Science in Christian Perspective



Irving W. Knobloch, Ph.D.


From: JASA 13 (September 1961): 83.

These have been described by William H. George as the scientists most powerful pioneering tools. A good theory should not only correlate the known facts but should be fruitful in suggesting new experiments or approaches by means of which more facts can be established. J. H. Woodger might add to this that if the experiments suggested by the theory 90 contrary to expectation, then further data must be collected until the theory can be readjusted. It is important to understand here that a new theory does not displace an old theory but an old theory is toppled by contrary facts of large magnitude and a new theory is then established on the new facts. If theory and practice reach an equilibrium, then progress stops and a new breakthrough is to be hoped for. According to R. B. Braithwaite, a scientific system consists of a set of hypotheses which form a deductive system; that is, which is arranged in such a way that from some of the hypotheses as premises, all of the other hypotheses follow logically. The high level deductions are more general than the lower level ones. The empirical verification of one or more of all the lowest level hypotheses confirms the higher level hypotheses but nothing less than the verification of all the lowest level hypotheses would be sufficient to prove it; on the other hand, the empirical falsification of any one of the lowest level hypotheses, would be sufficient to refute it. To this may be added the thought of Sheldon J. Lackman that although theories are deductive in nature, they are either accepted or rejected to the extent that supportive data are acquired (or fail to be acquired) through the inductive method of science.

Little need be said about the usefulness of theories. It is generally conceded that, right or wrong, they stimulate a great deal of useful inquiry; Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection is a case in point. The Ptolemaic Theory was very useful for over 1,000 years although it has now been succeeded by the Copernican Theory. Astrology is a fruitful source of income and Marxism is a source of power today. Other theories, largely abandoned are those on animal magnetism (Mesmer 1734-1815), acquired characteristics (Lamarck 17441829), abiogenesis (Aristotle 384-322 B.C.) pholgiston (Becher 1635-1682 and Stahl 1660-1734). It is interesting, in this connection, to note that an abandoned theory may be later revived (although this seems to be a rare occurrence). Prout believed in 1800 that all elements were made up of hydrogen but evidence collected on this point caused most scientists to reject his theory. Likewise Crookes' theory of isotopes was abandoned and in its later revival helped reinstate Prout's theory regarding the structure of the atoms of the various elements.

Since science is largely an interplay between fact and theory, there is certainly a lesson in this for Christians. Theories, we know, are usually tentative unless the data for their establishment is reproducible day by day (Gas Theory). No Christian need be dismayed because someone quotes a theory to him or her. Even facts are "slippery" things, ranging all the way from unanimous assent, to majority assent to scattered assent. Witness, for example, the facts of the miracles of Christ. They were certainly facts to many thousands but the ruling class was evidently not impressed. Even today there exists uncertainty about the factual nature of miracles in some minds. What hope then do we poor mortals have of convincing anyone with our theories and our facts?