Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 15 (September 1963):

1. The Unwinding Universe. Organic evolution is generally considered to be a winding-up process with life becoming more and more complex. Contrasted to this idea is that which envisions the universe as running down according to the Second Law of Thermodynamics with an accompanying increase in entropy or disorder. Actually both points of view are defendable in some area. From the evolutionary point of view, one would expect that micro-organisms would be simpler than the more complicated ones. From certain points of view this is true, but in the 1959 Cold Spring Harbor Symposlum on Quantitative Biology (Biological Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, N. Y.), Dr. G. L. Stebbins on page 306 quotes a fact from the work of Kluyver and Van Niel that micro-organisms can perfo rm a larger number of enzymatic syntheses than can Metazoa or higher plants. From this one can safely conclude that some apparently simple organisms are not as simple as they appear to be.

2. When Did Land Plants Originate? There is a common misconception that the earth was covered with water in the Cambrian Period and that only aquatic organisms existed at that time. This idea was thought necessary to strengthen the view that life arose in the sea and then progressed onto the land. It has been found, however, that practically all the phyla capable of being preserved are now found in the Cambrian, and the new idea is that if organic evolution in the phylogenetic sense took place, it occurred prior to the Cambrian. We also now know that there was dry land in the Cambrian, and in the symposium mentioned above a palcobotanist, Dr. Andrews, is inclined to believe that land plants did indeed exist in the Cambrian.

3. A Healthy Point of View. Ronald Good is a noted English botanist. In Features of Evolution in Flowering Plants (Longmans, Green and Co., London, 1956) he makes the following interesting points: (1) Evolution exceeds the sum of human experience, and thus the evidence for it (even fossils) is indirect. (2) While evolution is a reasonable explanation, it is not justifiable to maintain that no other explanation is possible. (3) Indirect evidence cannot be final proof but can only lead to a high degree of probability. (4) The literature of evolution has to be read with caution, because the discussion of evolution commonly evokes degrees of feeling unusual in scientific circles and more familiar in religious controversy. Great contributions are often marred by a failure to let the facts speak for themselves.

My comment on these points is that more scientists should take them to heart. Too often one finds otherwise logical men becoming quite heated and emotional when an aspect of the Evolutionary Theory is called into question. Certainly some aspects of the theory are true, but this is no guarantee that all parts of it are factual.

4. Can Life be Created in the Test Tube? A number of biochemists are subjecting chemicals, notably ammonia, methane, hydrogen and water, to electrical sparks of various voltages in an effort to produce something living. So far, only simple proteins have been made; since these are the same as or similar to those stored in bottles in chemistry laboratories, one cannot logically say that anything "living" has been made. According to the St. Paul Dispatch of January 16, 1963, Drs. C. Arthur Knight and Karl Grossenbacher have been trying to create life for three years. The article infers that they have not as yet succeeded. Dr. Knight is quoted as saying that the purpose of the experiment is to duplicate the evolutionary process. I suspect that he did not wish to be quoted in this way because, as most people know, the creation of life and organic evolution are two separate ideas. One cannot have evolution without the creation of life, but the creation of the living form is not necessarily followed by evolution.-Irving W. Knobloch

The Perpetual Dialogue

In teaching and studying biology at a Christian college, there is more academic freedom than can be found elsewhere. As Christians we know by direct revelation (Scripture) that God was the originator and sustainef of all life, ". . . all things were created by him and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist." (Col. 1:16-17). Yet in many American college classrooms neither the instructor nor the student feels at liberty to mention God's part in life. Can we imagine a class trying to study an invention without complete freedom to mention the inventor? Inasmuch as such a class is inhibited in recognizing the inventor, their study of his invention is both inadequate and inaccurate. In the Christian college God can have His proper place in the Biology classroom as elsewhere on campus. The role of God in creating and maintaining life can be integrated with all other aspects of a biological curriculum.

