Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 17 (December 1965): 109-112.

This paper deals with some of the relationships which exist between the vocation of a scientist or engineer and the things of greatest value to him as a whole person. The position is taken that each of us cannot be ultimately satisfied with his vocation until he has discovered a direct positive relationship between it and his faith. The search for this relationship my prove to be a very satisfying activity linking vocation and ultimate concern.

The particular problem of feeding the starving peoples of the world and of unemployment due to automation are explored as to how they might be used to help establish the relationship.

Consider the following problem: What is the basic relevance of an engineer's or a scientist's vocation to his faith? More specifically, how does one find the relevance of one's own specific area of research or development to things which stand high in one's basic value system in life; that is, which are relevant to things of ultimate concern?

I wish to present the following thoughts because I feel that they are valid for many Christians and others as well working in the fields of science and technology, and because I believe that there are some specific problems that emerge which should be talked about and worked on in organizations such as ours.

The very existence of this organization testifies to some area of relevance between science and Christianity. In fact, if one scans over the recent cumulative index of this Journal, one might conclude that the whole scope of science is relevant to Christianityand this is probably true in a sense. But I have misgivings about this conclusion because if one sets aside studies which aim at ironing out inconsistencies between scientific hypotheses and Biblical interpretation, and also those which merely testify to the glory of God in nature, then things are narrowed down a bit and we see that it is not at all so easy to relate the various sciences to the ultimate concerns of Christianity.

Why is it then that the ASA exists? Why is it that people participate in its functions? Some might do so because they are scientists or engineers and are also Christians and are looking for a specialized fellowship, but only in a general way. Others may have become involved with the ASA because of a particular problem widely discussed within it. Still others may participate because of a curiosity about or a searching for the relationship of science to Christianity. But in all cases, I venture to say, there is an attempt being made to relate one's vocation to one's faith.

This relationship may start out in a pretty nebulous form but sooner or later it would be a good thing if a more firm relationship could be found. For some of us, at least, there was a decision period in our youth when we did some soul-searching and came to the conclusion that God was probably leading us into the field of science for a vocation. Further decisions worked themselves out in the course of time, and here we are.

But how do we more concretely relate our faith to our vocation? There are many different aspects to a day's work, and there are just that many different points at which we could search and probably find a relationship. We have dealings with our employers, of course, which call for the honest response of doing

*Rudolph K. Dyck Is on the research staff of Fairchild Semiconductor, Palo Alto, Calif., a division of Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp. Paper presented at the San Francisco Bay Section meeting, May 1964.

our best job in his interest. We have dealings with our fellow-workers which call for such things as fairness, forming meaningful friendships, respecting them as individuals, etcetera. But I suggest that more important than these avenues-especially for scientists and engineers-is that avenue of relating to the work itself-to the things being discovered, invented, or developed. One reason why scientists and engineers are special is that they have a good bit of freedom in various aspects of their work. Another reason is the inherent importance that their work has now-a-days to our economy, our society, and to the world at large. Thus, whether a particular individual is working in pure research, where he might exercise considerable freedom in choosing his direction of effort ' whether he is working with applied problems, where utility of a product is of major concern, workers in the area of science and technology have particular reason to relate their work to their ultimate concerns. For me this means relating it to human welfare.

Of great concern to many people these days are the problem of the population explosion in the underdeveloped countries, and the problem of unemployment as a result of automation in this country. These are areas toward which I feel the scientific and technological community can contribute, in a significant way. With regard to the population explosion, I do not have any particular thesis other than that some means must exist whereby the extreme poverty, misery and starvation which exists over much of the globe today could be decreased without at the same time accelerating the explosion and thereby increasing the need. The matter of unemployment due to automation is of concern to me in this context because my field, which is photodevice research and development, and which is carried out in an electronics, firm, seems to be contributing in most cases toward computer-type systems which form the general basis for automating machinery.

