in a person like Huxley a certain exultation and even glee to have found apparently unassailable scientific proof that man's origin and destiny can be accounted for without reference to the Hebrew Christian concepts of the Creation of the world, man's dependence on God and the culmination of history in the second coming of Christ. In Darwinian evolution man found a seemingly rational basis for the belief that he is independent of God, that he can know good and evil, that he can live forever in the race, in short, that he himself can be God. This egocentric craving in the heart of man, which constitutes his basic rebellion against God, received powerful support in the theory of evolution. People responded to it with sympathy and spontaneous understanding. Primarily, it is for this reason I believe, that Darwinian evolution took such a strong hold and has such profound effects on Western thought, especially in the United States.
A second wave that engulfed the already
crumbling fortress of the Hebrew-Christian tradition was unleashed by
Freud. In his book. The Future of
Freud asserted that religion is a sort of
universal obsessional neurosis.
outright delusion. God, according to Freud, was nothing more than the infantile
figure of one's earthly father in the form of conscience carried on into
adulthood. He expressed the hope that mankind would soon outgrow all such
infantile nonsense. Freud held that one becomes neurotically ill because of an
oppressive conscience of the religious variety, that recovery or salvation comes
only through decreasing the rigidity and severity of the conscience and
encouraging greater expression to the instincts through the therapeutic
technique of psychoanalysis.
Freudian psychology provided the second line of evidence to support modern man's claim to he independent of God. Psychoanalytic theories accounted for the personal experience of religion in a way that caused theologians to stagger. One could hardly claim that his spirit met with God and still remain intellectually respectable. After all, psychoanalysis had demonstrated that the meeting was with the image of one's natural father. Indeed, the holy of holies had been shattered.
It might also be added incidentally, that the
other great source of inspiration to modern psychology, name ly, learning
theory has been quite generally
connectionistic" and behavioristic in its orientation and as such had little use for the concept of consciousness in its formal scheme. According to this view, behavior is essentially reflexive and mechanistically mediated by bonds, with no room for evaluated, judged, intelligent behavior. The denial of consciousness and thereby moral responsibility was obviously out of sympathy with the Hebrew-Christian concept of man.
The response of those who stood in the HebrewChristian tradition to Freud and Darwin can be characterized by two words: readjustment and rejection. Many Christians attempted to readjust Christianity and science to each other. They took on themselves the task of salvaging the fragments of Christianity, fitting the least offensive of these into the new scientific frame of reference. Christianity came off second best in the deal. Christ was placed on the evolutionary scale along with the rest of mankind. The species of religion called Christianity was examiner! for its natural origins and for its evolutionary development. The assumption underlying such thinking affirmed that man was leading himself through some kind of conscious evolution to realize his highest possibilities, and that all psychological, historical as well as religious development should be evaluated in the light of that assumption.
Psychoanalysis also radiated itself through Christianity. Release from repression and guilt, deliverance from the absolute moral order, rationalization of sin, the equating of salvation with trying to do good,--concepts such as these produced mutations in evangelical Christian doctrines that eventually produced a hybrid religion of quite a different order from historic Christianity.
The response of rejection to the new state of affairs took two forms. First,
many Christians rejected Christianity as intellectually indefensible. They
capitulated to science. They poured their energies into the creating of a new
world order by means of science and education.
they did maintain any semblance of
compressed into a narrow ghetto of their private lives and somehow kept separate
from their scientific and other professional endeavors.
In the second place. other Christians violently rejected science and invested all their energies in propagating a sort of non-intellectual Christianity. Their reaction was epitomized in the slogan, "The devil tempted Eve with the Tree of Knowledge: and he has been using the same approach ever since." Their position made it harder than ever to develop an intellectually sound and relevant Christianity. To many, hath within and without orthodox Christianity, it seemed that if such people were the true representatives of Christianity, then surely it must he a mere escape from rationality and reality.
The unhappy options with which a Christian scholar has been confronted up to the present are what Albert Outler 101 calls an anti-Christian intellectualism or a Christian anti-intellectualism.
A few hopeful signs are beginning to appear on
the horizon. None of them are bigger than a man's hand, to be sure, but they
provide new alternatives for the Christian scholar in place of the unhappy
options described above. These signs may indicate that the eclipse of the
Hebrew-Christian tradition is passing and that people are beginning lo respond
once more with sympathy and spontaneous understanding to evangelical thought.
One such hopeful sign is this conference and the existence of the two bodies that are sponsoring it. Another is the increasing flow of literature from the pens of evangelicals.
Let me sketch in briefly other hopeful signs
in two other crucial fields, biology and psychology.
Nowhere has modern, orthodox Christianity suffered so severely in my estimation as in the lack of a positive general theory of origins and development. It is not that Christian men both within and without science have not vigorously attacked the Darwinian concept of evolution. Generally, however, they have been unable to offer a substantial cosmology or cosmogony as an alternative to it.