For example, Christ's words in Mat. 6:28 have a beautiful and accurate application to the latest biochemistry of photosynthesis, "they toil not, neither do they spin." It is by a passive receptivity to light that a plant . . . produces its sugar supply. One sees God's role in embryological development in Psalm 139:13, 15-16,

For thou hast possessed my reins: thou has covered me in my mother's womb ... My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all MY members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.

Likewise, one can have nothing less than awe when he reads these words of Gen. 9:4 written thousands of years before the discovery of a circulatory system: "But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat."

When it comes to the topic of "origins," a student is shown how much of this study depends upon one's philosophy and not one's science! The same facts of biology can be made to fit a materialistic and evolutionary view, or can be used as evidence of God's creative genius. By studying the work of recent evangelical scientists, theologians, and philosophers, it is seen how the facts of science nicely fit the truth of Gen. 1. It is Gen. I that helps the Christian biologist avoid the evolutionary pitfalls of our day.

Yet it is not enough to present a course with a firm Biblical and Christian orientation to biology. It is also a must to equip our students with technical skills necessary for success in the rapidly expanding biological professions. Man was commissioned by God to subdue the earth; it is thus God's will that His people achieve in the world of medicine, horticulture, or research . . . .

It is also necessary to provide cultural enrichment for non-biology majors and to equip them for life in a world where DNA and ATP are becoming household phrases. A glance at recent issues of Reader's Digest or Saturday Evening Post will demonstrate the relevance of research biology in our day. Solomon appreciated the richness that comes in understanding the world of life -1 Kings 4:29-34. It is fun to try to answer such questions as "What is that plant?" or "How does water reach the top of Eucalyptus trees?"

. In a Christian education courses must be anchored to a Christian framework and must also be truly educational. Anything less (in the name of "Christian liberal arts") is inadequate.-George F. Howe, Asst, Prof. of Biology, Westmont College. Adapted by permission from the Westmont Courier, vol. 15, no. 1, p. 4, Feb. 1963.

Southern Baptists, Genesis, and Education

In June 1962 when the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) met in San Francisco, the press carried headlines, "Southern Baptists Denounce Darwin." The stories dealt with the controversy over a book published by the denomination's publishing house in 1961.

The book was The Message of Genesis by Dr. Ralph Elliott. In May 1963 when the SBC met in Kansas City with 12,971 registrants for its 106th annual session, the controversy was still hot. Dr. K. Owen White, a Houston, Texas, pastor who had been a leader of the antiElliott wing, was elected president. Tension preceding and during the convention was again high. By this time it was clear that neither the book itself nor any creation-vs.-evolution debate implied in misleading headlines of the previous year was the real issue. The conflict actually centered around the definition of doctrinal purity to be maintained in seminaries owned by a passionately democratic denomination which has prided itself on having no creed. Nevertheless, at the 1963 Convention a lengthy "Statement of Baptist Faith and Message" drawn up by a special committee of presidents of the state conventions was presented. Several attempts were made from the floor to amend the statement, and one motion was made to declare the Executive Committee of the SBC guilty of heresy in recommending in 1962 that the SBC have such a statement! That motion was ruled out of order, and the total statement was adopted without change.

Dr. Elliott's book actually appears to be relatively mild. (See its review in this issue). It met with varied response as soon as it was released, some Baptist leaders favoring its content and others objecting strenuously to its approach and message. Those who opposed the book seemed to feel that Broadman Press should have blocked its publication from the outset, and some felt that Dr. Elliott should be removed from the faculty of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. For example, in Jan. 1962 Dr. K. Owen White suggested that the Houston Baptist Pastors Conference write to members of the SBC Executive Board asking for the removal of Dr. Elliott. By that time the Midwestern Seminary trustees had issued a statement expressing confidence in Dr. Elliott's personal beliefs, but Dr. White said he was concerned about "what he writes and what he teaches in the classroom."