Thus, one way of giving our work broader meaning is to become involved in some way with how it is to be used. For example, it appears like a worthwhile effort to try to control, in some way, the application of automation, so that unemployment remains at a tolerable level, and at the same time to explore what computers could do to solve the population explosion dilemma outlined above.

The ways in which we can go about tackling problems like these are many. A direct approach would be to quit the job at which we work and to find employment with a social welfare organization or a relief organization. This may have a good short-term effect on the individual as far as his, inner well-being is concerned, but it certainly is, impractical, since several years of preparation and probably some years of experience too, would be going to waste. I would consider this solution to be a desperate last resort. But, who knows! Perhaps the person who would make this change is really the wiser. Perhaps the days will even come when a computer, monitoring the total manpower distribution in the nation or the world, and assigned to determining the optimum redistribution from time to time f or the good of the total society, might answer that cutbacks in certain fields of research are in order because their relationship to needs of society has become too remote and because manpower is needed elsewhere.

Other approaches might involve such worthwhile things as giving of one's income to support other people who are presumably better qualified as social workers, et cetera, or to, offer extra-curricular time of our own to these causes. Or, on the other hand, one might find a use for one's extra-curricular time which makes use of special technical knowledge, such as consulting for DATA, International, an organization that offers information research service to Americans overseas.

But as good as these avenues may be, they miss the point that is being made here, namely, that there is a need to relate to our work itself or to, what we consider to be the essence of our work.

A practical starting point would be to locate some other individuals with similar concerns for the sake of dialogue. Possibly right where one works one could find a group of like-minded collegues. For example, where I work there are several such men in the nucleus of a weekly noon discussion group which deals with political and foreign affairs and the like. And then there are whole organizations which have objectives along these lines. In fact it is worthwhile to mention a few at this point, to appreciate their scope.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has as the third of four stated objectives, "to improve the effectiveness of science in the promotion of human welfare." The Federation of American Scientists is an organization concerned with the impact of science on national and international affairs. Quoting from its principle brochure, it was formed "to meet the increasingly apparent responsibility of scientists in promoting the welfare of mankind . . .11 It is known for its stands on the issues of disarmament, the test ban, and freedom for foreign travel among scientists. Then there are the World Health Organization, and Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, and others. In addition to organizations, we have conferences such as the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, and the Plowshare Symposia, and also some very good magazines-in particular, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

In fact it was in this magazine that the late Academician, Alexander Topchiev, wrote the following words, which run closely parallel to the thoughts being developed here:

The high title of scientist obliges one to be a humanist, an enemy of war and a fighter for peace, for fruitful coopera tion between nations. Scientists cannot but be interested in releasing science from its unnatural connection with militarism. Disarmament would accomplish this release. It would permit turning the entire genius of science to lightening and extending of human life.1

Similarly, the late President Kennedy said in his address two years ago, to the National Academy of Sciences, "This seems to me the greatest challenge to science in our times, to use the world's resources, to expand life and hope for the world's inhabitants.2"

Turning again to the specific problem mentioned earlier of the population explosion and the associated poverty, misery, and starvation, we see that there are a good many avenues of approach from the several sciences. Therefore there are opportunities for cooperation with the other sciences as well as opportunities to specialize, as we try to relate to our daily work. The major dilemma in tackling the problem is that the more one supplies impoverished people with food, medical care, and clothes, the worse becomes the need-due to increased longevity and birthrate. But nevertheless it is wrong to ignore the problem simply because of this. President Kennedy showed great faith when he made the following comment in the above address:

Malthus argued a century and a half ago that man by using up all of his available resources, would forever press on to the limit of subsistence, thus condemning humanity to an indefinite future of misery and poverty. We can now begin to hope and, I believe, know that Malthus was expressing not a law of nature, but merely the limitation then of scientific and social wisdom. The truth or falsity of his prediction win depend now, with the tools we have, on our own actions, now and in the years to come.3

And of course, there is much to be discussed within the circle of the church about this problem. For one thing, the church is a leading supporter of relief efforts and therefore has a responsibility to look at the possible undesireable repercussions of certain phases of world relief. For another thing, there are very difficult moral questions about such matters as birth control and the calculated distribution of relief materials in which certain groups of people are deprived of what little relief they may be getting now if and when it is shown that relief is just magnifying the problem.

