Science in Christian Perspective

Religious Values in the Vocation of Science

From: JASA 20 (December 1968): 118-119.

The present concern in ASA over the proper relationship of the Christian scientist to his discipline is a question which is deeply rooted in the sociology of science. Indeed, the problem is not unique, since it is a product of the tension which has always existed between the religious commitment and the secularization of the world.

Probably no one social scientist has attempted to balance these two forces more thoroughly than Max Weber. In his opinion, the struggle must ultimately come down to the scientist himself. Only with a clear understanding of the nature of the world and the uniqueness of the scientific endeavor can the individual adequately perceive his responsibility. It is in the demands imposed upon the scientist by nature of his vocation, then, that the tension finds its greatest expression.

While not a believer, Weber approached his analysis of society with presuppositions which are thoroughly acceptable to the Christian. Of fundamental importance is his contention that the present world has become disenchanted through the process of rationalization and intellectualization.1 These conditions, however, do not provide increased meaning or understanding of the conditions of life. Rather, there is the implication that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation "in such a disenchanted environment".2

In such a world, science, of course, is preeminent, since it provides the means by which such potential influence on the world is possible. For this reason, the chief value of science is technical; it is to be engaged in for its own sake. There is no question that science is useful, for it supplies answers to fundamental questions concerning man's world. What is always critically absent, however, is any understanding of the importance of such questions. In Weber's view, science is incapable of demonstrating that the world it describes has any meaning since it doesn't raise the relevant questions. While science may keep a person from dying, it is unable to determine when a person should die.

It is precisely because science is limited in its objectives that it lacks any meaning other than that which is provided by a disenchanted world. "Scientific work is chained to the course of progress" which destines it to he surpassed by some future work of science.3 For this reason, the vocation of science lacks the potential to provide fulfillment for the scientist because its product is antiquated by subsequent discoveries.

Nevertheless, the vocation of science has a compulsion for the individual. He must specialize if he is to accomplish anything noteworthy in his field, even if it should be of only temporary value. Certainly there is a passion which is unique to the scientist. Lacking such a passion, a scientist's endeavors will not reach complete fruition. Yet, while the passion for science may make the person a better scientist, it will not prepare him for life in a disenchanted world. Nor will his science alone provide the meaningful interpretation of the world which he needs.

It is at this point that religion and science begin to reach a synthesis. Theology stands over against science in its contention that the world does have meaning which must be interpreted .4 Further, one cannot rely upon science alone for a scientific understanding of the world, since "the various value spheres of the world stand in irreconcilable conflict with each other".' As the scientist arrives at new "facts" which may be inconsistent with the value system of science, he is forced to raise new questions which may be personally inconvenient.

While science can provide possible explanations, it may be the religious question which is more critical. Since no science can be without values or presuppositions, it is precisely the religious question which will direct the scientist into new paths of research. For this reason, it is vital that the scientist maintain value systems in approaching his endeavors. Further, the scientist will inevitably bring his "intellectual sacrifice" in order to find the meaning in the world which is denied him by his science.6 Far better, in Weber's eyes, to accept "such an intellectual sacrifice in favor of an unconditional religious devotion," than to sacrifice one's intellectual integrity because he is unable to clarify one's position on the meaning of the world.7 Thus, if the scientific view is to be compromised for lack of understanding of the world, it is better to accept a religious position which will provide some meaning than to revert to a pseudointellectual or scientific argument devoid of integrity or responsibility.
These arguments, as presented and implied by Weber, would suggest that the Christian scientist must be careful to give balanced attention to his two worlds of responsibility. His religious convictions will ultimately provide the meaning which his science robs from him. Further, his science will be enriched as he brings the uniqueness of his religious values to bear on the scientific question. Nevertheless, as a scientist he is obligated to face the reality of the disenchanted world in which he lives. To do less than this, is to ignore the responsibility which is his as a man, as well as a scientist. In this way, then, Weber brings the merger of religion and science down to the level of the vocation itself. It is in the responsible fulfillment of both his religious and scientific value systems that the scientist brings forth the fullest expression of himself as a man.


1Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essay in Sociology, trans. and ed. H. H. Gerrh and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), P. 155
2Ibid., p. 139 
3Ibid., P. 138 
4lbid., P. 153
5Ibid., P. 147
6Ibid., P. 155