Science in Christian Perspective
OF THE ASA
A PERSONAL VIEW
V. ELVING ANDERSON*
From: JASA 17 (June 1965): 33-36.
A noted endocrinologist was elected secretary of an organization for Roman Catholic scientists, whereupon he immediately disbanded the group. His reason was that there are no Catholic frogs, which is correct, of course. The organization was not intended for frogs, however, but for scientists-persons who need to consider the relationships between their chosen vocation and their religious world-view, whether Catholic, Protestant, or something else.
Dr. V. Elving Anderson is President of the Scientific Affiliation and Assistant Director at Dight Institute, University of Minnesota.
The American Scientific Affiliation was organized 25 years ago by a small group of men who were concerned about the challenges to Christian faith that appeared to arise from science. The fellowship has now grown to almost 1400, including about 300 with academic doctorates and 150 doctors of medicine. This growth is clear evidence that scientists can and do express their faith in God.
Meanwhile the climate within science seems to have changed somewhat. Fewer scientists go out of their way to attack the Christian faith. On many campuses there are enough believers to encourage each other in discussion and in witness. Nevertheless, there remain areas of question and even tension for those who seek honestly to relate their science and their faith.
It has been my privilege to serve on the Executive Council of the ASA for five years, part of this time as President. The acquaintances established have been most helpful and stimulating, although I wish it had been possible to meet more of the members personally. In the course of these years it has become apparent that some clarification as to the goals and functions of the organization may be desirable. The comments that follow represent my own personal point of view, rather than an official position of the ASA or its Executive Council. I would appreciate hearing from any member who may have comments or suggestions.WHAT NEW MEMBERS SAY
We can obtain some image of the ASA by reviewing the application forms of new members, particularly the part where they are asked to outline a personal statement of faith. One wrote of "a growing and developing relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ." Another 'Irusted Jesus Christ as personal Savior and since then have committed my life to Him." "Scripture is the inspired and infallible word of God, and the only rule of faith and conduct." "I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and believe that God created the world and everything. in. it, and that He is the supreme ruler of the universe today."
There are indications of a need to relate one's faith to one's vocation. "Until lately my academic life was distinct from my spiritual life; now I would like to intertwine the two." "My personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord of my life impels me to seek the integration of my Christian faith and the discipline that I have made my vocational choice."
The relationship between science and the Bible is
described as "compatible .. no conflicti" "in harmony
although not mutually dependent," or "complementary ... .. The more deeply I have studied science, the
more deeply I have appreciated God's word." "Both
science and Scripture are revelations of God; therefore they must be compatible and must complement
each other." "I believe there is no incompatibility between science and Scripture, only questions for
investigation." "Although the Bible is not a scientific
text, I believe it is generally
consistent with modern scientific thought.
The possibility of conflict is recognized, however. "Conflicts arise when theologians and scientists read more into the evidence than is justified." "It hurts me to see theologians who know little science attacking science as if it were an enemy-and scientists who know not Christ attacking holy things as if they were superstitions to be overcome. I am, therefore, thrilled that such an organization as the ASA exists." Apparent discrepancies must be traced either to a faulty explanation on the part of the scientist or faulty exegesis or systematization on the part of the Bible scholar; herein lies, the challenge and the responsibility for the Christian engaged in science."
There is some disagreement as to the course of action for advancing the
when conflict arises. "If there is any conflict between
the Bible and science, I will choose the biblical view."
"I am not sure how to relate science and Scripture except that in areas of conflict I regard Scripture the
best choice." "While Scripture sets broad limits and
defines basic principles for understanding the Universe and man's place in it, ample scope is left for
scientific inquiry to seek to understand and fill in important and interesting data which are not, however, essential to faith or salvation." "As to the relationship between science and Scripture, I believe that there is neither a conflict nor harmony since each uses a different language and frame of reference to uses a different language and frame of reference to describe overlaping events and phenomena."
Finally, we find a desire to share insights and to help others. "Since I became a Christian I have been seriously concerned over the young people who desert the Church feeling that they can't accept both the Bible and science." "I had considerable struggle with questions of faith and reason during undergraduate days." "I was much aided by fellowship and study with other Christians whose problems and opportunities were similar to my own." "My concern is to share the gift of faith in Jesus Christ with fellow scientists and to help those who see a conflict between Chris tianity and the scientific description of the creation."
A CHRISTIAN MISSION IN AN AGE OF SCIENCE...
With these comments in mind I view our basic job as an attempt to interpret God's message to a culture
which has been greatly influenced by scientific meth odology and productivity. We share a conviction that
the Bible is relevant for people of all times. Further more, it will criticize and be in tension with the spirit of every age. Only we must identify the real points of tension and not waste energies on peripheral questions.