Recently, however, a relatively unknown scholar, James L. Baldwin, has written a little book entitled, A New Answer to Darwinism.- which, in my judgment, merits the most serious attention of every Christian concerned with the problem of origins and development of species. This little book is the forerunner of other expanded volumes dealing with the problems in greater detail. One feature of the work is the manner in which evidence is combined with speculative considerations to provide the foundations of a cosmology and cosmogony that is compatible with basic scriptural references to this problem.
The major dimensions of Baldwin's formulation are as follows :
l. Evolution of species and individual growth are basically one and the same process. This process involves the continuity of germ cells from generation to generation and the progressive activation of recessive genes with the production of novel factors without mutations.
2. The process
of evolution and growth is carried forward primarily by forces and structures
within the organism, in its genetic makeup, not by chance
mutations and natural selections. The growth and development of species is predetermined by patterns created by God in the genes.
3. Species existed first in unicellular form
and have grown from determining factors implanted in the primordial genes
The formulation encompasses other problems such as the meaning oi the term "day" in the creative process, origins of the land masses of the earth, the relationship of the origins of the land masses with the creation of species, subsequent parallel development of species, structure and operation of genes from electro-biological point of view, electro-magnetic forces that were involved in the evolutionary process, an entirely new field concept solution to the similarity of species
This line of investigation is all the more
promising in that it is a modern vindication of the concepts of such great
thinkers as St. Augustine and St. George Mivart.
Baldwin's formulation of the origins and
development fulfills the promise it holds, Christians will have not only a
positive scientific system to flank their religious convictions, but also
another immense field of investigation suggested by it that they may explore on
their own terms. Such a fundamentally
Scripturally oriented interpretation of facts in the field of biology seems to me to be a prerequisite for similar interpretations in other fields. notably psychology.
At the present time there is considerable disarray in the field of psychology. This in itself is a hopeful sign from the point of view of the Christian psychologist. The dominant positions of psychoanalysis and psychology of learning are seen as less than completely satisfactory by psychologists themselves. In psychoanalysis there is greater emphasis on ego-psychology, that is upon will, judgment, rationality; in learning theory there is greater recognition of the role of choice in behavior than there has been heretofore. These renewed emphases now being introduced into the field stand opposed to the classical positions of Freudian psychology and the psychology of learning, am\ are certainly more congenial to Christianity than the classical formulations had been.
One of the most glaring weaknesses of contemporary psychology still remaining, however, is its abysmal lack of understanding of the genius of the Hebrew-Christian faith. In my opinion the present formulations in psychology are hopelessly inadequate at the point where they touch religion. The only varieties of religion modern psychology knows are first of all a humanistic, existential Christianity whose goals and methods seem to he no different from those of professional psychology itself. Psychologists actually stand in a consultative relationship to such religion, teaching ministers how to counsel better and how to show people the way to find themselves. The other variety of religion recognized hut rejected by most psychologists is what they describe as an unattractive. indefensible, pathological kind of whom Calvinists in general and Jonathan Edwards in particular are the worst examples. Most of us would probably also be placed in this category also.
Wherein lies the challenge to Christian psychologists? First they need to make a clean distinction as Outler l0 does between discursive and evangelical truth. The latter lies in the tradition of the Greeks and Romans. It is the rigorous pursuit of truth. It is embodied in the scientific enterprise. Its methods are the methods of science, logical thought, rational inquiry.
T he existence of a second mode of truth needs to be asserted and demonstrated. This might be called evangelical truth, and is quite different from discursive truth in methods and purposes. It is to be received and appropriated, not pursued. Faith is its method. It is embodied in Christ, not science. 1t springs from Nazareth not Athens or Rome. It is the truth that really makes men free.
Much of the confusion of modern psychology stems from the failure to distinguish between these two kinds of truth. Existential psychology strives to find truth of the evangelical kind by discursive methods. I believe the most competent minds in Christian psychology need to analyze the existential-psychological approach and show its futility in finding ultimate meaning in life.
The second challenge to Christian psychologists as I see it. is to work out a comprehensive and systematic doctrine of man. anthropological in the broad sense, that will compete on the market place of ideas with other scientific theories of man. The theory needs to encompass all known facts: it should draw from many disciplines; it should be based on broad fundamental principles.
Such a positive doctrine is as conspicuously lacking as a comprehensive theory of origins and development has been up to the very recent past. We have not given modern man a choice or option that is real. I find with students, for instance, that psychoanalytical theory has real appeal almost against the wishes of the students partly bemuse there is nothing rooted in the HebrewChristian tradition that can compete with it. What has been produced to date is either a modification of existing psychological theories. or scientifically beefed up theological doctrines.
Whoever takes on this task of developing a new
theory of man will have to deal with problems ranging from philosophy and
theology on the one hand to the new quantum physics on the other. To be sure
many aspects of this problem have been attacked now and again by very competent
evangelical writers. The total problem needs to be encompassed, however, on a
comprehensive systematic basis. Perhaps it is too much to hope that a
Christian scientific doctrine of man might be so monumental that one wot1ld be
forced to choose between it and other contemporary doctrines in essence in order
to remain intellectually honest.
In my thinking about the challenge that the
fields of biology and psychology hold to the Christian scholar, I began to ask
myself what were the criteria that should characterize such research? What
guidelines might be followed by those interested in such endeavors.
