Science in Christian Perspective




From: JASA 19 (March 1967): 27-29.

To most men and women in the church the word science and the word church seem to stand in contradistinction. Without attempting to trace a complete history of what produced this tension, it may be helpful to sketch some of the reasons for it. We suggest that at the heart of the matter was the conservative church's strong reaction to the Darwinian theory first promulgated in the nineteenth century. This theory appeared to align "science" on the opposite side of the fence from the Church. It was science that was trying to undermine the scriptures. It was science that was leading us into a new rationalism where religion was no longer necessary. It was the "scientific approach" which contributed to the development of higher criticism of the Bible and cast grave doubts on anything miraculous, anything outside of what was provable and reproducible in the laboratory. The second contributing factor was the tension between a science seeking to unlock the mysteries of life and a rather simplified view of the Christian life that was inherent in the revival techniques of the last century. This in turn, led to a definition of faith which was apparently based on the conviction that the less that was known about the future, the greater the amount of faith that would be needed to face it. If we had weighed all of the possibilities, if we had used all of our scientific knowledge to anticipate the future, where-in lay faith?

The hang-over from this science versus Christian dialectic is still with us. Most discussions between "science" and "Christianity" seem to center around our ability or inability to find a match between discoveries of science and what we find in the historical portions of the Bible. This dialectic can even be felt at the level of the typical church board meeting. How often it appears that the scientist or the business executive is being asked to check his brains at the door before entering the hallowed sanctuary of the church.

*Edward R. Dayton was formerly assistant engineering division manager for Lear Siegler, Inc. at Grand Rapids, Michigan. At present he is at Fuller Theological Seminary where he devotes his energies to the program described in this article.

Again, how often we parade our most eminent scientist across our church platform as an example of the fact that it is possible to be a scientist and still be a Christian. The unspoken inference is, of course, that that does take faith!

The result of all this is a compartmentalization of our work as scientists and engineers outside of our total Christian life, and though many are making an honest attempt to find a Christian ethic for their operation within their secular calling as scientists, most of us have an uneasy feeling that what we are doing could not be applicable to the task of Christ's Church. In fact, the attitude of the Church toward the seemingly sophisticated and esoteric sciences of 1967 is one that would appear to hold us at arm's length.

A small break-through towards understanding has perhaps come about as a result of the author's decision in 1964 to leave the aero-space industry and attend a theological seminary.

In early 1965, Dr. Ted Engstrom, of World Vision International, and the writer discussed the possible application of the World Vision IBM computer for the task for missions. Subsequent to this conversation a meeting was held with Dr. David Hubbard, President of Fuller Seminary, and Dr. Donald McGavran, Dean of the School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth at Fuller. In December of the same year a meeting was convened between a group of areospace scientists and executives and mission leaders. The aerospace people were asked, "If your company had a contract to evangelize the world, how would they proceed?"1 As a direct result of these stimulating and thought-provoking discussions a three month seminar was held at Fuller in which a group of experienced missionaries were led through a planning session, using the PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique). From this seminar it became apparent that there are tbree major areas where current scientific tools can be effectively used in the task of winning men to Christ:

3. The use of sophisticated management tools, particularly in the area of disciplined planning.

As a result of these studies, World Vision International and Fuller Theological Seminary are jointly sponsoring the Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center, (MARCC). This center, which is presently located at Fuller Seminary, is seeking to implement solutions to the problems presented by the study seminar.

Information and Communication

Today there does not exist in the Christian world an effective information and communication center. The few bi-yearly publications that try to cover this field are grossly inadequate for the need. A survey of all the North American missionary societies demonstrates that enlightened mission executives rate the need for such a center as extremely great. MARCC seeks to meet this need by establishing an information and communication center based on the World Vision IBM 360, Model 30 computer.

This is the age of electronic data systems. Our ability to handle facts and to draw conclusions from them defies the imagination of the layman. Facts which were  useless to us ten years ago are now worthwhile and meaningful because of the speed with which they can be considered and utilized. All over this country and in various parts of the world significant work is being done on information management systems. New library systems are being established; new ways of profiling and cataloging people and companies and products; new ways of displaying information - all these are operating to change our way of life. Industry has been quick to seize these new tools. We find complete manufacturing operations now capable of predicting the impact of a proposed request for quotation. We find information systems providing data to those need ng it on a selective basis without their calling for it. We find such operations as the Center for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) at Wayne State University which now has in its electronic memory 240,000 documents and is adding to this 7,000 documents a month..