We face, then, much the same problem that a mis sionary does when going to another land. What is the essence of the Gospel? Some of what we have learned in church is really part of Western culture and is not an essential part of Christian belief. We must continually try to distinguish between God's message for all peoples and the trappings which have accumulated from the present age.
This task requires a study of scientific language just as a missionary must learn the language of the coun try to which he goes. We simply will not communi cate if we use scientific terms in a manner that differs from current usage. I have begun to lose patience those who write of "natural selection" as a fig ment of the imagination or who fail to realize the multiple meanings of scientific "explanation." At tempts to speak the language of science have some times been criticized as representing a spirit of com promise, whereas they should be considered as efforts to present God's message in a comprehensible manner.
What really holds us together is our mutual concern Kingdom of God. We sense the need for discussion among ourselves, to sharpen our questions and to probe for new answers. Then we share in a ministry of outreach to influence young people and others who are troubled by conflicts. I am not sure, however, that we have yet found the best balance between these two elements.
THE NEED FOR OPEN DISCUSSION
It is important to recognize that the ASA does have a basic position for which the organization clearly stands.
This is seen in the statement of faith in the Scriptures and in Jesus Christ. As I have been reviewing the
membership applications it became clear that there is wholehearted support for these doctrines, not mere
Their comments also indicate that the members are
persuaded that the God of the Scriptures is Creator and Sustainer of man and all else that is in the universe. The created order is held to be purposeful and good, and God is understood to be free and sovereign. Furthermore, man stands in a unique and special relationship with God.
It is when we come to the interpretation of specific Bible passages or to the meaning of current scientific data and theories that we begin to find disagreement. The Executive Council has repeatedly been urged to adopt a clear stand on such items as well. But after considerable discussion and prayer the members of the Council have decided against such an approach.
In essence, of course, this does represent a position. Areas of disagreement indicate the need for more information or a new point of view. We need to listen to each other, and the lines of communication must be kept open. We can tolerate unanswered questions in view of the fundamental belief that the God of the Scriptures is also the God of the universe.
Delbert Eggenberger, a former editor of this Journal put it this way (Dec. 1959): "It would be easy to establish a 'party line' in accepted scientific theory and in theology to which any accepted paper must adhere.... The Editor, however, believes that the ASA has a purpose, and can thus best fulfill a needed function, of open-minded study that precludes such restrictions."
In a discussion of the Victoria Institute in England, F. F. Bruce pointed out that their constitution "recognized 'the Christian religion as revealed in Holy Scripture' without trying to define the nature of revelation or the exact content of what is revealed . . . . This affords a wide basis for pursuing the researches which form the purpose of our existence, and the Institute would fall short of that purpose if it came to be identified in the public mind, or in actual fact, with one particular view of Biblical revelation or one particular Christian tradition." (JASA, March 1961).
This spirit of openness has two bounds. The scientific data are to be presented fairly, and quotations should reflect the representative opinion of the author cited. Terms and concepts should be used in the sense of current usage within a field.
The other limit has to do with our commitment to the Bible as God's Word. Questions may well be raised about the interpretation of specific passages, but not so as to discredit the Bible. Words used to describe the Bible, such as revelation and inspiration, must not be treated lightly.IS EVOLUTION THE MAIN PROBLEM?
Some members have been distressed by recent discussions concerning evolution, feeling that the ASA has become "soft" toward evolution and has thus lost its original purpose. This topic is of particular interest and concern to me professionally and I am quite aware of the complex manner in which problems of science, philosophy, and theology become intertwined. I have been gradually coming to the opinion that an antievolution platform is not an adequate basis for the existence of the ASA and would like to share some of my thoughts.
As a,general point, it should be clear that there are important topics other than evolution, as evidenced by recent articles in this Journal. The problems of race, of population growth, and of ethical issues in science should be discussed carefully by Christians. Significant advances in the neurological and biochemical bases of thought will demand some re-examination of our concept of the nature of man and its meaning for Christian doctrine.
Furthermore, the opinion that evolution is the cause of disbelief in God may well obscure the more fundamental nature of the problem. A person who wishes to hide from God will find any convenient excuse for doing so. Even if it were possible by some form of brain-washing to remove the idea of evolution from human minds, it is doubtful that faith in God would increase. The type of atheistic humanism preached by Julian Huxley explains the approach he uses toward evolution; it is not that his knowledge of the scientfic aspects of evolution justifies his denial of God.
Considerable confusion arises from the fact that the word evolution covers a variety of meanings. Much of what is included under this topic in high school biology courses deals with changes in gene frequency, mutations, natural selection, speciation, and other aspects of scientific data and theory that are accepted by most ASA members without serious question. To the best of my knowledge no biologist in our group holds to the absolute fixity of species. We might wish that some other term would be used generally for this type of variation across species lines, but wishing is not likely to change the facts of current usage. A blanket denial of evolution will therefore be interpreted by skeptical scientists as an inability or refusal to understand what biologists are talking about today.