The Jan. 10, 1962, issue of the weekly Texas Baptist Standard was devoted primarily to "Baptist Theologians and Their Books," with an editorial by Editor E. S. James and articles by Dr. White and by Robert H. Craft on The Message of Genesis. Craft, the pastor of a Kansas Baptist church, considered the book "the most significant and creative contribution to the field of Biblical scholarship for Southern Baptists since the writings of Dr. H. E. Dana and Dr. A. T. Robertson." Dr. James said of the book, "We do not believe it should have been written by a Southern Baptist theologian, and we hold that Broadman Press should not have published it for Baptist readers." Dr. White's article, "Death in the Pot," began with about a dozen quotations from the book to show that it was "poison" and "liberalism, pure and simple." Passages he cited as objectionable included the following:

- 'God took him' is not necessarily an indication that he disappeared suddenly and was nowhere to be found. It is the Old Testament expression of belief in the idea of immortality."

"The tower of Babel parable shows the futility and emptiness of human effort divorced from the acknowledgment and service of God."

"In other words, there are a great many evidences which, while not giving conclusive proof, lend strong credence to the historicity of the patriarchs."

"Quite possibly some of the stories have been heightened and intensified by materials that are not literally historical, for the purpose of the Bible is not merely to give a factual account of events."

Dr. White was then chairman of the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. A few weeks later a meeting of District Four of the BGCT commended Dr. White and Dr. James for opposing the book and passed a resolution asking SBC seminaries and Texas Baptist colleges to ban teaching of it and asking the trustees of Midwestern Seminary to "restudy" and "clarify" their vote of confidence in Dr. Elliott. The effect of such continuing publicity was to create a demand which exhausted the entire first printing (4,053 copies) during the spring of 1962. Editorial comments in other state Baptist papers had the constituency of the entire SBC worked up to a high tension by June when the Convention met in San Francisco. It passed the following motion presented by Dr. White:

1. That the messengers to this convention, by standing vote, reaffirm their faith in the entire Bible as the authoritative, authentic, infallible Word of God.

2. That we express our abiding and unchanging objection to the dissemination of the theological views at any of our seminaries which would undermine such faith in the historical accuracy and doctrinal integrity of the Bible, and that we courteously request the trustees and the administrative officers of our institutions and (other) agencies to take such steps as shall be necessary to remedy at once these situations where such views now threaten our historical position.

Dr. James L. Sullivan, Executive Secretary-treasurer of the Sunday School Board, of which Broadman Press is a part, had already decided to handle The Message of Genesis as a special case and had postponed action on reprinting it until after the Convention. At the July meeting of the elected Sunday School Board in Glorieta, N. Mex., he suggested several alternatives to the Board's Plans and Policies Committee, including reprinting, not reprinting, asking the author to consider revision, or asking that "Dr. K. 0. White, or someone else, write a book for publication setting forth a more conservative view to be studied along with the Elliott book." The Committee and the whole Sunday School Board voted to let the matter pass without taking any action, i.e., to let the book simply go out of stock. This move irritated Dr. James because it was too passive. In an Aug. I editorial he demanded a study in depth of the Board's policy of publishing controversial books, adding, "if their reported action is final and is their idea of depth, we would hate to depend on them to find well water in West Texas." Dr. Sullivan replied that defending the book and defending the Board's book publishing responsibility were two utterly different things; publishing The Message of Genesis harmonized with the publishing philosophy that had grown out of history, experience, and SBC assignments. The only mistake Dr. Sullivan admitted was a slip-up in a single instance of advertising the book in certain Sunday School Board periodicals which made it appear that the book was designed for a wide readership rather than for a scholarly audience.

