Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 15 (June 1963): 59-60.

Many of us have become more and more deeply involved in the art of dipping into the taxpayer's pockets to support research and other forms of scientific education. We joke about "grantsmanship." One other thing has happened. In the last few years, especially since the 1960 Presidential campaign, we have been hearing two ideas with increasing frequency. One is that federal support of education is to be avoided. The other is that federal support of education in religiously oriented schools is to be avoided like the plague.

I disagree vigorously with both these positions if they are taken as blanket statements. I am now in the process of moving from a state supported university, the University of Mississippi, to a new college closely allied to a church, Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. Thus I have done some thinking recently about both these ideas-and lo! I have concluded that it is all right for both state schools and Christian colleges to accept federal money for special projects in scientific education.

What is right about federal support of chemical projects-both research and teaching-in state and church schools? I think that in reality the federal government is buying something, namely, the results of research and science teaching. In a sense all grants are contracts. A representative of the Air Force told me that the Air Force was interested in supporting basic science in the free world because basic science is, ultimately, a means of opposing communism. He said the Air Force therefore also supports science in foreign schools. Now, there is a point: if we object to federal grants or contracts with non-federal American schools, we ought to object to similar grant or contract work with foreign schools. This is not foreign aid; it is buying something abroad.

Should the federal government buy research and science education? The U. S. Constitution instructs Congress to promote the progress of science by protecting the rights of inventors and authors (Art. 1, Sec. 8). The framers of the Constitution considered promotion of science a national matter. Science means more today than it did then, and promotion of science has a broader meaning than the granting of patents. In addition, we today consider science an absolute necessity in all the schools we support-Christian and public-because it is an integral part of life. The federal government supports science for the same reason and to insure that the free world in general and the U. S. in particular have good science. Here is one place state and Christian schools can make common cause with the federal government.

What about objections to federal support of special science projects? There certainly can be bad interference on the part of the federal government. Surely overcentralization of power is a curse of our times. Taxpayers in any state know, for example, that the teachers they hire ought to be paid a professional wage. I see no reason for using federal taxes to pay these teachers. Their local taxes, or religious contributions, ought to take care of this matter. But I have a little difficulty visualizing a professor with research ideas successfully proposing them to the average school administration. Whoever believes school administrations have the vision to grant large sums to individual teaching and research projects ought to find out how many schools are now donating tile grant overhead (now 15-25%) to the project!

There is too much of a tendency to treat all professors equally. What one is granted, all must receive. The idea of an outside granting agency is still essential to our way of doing things, and there is so much science needed that the only outside source that can handle the bulk of it is the U. S. Government.

Does federal control follow federal money? Saying that control follows the money is something of a cliche. Certainly an outside source is not capable of making basic research decisions. This would lead to a poorer quality of results, and everyone concerned understand

that. Even the original proposal for research must by its very nature be made by the investigator, for much of the thinking in a research project is in the proposal. If a government bureaucrat can produce proposals, more power to him: he is producing science. The granting agency can influence matters by the way it chooses projects. In principle one might object to the choices that have been made. Yet there isn't any doubt that the choices are made by suitably chosen representatives of the scientific community. From what I have seen the selecting process has been as strong--or as weak-as the scientific community itself.

Do you agree that criticism of overcentralization in education must be more specific than it usually is? Let's get some back talk in time for the next issue, if possible. Remember I'd like to hear from you on any subject even remotely associated with chemistry. Comments, complaints, articles, information about pertinent developments, books of interest, and reports on meetings are all invited. Write me when the idea comes-if not sooner! - Russell Maatman, Dept. of Chemistry, the University of Mississippi, University, Miss. (After Sept. 1, 1963: Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa).