Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 19 (September 1967): 102-104.

What is the relationship between reason and faith? Is Christian faith rational? These questions, which have challenged the church from the first century, assume particular significance at the present time. For at this time Christian faith is challenged, not only by a world accustomed to critical, philosophical and scientific thinking, but also by new theologians within the church who radically question the divine nature of Christ and the concept of God, or who think that God is "dead" (cf. Time, April 8, 1966, p. 82).

*Peter W. K. Woo is Senior Research Chemist at Parke, Dav1s & Company, Detroit, Michigan.

I was brought up in a Christian family. When I was a boy, my mother instructed me in Christian faith, taught me how to pray and depend on God, whose guidance, protection and care I did experience. I accepted what I learned from her, from the Bible. I did not justify my belief on rational ground.

Then I went to the university. In my enthusiasm to explain every phenomenon by physical explanation, in an atmosphere where freedom of thinking and critical examination of thinking were encouraged, in exposure to many types of philosophies, atheistical and agnostical, my beliefs, which I had accepted without question, were challenged. Many ideas, many historical facts made me seriously doubt my beliefs. Those were indeed tormenting years of doubt. It was tormenting to think the beliefs which I had cherished for so long were wrong and could not be sustained by reason. It was depressing to have to look at life and the universe as purposeless, fortuitous combinations of atoms and molecules governed solely by physical laws.

It took several years, but my doubts were gradually erased, and I slowly came to the realization that faith can be justified on a perfectly logical ground. Now, it is my belief that Christian faith can withstand the utmost, honest, intellectual scrutiny; it is my conviction that, through logical reasoning, we can show that Christian faith should be perfectly acceptable to the logical mind.  

The main reason it took me so long to realize the rationale of Christian faith was that I did not humble myself and therefore failed to see the limitation of human capacities and the limitation of science. Intelligence and senses of perception are indispensible assets in man's search for truth. But while we should use them to the fullest extent, we should use them in a proper manner, and proper use requires an awareness of the scope and limitation of their usefulness. Our senses of perception are limited. Our eyes can see colors which are electromagnetic waves from 400 to 700 mu, a very small range in the entire spectrum of 10_15 to 1016 microns, from gamma rays to radio waves. Our ears can recognize as sounds vibrations from 20 to 20,000 cycles per second but not beyond, even though ultrasonic vibrations exist. Our intelligence has its limitation. We cannot understand the concept of infinity of time and space-when and where the universe originated and when and where it will end. We canhot understand, a priori, the reasons of our own existence: Why am I here? What should I become? What is the meaning of my life? There may be answers to these questions, but we cannot, because of our limited intelligence, arrive at these answers by reasons alone. One human being is more intelligent than the other; thus a person with IQ 190 may comprehend something utterly inconceivable to me. One species of animal is more intelligent than another. This gradation of intelligence shows that there is no reason to believe that human intelligence is the highest attainable and that he has the power to comprehend everything there is to be known. He may not comprehend a being much more powerful and intelligent than he is, just as a butterfly may not understand what a man is. Finally, physical science has its limitation. The principle of uncertainty, well recognized by physicists, tells us that it is impossible to determine simultaneously the exact location and the momentum of a small particle like electron. This principle shows that science cannot find out everything there is to be found.

There is a Chinese parable about a turtle born and living at the bottom of a well all his life. Because of the limited perception, it is natural and entirely reasonable for him to think that the outside world consists of what he can see through the top of the well. We can easily see the pathetic folly of his ignorance. But are we not, with our limited intelligence and perception, just like this turtle in the bottom of a well?

Recognizing the limitations of our intelligence and perception, but making the best use of them, let us now proceed to find out how we may know God.

In order to explain the existence of this universe, it is reasonable to assume that something is responsible for its existence. Let us call this "creator." The assumption of such a premise should be acceptable to the logical mind. As an analogy, in order to explain natural phenomenon, it is a common practice in science to start with a hypothesis in a similar way. Thus, to account for certain observations in chemical reactions, the postulate of atom was proposed by Dalton in 1805, and now, after years of thorough verification, we all acknowledge that atoms exist.

This premise, that a creator exists, leads to only two corollaries or possibilities concerning its nature toward human beings. First, the creator is an impersonal, cosmic being, which is not interested in the human beings thus produced. The creator may be, for example, an intangible agent responsible for the uniformity of the physical laws of nature. In any event, since it is not interested in human beings, it is likely that we human beings may never be able to find out about the exact nature of this creator, because of our limitations mentioned previously.

The second and the only remaining corollary is that the creator is interested in the human beings he created. In this event, he will communicate with the human beings, even though the methods or channels of communication he uses may be inconceivable to our limited mind. In other words, even though we cannot, through our limited intellect and perception alone, find out about this creator, this creator may nevertheless, in his own way, reveal himself to us and let us know about his nature. With this second corollary in mind, let us examine the message of the Bible. The Bible asserts God as the one who is responsible for the creation of the universe and all the living things therein. The Bible asserts that, far from being an impersonal, cosmic being, God is deeply interested in the human beings he created, he loves them, communicates with them and makes himself known to them. The scripture claims that it is given by the inspiration of God, to let us know what God expects of us (Tim. 3:16-17); it tells us that Christ came to earth to carry out a mission for God (John 6:38,40), and in doing so, thoroughly revealed the nature of God to man. Christ said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). "If ye had known me, you should have known my Father also, and henceforth ye know him, and have seen him" (John 14:7; John 10:30).

If we compare these assertions of Christ and of the Bible with the corollary based on purely logical reasoning above, that if the creator is interested in human beings he will communicate with them, the parallelism is obvious. In other words, these assertions in the scripture are, identical to what we have deduced as the necessary consequence of a creator interested in his human creatures. The logical mind is therefore faced with two possibilities. First, it can accept these scriptural assertions as logically necessary and consider Christ and the scripture as the revelation of God. Secondly, it can accept these assertions as logically acceptable but nevertheless consider them as simply the creation of man. How do we determine which of the two possibilities is true?

In science, hypotheses and alternative possibilities are often proved or disproved empirically, by experimentation which provides evidence not obtainable by reasoning alone. Thus the hypothesis of atom was confirmed after substantial experimental evidence bad been accumulated, and the alternative possibilities whether the mass of an atom is heavily concentrated in a tiny nucleus or evenly distributed in space were resolved by Rutherford's gold foil experiment in 1911. Now, starting from a reasonable premise and employing purely logical deductions, we have arrived at two possible conclusions, namely, first, the scriptural assertions are logically necessary and are the revelation of God, and secondly, the scriptural assertions are logically acceptable but are the creation of man. If we can prove, empirically, that the first conclusion is true, then we will have completed the proof that we can know about the nature of God, and this proof will have been based on the same rational-empirical approach which is the foundation of physical sciences.

The scripture tells us how to proceed with this proof; it is a proof requiring faith and personal experience.

Christ told us about the righteousness and the love of God (e.g. Matt. 6:30-33). Like a light into the darkness he has come to the world to call sinners to repentance (John 12:46; Matt. 9:13). Whosoever believes in him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life-to have everlasting fellowship with God as father and be loved by him always (John 3:16; 16:27; 14:23; Rom. 3:23-25; 6:23).

The goodness of God draws and leads man to repentance (Rom. 2:4; John 6:44). If men do their part and response, humble themselves as little children, earnestly seek God with a contrite heart, they shall find God and enter into his kingdom (Matt. 18:3-4; Psa. 51:17; Isa. 57:15). Christ said, "Seek and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you" (Luke 11:9; Rev. 3:20). Similarly in the old testament God said, "Ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me 'with all your heart"' (Jer. 29:13).

Christ told us what would happen when one comes to him. Christ is the bread of life. He that comes to Christ shall never hunger, and he that believes on Christ shall never thirst (John 6.35). Christ will give him joy and peace of heart, saying, "These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you" (John 15: 11), "My peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). Christ will give him power to become son of God, power to experience in his heart and show forth in his life "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance" (John 1:12; 15:5; Gal. 5:22,23).

Thus the proof as to whether the Bible was the word of God-the final step in our rational search for God-consists of a test of the promises of the Bible through personal experience. If one humbles himself, seeks God earnestly, faithfully, and finds, as promised in the Bible, the love of God, the peace and joy through God, the experience of forgiveness of sin, and the God-given power to lead his life away from sin to a life of love, then be has every reason to believe, on firm rational ground, that God, his revelation and his love are real and not figment of imagination. He may say, as Billy Graham did, "I know that God exists because of my personal experience. I know that I know him. I have talked with him and walked with him. He cares about me and acts in my everyday life" (Time, loc. cit. p. 83).

In conclusion then, these are the lessons that I have learned slowly through the years. Based on firm logical ground, it may be shown that the nature and the existence of God are beyond the scope of science and human intellect, but may be known through revelation. The love of God, the peace and joy through him now and everlasting, are to be experienced by those who walk with faith and humble, seeking hearts.