Meanwhile, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary called a special meeting of the board for Sept. 27 to give consideration to the Convention's motion regarding theological teaching and to "take necessary actions." At that meeting a special committee of seven was appointed to "study our institution in regard to our theological controversy and seek an amicable solution and bring recommendations to the full board." The special committee met on October 17-19 in Kansas City, conferred at length with Dr. Elliott and with Dr. Millard J. Berquist, president of the seminary, and presented their report to the full board at a meeting on Oct. 25. The report contained a strong statement of devotion to the fundamental doctrines of the faith and of belief in the Bible as the final authority in all matters of Christian faith and practice. On the other hand, the trustees recognized among themselves and among Southern Baptists some divergence of views regarding interpretation of various passages of the Bible. They felt that Baptists "have not in the past and do not now make identical understanding of all passages in the Bible a test of fellowship."

Acknowledging that a theological seminary must have a certain pre-set framework of doctrinal beliefs by which its teachers must be tested, the report also made clear that the task of the teacher is to continue to search for a fuller understanding of divine truth and to declare that truth:

"The 'Literary-Critical and Historical approach' to the study of the Scripture is recognized as one of the valid ways of approaching the Bible. This method is not an end in itself and is not the only approach to the Bible. Among Bible students this approach is included and it is recognized that the method is not in conflict with the historic position of Baptists. This recognition does not carry approval of all conclusions reached by all students following this method."

The report then listed nine points concerning the controversy on which there was unanimous agreement within the committee itself and with which Dr. Elliott fully concurred, points such as a firm belief in the Bible as God's word, belief in the inspiration of the Bible and all parts thereof (but "the method of inspiration is not to be thought of as a test for Baptist fellowship"), acknowledgment of the miraculous and supernatural character of the acts of God presented in the Bible, and rejection of any theory that regards the Bible as a book of folk-lore and mythology.

However, on the tenth point they hit a snag. The committee faced Dr. Elliott with the impact of the publication of The Message of Genesis "with full knowledge of confusion, turmoil, tension, and division which has arisen." The cominittee then asked Dr. Elliott, in the light of their effort to work out an amicable solution to the problem, not to seek republication of the book at that time. Dr. Elliott responded that "after conscientious reflection, I cannot accede to the request that the book not be published." After further attempts to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution, the committee "reluctantly and regretfully" reported to the Board of Trustees that such a solution was impossible, and it therefore recommended the dismissal of Dr. Elliott from the faculty. The trustees, approving the report by a vote of 24 to 5, voted to continue Dr. Elliott's salary and all fringe benefits for a year and to "provide moving expenses," and then issued a statement that he had been dismissed from the faculty.

There were immediate protests by students and faculty members of Baptist seminaries and colleges, but the matter apparently was closed. Dr. Elliott assumed an interim pastorate in a Kansas City church, announcing that he was not a candidate for its permanent pastor. Publication rights to The Message of Genesis were returned to him by Broadman Press, and the book has now appeared as a paperback under the imprint of Abbott Books, the Disciples of Christ publishing house. Before Dr. Elliott's dismissal last fall the following comments appeared in an editorial in The Maryland Baptist:

What the Convention said in San Francisco is now clear, in perspective. It said that a professor in one of our seminaries is not free to interpret the Bible out of harmony with the prevailing majority views of the Convention. It reversed the publishing policy of the Sunday School Board; it declared that not various views but only the views of the majority may be published in Broadman books. The right to dissent, historically championed by Baptists, has been denied in our midst.

Still, the publication of this book was a breakthrough for progressive biblical scholarship in Southern Baptist ranks. John R. Sampey wrote in his Syllabus for Old Testament Studies 60 years ago, 'Possibly the higher criticism of the Pentateuch is the most important critical problem confronting students of the Old Testament. Fundamental and difficult, it calls for patience, industry, and the ability to sift evidence and estimate its value.

After 60 years, Ralph H. Elliott is the first Southern Baptist scholar ever to attempt such a book. Southern Baptists are that far behind!"

Dr. Elliott's effort will make it easier for others. Other scholars will arise to continue the work so courageously begun by this man whose reverence for the Bible surpasses that of a majority of his critics.

But the question is, will such scholars be able to stay in the ranks of Southern Baptists?-Walter R. Hearn.