I would like to present five characteristics for your consideration.
1. Such research should be both ruthlessly scientific and unequivocally evangelical. It must encompass all established facts, including those given in evangelical truth. It should stem from the thinking of both the great men of science and philosophy on the one hand and also from the work of the great spiritual men and theologians on the other from .Moses through St. Paul, St. Augustine, Calvin and a host of others.
2. Such research needs to be fundamental That is, it must be based on primitive, elementary, unitary principles in so far as possible. The human will i example of a fundamental concept, I believe. Although it is elaborated in many forms it is basically an elementary, primitive aspect of the human organism.
3. Such research should be integrated, synthetic. That is, it should combine facts and fundamental concepts from many fields, even widely divergent fields. I am becoming more sure, for example, that many kinds of electro-magnetic phenomena have a direct bearing on psychology. Generally speaking the array of scientific facts is already available; we do not need to produce new facts in order to get started. What is needed is a new frame-of-reference for interpreting facts more adequately than can at present be done. The final outcome of these efforts to integrate sciences and religion should permit one to start from any discipline and from it cover basic postulates that are implicit or explicitly found in other disciplines and that are congruent with Christian doctrines.
4. The research must be relevant. In their
scientific endeavors Christians should deal with the same phenomena that
secular scientists do. They may deal with others besides, of course. Only in
this way can the argument be joined and a decision or agreement reached.
In the past, Christianity has often failed to consider the same problems as
did science, hence their ways parted and science had the best of it. In the
future, it may be that the situation may be reversed.
5. The research should be broadly evangelistic in intent, and aimed at the intellectual segment of society, especially students. The research efforts of Christians should prepare an intellectual, emotional, and social context that will allow the voice of Christianity, Christ, a sympathetic. responsive hearing. Let me illustrate what I mean. will you imagine with me a world in which along side the Darwinian theory of evolution is a Christian theory of evolution that is based on every scientific fact which Darwinism is based and more be sides, that does full justice to every Biblical utterance, and yet contradicts Darwinian interpretation on every relevant issue? Such a theory would offer a true option to Darwinian theory. Now imagine a similar situation for psychology, anthropology, economics, etc., making allowance for areas of agreement as well as for contradiction. Intellectuals and students might not believe the Christian interpretations of science, but they at least would not be forced into an anti-Christian intellectualism by default. Such a situation would promote evangelism on the campus by tending to stop the mouths of skeptics and scoffers.
In closing, I wish to make a few observations on a problem which I imagine all of us face at least to some extent. Most of us can probably devote no more than mere snatches of spare time to do the kind of synthesizing research that I am referring to here. After a full day of teaching, reading students' papers, preparing sermons, spending a minimum amount of time with wife and children, we try to devote a few paltry moments to reading and thinking about these most vital problems. It seems to me that if progress is to be made in developing a general Christian philosophy of science and if we are to progress in specific lines of research more Christian men of science are going to have to devote larger blocks of time to it than they are able to give at present. Until they do our progress is likely to be much slower than it should be.
I would like to propose, if it has not already been clone, that the organizations sponsoring this conference take a lead in establishing machinery for providing extended fellowships and research grants for the purpose of encouraging research toward this end. Invitations could be sent out to the membership to submit research proposals. Grants could be made on the basis of a sum mer, a semester, or a full year. They should be of sufficient amount to enable the recipient to move with his family to a university center, a research library, or specialized laboratory where study could be carried on free from administrative, teaching or other pressures.
A fund for such grants might be sought from contributions from the membership or from one or more foundations that might be encouraged to support such endeavors. Perhaps an institute might be established for the dissemination and interchange of information gained from such research. In fact, such an institute might become the seed from which a new Christian university or research center might spring. I have attempted to describe the challenge confronting the Christian men of science, especially from the viewpoints of biology and psychology. I have sketched briefly the lines in which I think further efforts should be directed. These are not necessarily the only or the best directions. I am firmly convinced, however· that organized. well financed, concerted efforts are necessary to supplement the efforts of lone individuals working on the fringes of their time and energy.
1. Baldwin, James L., A New Answer to Darwinism, Chicago: Evangelical Publication, 1956.
2. Brunner, H. Emil,
.Man In Revolt: A Christian Anthropology, New York:
3. Cassirer. Ernst,
Haven: Yale University Press, 1944. ·
4. Darwin, Charles, The Origin of the Species, New York: Jewish American Library, 1958.
5. Freud, Sigmund, The Future of All Illusion, London: Hogarth Press, 1928.
6. Genesis 1 :26, 28.
7. Genesis 3:15.
8. May, Rollo, Man's Search For Himself, :New York, 1953.
9. Otto, Max, Science and the Moral Life, New York: New American Library, 1949.
10. Outler, Albert, "Quid Est Veritas?'' Proceedings, Inaugural Dinner, Council of Protestant Colleges and Universities. 1959
11. Pollard, William, "Dark Ages and Renaissance in the Twentieth Century" in The Christian Idea of Education, by Edmund Fuller, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957.
13. Riesman, David, The Lonely Crowd, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.