My personal opinion about world relief is that our nation, because of its high standard of living relative to the world's average, has a responsibility to do far more than it is doing at present. And furthermore, since science and technology have contributed so heavily in bringing our nation to where it is today, we in these fields should accept a large part of the responsibility to see that applications of our work are not constrained within national boundaries.

The other problem concerns the effect of computer electronics on our own society and economy; that is, effects due to automation and the recent rise in the unemployment level. While it is quite obvious that this is primarily an economics problem, and that any pursuits we take along the line to contribute to a solution, should be made in cooperation with the economic sciences, still it seems to me that people working in the development of electronic systems and components for these systems should have some sort of vantage point. Admittedly this is rather vague, but it is based on the principle that vertical specialization should not eliminate responsibility at the earlier levels of development of a product for its final use.

An example of what a few people and groups in the computer sciences are doing in facing this problem, is given in the latest Spring Joint Computer Conference. Three papers there dealt specifically with the relation between computer science and unemployment.4 One paper warned that computers and automation were now beginning to threaten jobs of skilled technicians and even some middle-management positions. For example some jobs that might be called routine-creative in nature such as bridge design and building design are now being handled by computers. In another paper the effects of this job displacement are outlined. Not only does it require drastic reevaluation of our economic structures, but of our social structures as well. Not only must we cope with poverty, but the psychological effects as well, which result when a man's work is taken away from him and done by a machine. Not least of all, we must re-examine our stand on the (quote) "Protestant ethic" of nobility of work and immorality of idleness. In the third paper of this group a suggestion is made that a computer system be designed and built which would give advanced warning of the impending changes in our society that will displace workers. I would suggest, along this line, that an early warning system be considered which could monitor relief programs to indicate where they might backfire by seriously effecting population rise.

All of the things we hear about unemployment these days makes it look like some real changes are imminent. Possibly it will be a trend toward a shorter work week. With a mature attitude toward the resulting free time, it could be a very valuable asset, both to the individual and to the community. Or possibly the trend will be toward more publicly supported projects, giving people work and at the same time accomplishing things for the good of society which might not otherwise get accomplished. While such things have been called, unflatteringly, WPA projects, and while they do verge on socialism, they will still have to be considered seriously.

One interesting possibility has been discussed by Frederick Seitz, president of the National Academy of Sciences.5 He sees in the near future, such a growth in interest in science by the public at large-an interest transcending the purely practical aspects of science-that the fraction of our gross national product invested in research and development will continue to rise and approach the order of a quarter or even fifty percent. The argument for this possibility is based largely on the projected available labor. If the farm labor force has dropped by five-fold in the last fifty years, why not anticipate similar decreases in the labor forces required for the other vital needs such as shelter, clothing, medicine, and transportation?

Another possibility would be to use this very large available labor force on direct approaches to the problems of world-wide human misery.

In conclusion, it might be said that the search for relevancy between specific scientific endeavors and human welfare is not one that will result in simple answers, but rather the search itself will prove to be a meaningful continuing experience which will also reflect new meaning onto those scientific endeavors.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the appeal made at a recent Bay Area Section meeting by Dr. Beal for increased emphasis within the ASA on a direct involvement in the needs of the peoples of the world.


1. Interdependence of Science and Society, A. V. Topchiev, Bull. Atomic Scientists 19, 3 p. 7 (March, 1964).

2. Research, Technology and Public Policy, J. F. Kennedy, Physics Today 16 23 (December, 1963).

3. Ibid.

4. See article in Electronic News, p. 1, April 27, 1964.

5. Science and the Government, F. Seitz, Physics Today 16 28 December, 1963.