In this milieu of wide-spread transmittal and gath ering of information the Church finds itself years be hind the times. This starts at the grass-roots where there is little appreciation of the power of the gath ered data. Weekly, monthly, and yearly statistics are lacking in most Christian organizations. There is little clear definition of terms, and there is a tremendous lack of communication between and within missionary societies, as well as in the local church. be of service to the entire Church. 

This project will lay the groundwork for an In formation and Communications Center which hopes to be of service to the entire Church. It will eventually interact with information centers throughout the world. It will be             concerned with not only theological, but sociological, anthropological, political, and eco nomic data. Profiles will be made of each country of the world in terms of the missionary endeavor. Information will be stored concerning which missionary societies are operating where and with what results. 

Education will be done on the wherewithal of data gathering and data analysis.

A pilot project to test the validity of this concept is now being started. A staff of volunteer programmers and system analysts is being recruited. Information about various individuals serving in the mission task is being catalogued and put in electronic storage. A pilot country will be selected, and a test will be run on the gathering and exchange of information to the missionary societies and the churches working in this country. This project, which will take approximately two and one-half years, will be used as a demonstrator to not only find out errors and make corrections in the system, but also as a means of educating those in other countries as to the possibilities and the power of information systems. 

 Research and Development

 The School of World Mission and Institute of Church Growth now operating at Fuller Seminary is attracting experienced missionaries to do graduate study. It is anticipated that the enrollment in the  School will shortly reach the level of 60 missionaries from all denominations. This represents a tremendous source of research information. In order to build upon the good beginning that has been made much additional research and development (pilot study testing) needs to be done. Field studies of Latin America have shown the need for comparable statistics to be  gathered and analyzed from all over the world. In addition much study needs to be done about the an thropological and sociological characteristics of the people whom the Church is trying to reach. Such research must be based on good information and com munication - hard facts.

Management Technology

 A cursory survey of those responsible for the con duct and operation of mission organizations will show
that those in charge have minimum management ex perience and training. There is little appreciation that
the definition of measurable goals is the first step in solving any problem. What is needed by most mis sionary and church organizations is a planning method, a way of thinking about things, a procedure for get ting at the real problem. PERT which has been used on all major and most minor government development programs since 1959, is one of the tools which could easily be adopted by missions. If mission leaders can  define their goals and then display them in the steps necessary to reach them, a major step toward their ful fillment will have been taken. Such schematic systems as PERT are not only powerful communication tools but, also, extremely self-educating.

The possibilities of using such planning tools as PERT have already been explained to some 40 to 50
mission executives. Their response to date has been people whom quite favorable. It is now planned to hold a number analyzed. of seminar workshops starting in the winter and con tinuing in future months. These seminars, which will be similar to AMA Seminars, will bring together experienced aerospace managers and social scientists.
Education will be done in the wherewithal of data gathering and data analysis. These men will explain how these tools work, and what  they have been able to accomplish using them, to the mission executives gathering with them in workshop groups. The managers and scientists will then lead the mission executives through a typical planning session, using PERT to plan their own missions programs. As a result of this exercise we believe that a great appre ciation will be gained of the power of the tools. The formation about the background of the we are trying to reach will be stored and Such information will be made available to mission executives will then come together to discuss with one another the implications of what they have seen and learned.

As a result of such meetings we hope to encourage each missionary organization to put a trained, permanent staff member to the task of planning for the mission.


Perhaps one of the greatest benefits which should ensue from this project is a better understanding of how the tools of science can be used to present the claims of Christ's Church to an exploding world population. But at the same time it gives opportunity for the scientist and engineer to use his skills in the overall task of world evangelization and thereby help to break down the science-church barrier. This recognition by both sides that there is no need for tension between science and Christianity may open new vistas as to the meaning of a seven-day-a-week Christian life for the working professional.

This is a simplified logic diagram showing the results of the PERT planning study.

If the world is to be evangelized the gospel must be communicated. This means that we must understand each man within his own culture and his special needs. To gain this cultural understanding we need more research and development. This in turn can only be based on much improved information and communication and the application of necessary resources. Overarching all this is the need for disciplined planning.


Engineers, scientists and others interested in learning more about the Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center may request information by addressing the Center at: 135 N. Oakland Ave., Pasadena, Calif. 91101.

1. See "Computerized Evangelism?", World Vision Magazine, March 1966.