Science in Christian Perspective



Russell Heddendorf

From: JASA 16 (June 1964): 42, 58.

If sociology is seen as a "pure" social science, one of the foremost applied social sciences is social work. In its theory and research, the pure science establishes the existence of pathological consequences of social behavior. In sociology, these are referred to as social problems. They exist in a fashion similar to the way in which diseases are found in the human organism. It is the purpose of an applied social science to understand these problems and to remove them to the extent that it is in the province of man to do so. The application of such effort to a problem requires the use of skills and techniques beyond the sphere of activity of the "pure" social scientist. In this respect, social work can be classified with medicine as an "art."

This writer suggested in the December 1963 issue (15: 116-117) that there are generalized forces which operate in the social world of man. If it is the responsibility of the Christian sociologist to understand these laws, since they reflect the controlling element of God's hand, then it is the obligation of the Christian social worker also to understand these laws and work to provide those adjustments in the system which can honor God. Surely the Christian medical doctor, as an applied scientist, has similar motivations along with the desire to alleviate human suffering.

Perhaps it is in such an effort to help the needy that the philosophy of contemporary social work is framed. If so, this philosophy could possibly reflect guilt feelings on the part of the individual and not an effort to seek God's working in society. Such a suggestion has been made by at least a social psychologist and a political scientist. 1 They believe that the sons of the wealthy become liberal in their politics and concerned with social welfare because of guilt feelings. Similar motivation might exist in those areas of highly institutionalized religion which advocate social reform. It would seem important, then, for the Christian to perceive clearly the reasons for his social consciousness. Is he merely responding to the relatively deprived state of others, or is his love and concern for others reflective of the love that God has f or him? Is his social consciousness the result of conscience or commitment?

At present, we do not have an integrated sociological theory of social problems.2 Rather, we approach social problems through specialized areas of pathology, such as crime, drug addiction, etc. It is entirely likely, however, that such an integrated approach is possible. If such olympian heights should be gained, the sociologist might then look down upon a world which is vastly different from the one presently perceived. For one thing, he may realize that not all social problems are pathological. As Nisbet suggests, "Plainly there is nothing intrinsically evil in having large families; an entire morality rests upon the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and Mutiply."3 The possibility that there are areas of social pathology designed by God is definitely an open question.

It is because of the existence of such questions that it is imperative that Christians work in those fields which provide the answers. To do otherwise is to allow others to misinterpret social reality and further disturb the operation of God's purposes. This approach seems to bear the burden of Herje's accompanying comments concerning the philosophy of contemporary social work.

It would seem necessary, therefore, for Christians to be active in the area of social work as well as sociology. Once the theoretical model of a well-integrated society is established by the pure science, the immediate concern of the applied science is to establish the proper means to be used.

The three most appropriate approaches to be taken by the Christian in fulfilling his responsibility in this area seem to be the following:

1) The establishment of social work agencies by denominations and other interested organizations. In some respects, such an organizational approach would provide the most important results and make the greatest impact. Nevertheless, there would seem to be significant deficits resulting from religious bureaucratization and possible spiritual enervation. In addition, the high economic costs might very well reduce the efficiency of such an enterprise. Unless appropriate precautions were taken to prevent such possible secularization, this method might be very inefficient.

2) Increase of the Christian's sense of social consciousness. Our desire for autonomy and separation has caused many to be quite myopic about the social conditions of our fellow men. The Christian could show less hesitancy in becoming active in such endeavors as long as his motivation is properly channeled.

3) The interposition of the Christian into the field of social work. Although the need for such personnel is pressing, the problems for the individual are not insignificant. This is apparent in the comments by Herje on page 35 and in his article in this Journal (15:815, March 1963) and the letters that followed (15:124126, Dec. 1963). As a social worker, Herie's words carry much weight. -

1. See Theodore Newcomb, "Why Rich Men's Sons in Politics Become 'Liberals'," and Robert Dahl, "A Desire to Help 'Less Privileged People'," in US News and World Report, Jan. 15, 1962, pp. 64-69.

2. For the best defense of this statement and the following comments, see Robert K. Merton and Robert A. Nisbet, Contemporary Social Problems, N.Y., Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1961.

3. Ibid., p. 10