Science in Christian Perspective



Irving W. Knobloch, Ph.D.
The Imperfections of Science

From: JASA 13 (December 1961): 120.

There are two main schools of thought about science -one being that science has limitless possibilities for solving all of our problems and its authority is not to be questioned. The other view, held largely by some clergymen and social scientists, is that science is not the universal panacea claimed for it by its articulate proponents. Warren Weaver is now the Vice-President of the Sloan-Kettering Foundation, a research organization. He deals delightfully with this problem in the March 1961 issue of the American Scientist, the official organ of the Sigma Xi scientific fraternity. I would strongly recommend the reading of this article by our members although it is not necessary that one believe everything that Dr. Weaver says (since science is imperfect, possibly Dr. Weaver's philosophy is also imperfect).

Many scientists believe in satisfying their craving for understanding and they understand things when they have a satisfactory theory for it; a theory, in many cases consisting of a body of mathematical equations. These equations are set up by procedural rules. Another group of scientists (sometimes the same ones) believe that a phenomenon is understod if an analogy can be produced (if you don't understand what genes are, just think of beads on a string). I gather that Dr. Weaver does not believe that either the theory or the analogy method really provides understanding. They deal with phenomena but do not explain them. Both, however, have value. The ideal theory should have generality (wide coverage), elegance (compactness), control power, and predictive value. Most theories are small and only have control and predictive value. It takes someone on the order of a genius to produce a theory having elegance and generality as well.

The admission that science cannot furnish any ulti mate explanation is evidence of the science field's honesty. It places science with o t h e r disciplines in not claiming perfection. Heisenberg's principle of indeterminancy also lends a human aspect to science in that the mechanistic principle of life is largely invalidated. Of course, Weaver is careful to point out that large scale events are deterministic because the probabilities cancel one another out (maple trees always drop their leaves in northern climates in late fall or early winter).

Another imperfection of science has to do with fallacies in the structure of both induction and deduction, the elements of science logic. Neither one can be depended upon to furnish sure or complete answers. We shall not analyze either deduction or induction here, but the reader will find the rather short summary given by Weaver quite satisfactory.

Naturally those Christians who have been unwilling to accept the dogmatic statements of certain rabid scientists regarding the exact origin of the universe and the earth, of the start of life and of the evolution of life, will find a great comfort in this article, as well they might. One must not, however, criticize science for attempting to find out the "answer" in its own ways. Critical observation and controlled experimentation still remain the accepted mode unless we wish to go back to the relatively fruitless speculative methods of the Greeks.