Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor

Teilhard de Chardin

From: JASA 20 (March 1968): 32

Mr. Davidheiser's evaluation (journal of A.S.A., September 1967) of the O'Connell lecture on Teilhard de Chardin terminates in a mass of irrelevant material which eventually becomes self-defeating; e.g., his involvements with "applause at the end of the presentation ... .. broad-mindedness," "teleology," and "natural law." Since in his wild foray he took a shot at one of my favorite sacred cows, teleology (not Teilhard), I felt constrained to respond.

Science assumes cause and effect (stimulus and response) relationships as the basic explanation of mechanisms in the universe, and it seeks to discover these relationships by employing the scientific method. If we become satisfied with teleological explanations to the problems suggested by our observations, we abort science and, thereby fail to elucidate the cause and effect relationships. For instance, when we observe squirrels hiding nuts in November and then ask questions, teleologists are quick to supply answers that squirrels need nuts for food during winter, and any sensible squirrel will store nuts. That sounds reasonable and any further investigation is stifled. The intricate behavioral mechanisms triggered by photoperiod will not be demonstrated by the advocates of teleological answers, and science which seeks to elucidate cause and effect (not the reverse) will be retarded. It is not difficult, therefore, to see why scientists have become somewhat hostile to teleological reasoning. Some scientists have in fact reacted by concluding that there is no such thing as purpose in our natural environment. Such a conclusion, however, is developed outside the scientific framework. Although science by the limits of its methods cannot determine purpose; neither can science per se deny its existence, although some scientists might. To the Christian scientist, teleology resides not in the individual organism, cell, or atom, but in the Creator of that organism, cell, or atom. Science by its noninvolvement with teleology does not pull God off His throne as Mr. Davidheiser fears.

If Teilhard is as great a threat to Christianity as Mr. Davidheiser suggests, I would hope that more adequate concepts are sent forth to fight the battle, lest Teilbard stand forever.

Charles C. King
Associate Professor of Biology
Malone College
Canton, Ohio 44709