Misunderstanding at this level appears to reflect a common human temptation to phrase questions in an either-or" form. Some insist that we must accept either scientific explanations or belief in God as Creator. Machen in his The Christian View of Man (p. 104) makes this comment which has been very helpful to me:
God is the First Cause, but the forces of nature and the free actions of personal beings whom God has created are second causes; and it Is extremely important, if we would be Me to the Bible, that the existence of second causes should not be denied. Thus when it is asked whether when anything happens In the course of nature it is some force of nature or God that Causes that event, the true answer is, "Both." That event is caused by a force operating In the world, and it is caused by God. Only, it is very important to observe that the two causes are not on the same plane.
Evolution in a more general sense deals with the relationships between larger categories, such as classes and phyla. Here we face considerable disagreement among ASA members. Some think that the phrase "after its kind" implies a definite limit to variation (although broader than single species). Others have satisfied themselves that the doctrine of creation does not required such limits. All of these claim full commitment to belief in God as Creator and Sustainer, as revealed in the Bible. The ASA is not officially committed to theistic evolution, instantaneous recent creation, or any other formulation for interpreting the scientific data. The Council has discussed this question a number of times, and has concluded that the doors of discussion must be kept open on this aspect of the topic. It is only in this way that significant advances can be made on the very real questions (scientific, philosophical, and theological) which still remain to be answered.
Evolution can also ref er to a philosophical system or world-view which serves as a self-sufficient unifying "key to the universe" and as a basis for ethical decisions. I find it helpful to refer to this as evolutionism in order to emphasize the strong religious overtones. Teilhard de Chardin has developed a comprehensive world-view which integrates Christianity and evolutionism. On the other. hand, the "evolutionary humanism" expounded by Julian Huxley is clearly opposed to faith in the Bible and in Christ. We must point out to pastors and young people that Huxley is preaching his personal religion, not teaching as a scientist.
It is on this topic of evolutionism as religion that the ASA has a responsibility that we have only partly explored. As scientists who are Christians we must become students of theology to learn the full implications of the doctrine of creation. (I have recently profited greatly from reading A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, by J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.) Furthermore, we can stress the point that the scientific aspects of evolution are not a barrier to belief. Some discussion of the scientific aspects may be necessary, however, to clear the roadblocks and permit a more direct consideration of the claims of the Bible concerning Christ. Here is a task on which we can and should be united.
SHARING IN WITNESS
The divergence of opinion on specific aspects of the relationship between science and faith should not obscure the real consensus on fundamental matters of belief. This consensus provides a basis for a concerted effort to find appropriate ways of helping others to find faith in Christ.
Our potential ministry encompasses young people in different age groups-those in high school, in college, and in graduate work. Perhaps we have forgotten the questions we faced at similar times. Approaches which may seem too simple to us now were of considerable value to us then.
Among some church young people there is considerable distrust and fear of science. We have a unique responsibility to help them discover the excitement that can accompany research and to encourage them to consider science as a vocational field.
Our conversation need not be limited to science per se. Many of the issues that keep people from faith in Christ have little to do with science. It still surprises some to learn that a scientist is interested in the Bible and is able to discuss it intelligently. Perhaps a larger part of our regional chapter activities should be given to Bible study, meditation, and prayer. Relatively few have had the privilege of sharing in a Bible study which permits free questions and discussion under the simple ground rule that the Bible is held to be trustworthy.
The development of the new high school curricula in science and mathematics has demonstrated the great value of teamwork involving research scientists, high school teachers, and professional educators. Within the ASA there are adequate resources for similar teams of scientists, teachers, theologians, pastors, and specialists in religious education. An important first step would be a decision as to what types of materials should have the highest priority.
The basic dimensions for witness in an organized manner are, of course, speaking and writing. The Visiting Scientist programs supported by the National Science Foundation provide an opportunity for high school students to hear and meet research scientists. With adequate financial support for travel expenses the ASA could make available a similar roster of speakers and topics in the area of science and faith. The Research Scientists Christian Fellowship of England has organized science week-ends for top students, another valuable program we might consider. Those members who travel to other countries on research projects could supplement the work of missionaries through scheduled talks or informal discussions. Perhaps the ASA national office can serve as a clearing house for making contacts between scientists and missionary boards.
It is when ideas are put into writing, however, that a wider ministry over space and time becomes possible. This Journal has been a valuable means of communication, but a continuing supply of new papers is essential. Our Publications Board is trying to develop a series of shorter monographs on selected topics. Some members have undoubtedly found that a few of their talks appear to elicit a consistently favorable response. I would encourage them to put the talks into written form and submit them for possible publication.
There is no question but that such efforts require personal sacrifice. They represent a tithe of our time and energies. But we enter into them in the spirit of prayer that God will help us use the remaining time efficiently as we seek for excellence in teaching or research.