Science in Christian Perspective




The Relationship of the Christian Religion
to the College Student

From: JASA 14 (December 1962): 116-117.

Is a student obligated to have two philosophies, one developed in his church on Sundays with the help of his minister and another developed in his science classes with the aid of his professors? Are there two sets of "truths" and, if so, are these antagonistic, the one to the other? Are there not many students who, faced with an apparent duality, have abandoned their religion and accepted the "certainty" of science in preference to the uncertainty" of religion?

This particular article is written by a biologist but my views on science and religion would not be endorsed by all scientists. Likewise, if a clergyman were writing on these matters, universal agreement would also be lacking. There are so many possible viewpoints that one can become discouraged. The danger mounts if one becomes dogmatic or if one expresses either too liberal or too conservative a viewpoint. A wise course is for scientists never to write on religious matters and for clergymen never to write on scientific matters. However, the relationship of science to religion is both an interesting and an important subject and must be grappled with by someone. Many attempts along this line have already been made by others and in the space of this short article only some highlights can be given. Although an attempt at objectivity will be made, an unintentional bias may appear; for this, I apologize in advance.

Some of the questions asked by the troubled student are as follows:

1. Is There a God?

This is a question which neither science nor religion can answer. Apprehension by the senses is impossible in this case, and science can have nothing to say one way or the other. An atheist can deny the existence of a God, but his denial is an act of faith and not of fact. A religious scientist believes in God because it is more logical to believe that an orderly and wonderful universe was ordered by a lawgiver than that everything came into being "all by itself." This latter event, we believe, is improbable.

2. Does God Perform Miracles, and If So, Are These
Violations of His Own Laws?

This is another philosophical question and one very difficult to answer. One seemingly logical position on this is to start by saying that the only kind of a God worth believing in is an omnipotent one. If so, such a God could perform miracles. Down through the ages various events have been termed miracles which were subsequently shown to be natural events. After all, a miracle is something we do not understand at all. It also must be remembered that scientists do not know all of "Nature's" laws. We are still uncovering relationships only remotely dreamed of 50 years ago. Some miracles, then, may be workings of undiscovered laws. However, the person who believes in an omnipotent God can see nothing wrong in an extrapolation of natural law for some special purpose.

3. Did God Make the Solar System in Six Days or Did it Evolve?

Not only could books be written on this point alone, but there is little hope of answering the question satisfactorily. Some devout Christians feel that the Bible specifically states a six-day creation and that this automatically rules out evolution. Others are not so sure. One can flatly state that an omnipotent God could have made the entire Universe in six days or six seconds. Another "fact" is that change seems to be one of the characterstics of both the organic and the inorganic world. There are organisms here which probably did not exist even fifty years ago, and many species formerly here are no longer with us. A good deal has been learned about evolution since the Greeks proposed the idea and about speciation since Darwin turned his talents to the question. It is becoming increasingly apparent that while speciation (the formation of new species by mutation, hybridization, etc.) is a "fact," evolution, in the phylogenetic sense, is not a fact. Scientists know that most of the phyla were established by the Cambrian period and if phylogenetic evolution occurred, it came about before the Cambrian. The Theory of Evolution is a grand concept and one that the working scientist must adopt. However, aside from the speciation angle, much in it must be taken on faith. It does seem logical to the Christian that God played some part in the formation of the Universe, but the exact methodology is uncertain.

4. How Can a Student Believe in a Flat, 6000-Year-Old Earth?

Some critics of the Bible delight in pointing out certain figurative passages which speak of the "four corners of the earth." We use the same expression nowadays. Other passages which infer a sphericity are ignored. The Bible does not state that the earth is flat, nor does it say how old it is. Any figures printed in the margin of the Bible are interpretations, and it is always very important to distinguish between unequivocable statements and interpretations. It seems likely that a God worth believing in is also omniscient and therefore any statements in the Bible which seem to contradict the proven facts of science are either translator's or copyist's errors.

5. How Old Is Man and Is He an Animal?

There is a growing conviction that man is older than formerly thought. Some place him in the ice age said to prevail about 500,000 years ago, and he may have been in existence before that time. The general trend in modern research is to push origins backwards as more information comes in.

No longer are the early periods of pre-history said to be characterized with exclusively simple forms of life. The Cambrian, for example, has examples of all of the phyla except some soft-bodied ones. However, the Christian student must bear in mind that man himself is not a homogeneous organism. There are a number of races. Some human beings look animal-like while others resemble ancient Greek philosophers. Some of us are relatively good, and some of us are vile. Our vileness may be due to sin or it may be due to our animal inheritance. No one really knows.

The evidence from anthropologists on man's pedigree is contradictory. The present belief is that man did not come from any present-day primate but that both had a common ancestor. Thus the idea of a missing link has been largely abandoned. Science has not proved as yet that man arose from a sub-human ancestor. If a Christian wishes to believe that God created man directly, he can do so on faith and science cannot contradict him.

There are many devout Christians who believe that phylogenetic evolution is the law of life and that man arose from pre-human ancestors by evolutionary processes. These people also believe in the Doctrine of Redemption and have adjusted their thinking to take in both of these concepts. This can be done, but neither side can quote any proof from science.

The question as to whether man is an animal or not has been partially answered above. His anatomy suggests that of an animal, but whether his anatomy came about through evolutionary change from a prehuman, or whether God built his body on a plan similar to that of the higher animals for reasons of efficiency, will not be known, at least for some time.

Some fundamentalists will think that this article was written by a liberal, and some liberals will call me a fundamentalist. This is the price one has to pay for considering both sides of a question. Some students will be disappointed in not having a definite philosophy outlined which they can follow verbatim. However, while we know a great deal about nature, there are unanswered questions. Archaeological science has verified much that is written in the Bible. Biological matters are a slightly different thing. Science has not disproven the Bible, nor has science made it obsolete. It has, however, made untenable certain interpretations that some people hold about the Bible. If these interpretations are corrected, no permanent damage should result to one's faith.

Well-rounded scientists (and there are many who are not) realize that much of science rests on faith of one kind or another and that some of the questions asked above are still outside the realm of empirical science. There is no need for the Christian student to panic in the face of mounting scientific discoveries. One would be well advised to continue reading and probing, to keep an open mind, and, above all, to avoid dogmatism, particularly the kind that says that everything old is bad and everything new is good. After all, what is really true in science cannot be antagonistic to what is really true in religion because both science and religion are components of one world.

Note: The above essay is a chapter of a projected book. Dr. Knobloch will appreciate additional thoughts as well as corrections for that chapter. Please correspond directly with him at the Dept. of Botany, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich.