Science in Christian Perspective





From: JASA 17 (March 1965): 27-28.

"Art for art's sake" is a Phrase which indicates that art is to be enjoyed or pursued as an end in itself. That is the end of the road.

Some Christians deny this view. From them we hear either (1) art is to be avoided unless it is specifically Christian or (2) a motive for pursuing art other than "art for art's sake" must be found. This deeper motive must be related to the Christian faith. Thus there is a lively dialogue among many who are able to speak with authority concerning art.

We scientifically-minded Christians might consider whether "science for science's sake" is enough. Even unbelievers ask themselves, "Why do we carry out research?" Perhaps Christians can give a meaningful answer to this question.

Certainly the practical aspect of science is worthy of study by the Christian, but what is the relation between the Christian faith and the fundamental principles of science? My thesis is that "science for science's sake" is not enough.

Consider, for example, the "Pattern!' the investigator finds in creation. For the chemist or physicist the existence of this pattern means that the more we learn of atomic and molecular structure and the nature of chemical reactions, the more we see the pieces fit together. While we say the pattern we find indicates that creation is "orderly," is it proper to imply that the concept of order is itself not part of creation? The key idea here is that the concept of order is in the mind of man and this mind is made by God.

To the extent the mind of man is not clouded by the effects of sin, the concept of order we speak of is also part of the creation of God. Then when we say there is a pattern in creation we really mean that the concept of order in our minds is the same as the order of the material universe. In other words, God made the mind of man and the material universe to harmonize.

Two of the consequences of this harmony are of special interest. One is that God uses this means to reveal infinitely more of His creation to us than would otherwise be the case. Thus, we can generalize from observed facts by formulating natural laws. We have so much confidence in this concept that we predict sizes and electronic configurations of atoms even before their discovery. Without this order or pattern our observations would be isolated-virtually meaning less-and there would be no science. Whatever there is of science is a consequence of the harmony between the concept of order in our minds and the rest of the created universe.

Another consequence of this harmony is the intellectual satisfaction we receive from our study of creation. God has not only caused us to see a pattern in His creation, but He has also constituted us so that the existence of the pattern pleases us. Believer and unbeliever alike find beauty in the simplicity of nature when the first principles are understood. "Beauty in nature" is a phrase we almost automatically use when we think of what the mountain-climber or the forest ranger sees. When such persons are Christians, they praise God for their opportunities to observe such things. Yet, if David were writing psalms now he would surely praise God for the magnificance, beauty, and simplicity of number theory, quantum mechanics, and the periodic classification of the elements.


If the Christian chemist praises God for the simplicity of the periodic classification, he ought to praise Him even more when he has a detailed understanding of this classification. Perhaps we who teach chemistry should approach the subject in this way. In my own experience, sophomore chemistry students in an inorganic chemistry course are able to understand the link between the periodic classification and quantum mechanics on the one hand and specific chemical properties on the other. These Christian students respond to the idea that God has made His universe basically simple.

Here are some typical examples of chemical facts which these students learn to trace back to simple principles.

(1) Most compounds of the first transition group elements are colored. Usually, the color is caused by a transition within the 3d level. The transition can occur because ligands split this energy level. The existence of the level and its splitting are explained by the existence of quantum numbers and the appropriate use of the Schrodinger equation. The Schrodinger equation is a consequence of basically simple assumptions, one of which is the assumption that the electron has wave-like properties. These few assumptions, the students learn (or, at least, they are told!), are the basic assumptions of chemistry. In this satisfying simplicity Christian students see the hand of God in creation.

(2) Hafnium and zirconium are so similar chemically that hafnium was "hidden" in what was thought for many years to be pure zirconium. Their chemical similarity stems from similar atomic sizes and outer electronic configurations. The size similarity is a consequence of the lanthanide contraction, which in turn is predicted by the building-up principle. Both the building-up principle and the outer electronic configuration can be predicted with proper use of the Schrodinger equation. As before, another complex matter can be reduced to a small number of funda mental assumptions.

(3) There is a much larger chemical difference between a second-row element and its third-row con. gener than between elements of the third and fourth rows, or the fourth and fifth, etc. As an example, the fluorine-chlorine chemical difference is large compared with the chlorine-bromine and bromine4odine differences. The two reasons for this phenomenon are directly traced to the Schrodinger equation and to the wave principle and other simple principles upon which it is based. First, the valence shell of second-row elements is the four-orbital L shell, with a maximum coordination number consequently no more than four. In the succeeding rows there is not such a severe limitation. Second, the energy level of a shell is roughly inversely proportional to the square of the principal quantum number, n. While this rough rule is of principal use in comparing the shells of one atorn, it also has some use in comparing the outer of different atoms. Thus, 1/n2 changes three times move between n--2 and n--3 than between n-_3 and n=4.

These are not examples which fortuitously have the same simple explanation. Rather, the discipline of chemistry is mature enough so that it is now possible to perceive that all chemical facts will be explained in some such way. Is it not possible that the beauty of simplicity in what God has created is better understood by chemists than non-chemists? Should not each science yield something special, calling forth praise to God, for the benefit of the scientist in that field?