Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
The Sources of Science
Reply by Siemens
Some few months ago my letter, commenting on an article by Mr. David Siemens concerning the sources of modern science, appeared in your journal, followed by Mr. Siemens' reply.
This reply raised more questions in my mind about the validity of his position than it settled. I therefore wrote to him directly (previously I did not have his address) asking him to clarify certain statements, and commenting on various matters raised by his reply.
(Editor's note: The reply by Siemens is in the December '67 issue and the statement by Siemens following this letter is his reply to it).
It is history that modern science arose in the Christian world. The question as to why it did so, why it did not in other civilizations, and whether it could have done so in these civilizations is very complex and necessarily speculative. I am not convinced, however, that it was belief in the incomprehensibility of the material universe that kept Arabs, Greeks, and Chinese from developing modern science. The fundamental block is not so much lack of curiosity about the universe, but uncritical acceptance of incorrect answers. The critical attitude characteristic of early scientists strikes me as more important than their belief in the rationality of the universe. Among the many other factors to consider when wondering why modern science developed in the Western world, is for example the printing press.
Siemens' position on the rationality of the universe is quite confusing to me. "Let me note that . . . the material universe is non-rational although, prima facie, it is rationally ordered." Presumably be means to say that the universe is not a thinking being, and if so I agree. If he really means to say it is non-rational, I disagree. To the best of my knowledge, the universe is understandable and logical. Of course, Siemens' whole article seems to take it for granted that the universe is rational. If he is criticizing my application of the word rational to an inanimate being, the dictionary bears my usage out, and he himself used the word in that sense in his article.
Further, I see no gross problem from a non-tbeistic viewpoint in the development of rationality. There may not be a detailed explanation, but we lack explanations for many things. There does not seem to be any intrinsic impossibility. Siemens then compares the argument that rationality emerged in an unexplained fashion (he uses the word inexplicable, but he undoubtedly means unexplained) to solipsism, and says it is logically unassailable, but not a satisfactory metaphysic. It seems odd for him to say it is logically unassailable; and it remains to be shown that it is an unsatisfactory metaphysic. Incidentally, let me note that his remark concerning "successful human relationships" (in my first letter) applies equally well to this expression. "Satisfactory metaphysic." Unless he defines a satisfactory metaphysic by his own value system, history has shown that people can live with exceedingly varied metaphysics, and survival is the only empirical test of success.
On this topic, let me say I used the word "successful" in the sense that most people mean it, just as I I in sure he used the word "satisfactory." Successful human relationships would therefore mean those relationships between humans that lead to happiness, welfare, and the progress of society. Granted that men can live with many different sets of value commitments; I still am not aware of any society, however primitive, that consistently practices and regards as exemplary lying, dishonesty, pride, anger, and isolation of the individual as opposed to truthfulness, honesty, integrity, humility, patience, and cooperation (the "virtues" of the scientist enumerated in Siemens' article.) And if there are scientists who deny the value of these virtues and continue practicing them, I would certainly like to see them.
Returning to the question of rationality, Siemens, Biblical references (Gen. 1: I-Eph. 1: 11) do not imply order, design, and rationality in God's world. Belief in the rationality of the universe seems to be neither substantiated nor refuted in the Bible; assuming one , the
Bible could be used to back the chosen position; for example, Romans 11:33, where Paul speaks of God's "ways past finding out". The fact that the idea of the rationality of the universe came not from the Bible but from the observations and experiences of the fathers of modern science is bome out by the fact that such a Bible student and scholar as St. Thomas could make God Creator and still keep Aristotle's doctrine that matter makes things incomprehensible.
Perhaps it will not do to invoke man's sensory equipment as analogous to his rationality, but until Siemens clarifies what is wrong with the analogy, I remain of the same opinion. I fail to see relevance of the fact that man may not respond to all the stimuli of the universe. If man could gather food, procreate, and defend himself from enemies without being able to sense electromagnetic radiation in its entirety, (hence,) if it was not necessary to develop senses responding to these stimuli, then man did not need them, and that is why he does not have them. The prolific rat does not find it necessary to his ecological niche to have wings and be capable of echo-location like the Chiroptera, nor does the ruminating cow need the fangs of a wolf. When I used the phrase, "adapted to his environment", I meant it in the scientific sense it is usually given, and didn't mean to mislead anyone.
My citation of Clemens was perhaps out of place in a religio-scientific journal, and I apologize. However, I'm not used to a person's ideas being rejected in to out of hand merely because in trying to impart humor to what he says he may exaggerate the facts. This applies not only to Clemens but also to Siemens' statement that anything "seemingly relevant" anti-Christian that Clemens wrote "was refuted long before he stepped out of the pilot house." In his mock discussion of the German language, Clemens makes a number of valid points hidden, of course, in tongue-in-cheek exaggeration. This does not necessarily mean that what he says is all wrong, and good only for a few minutes laugh. Likewise, although most Christian apology deals with the problem of pain and evil, I have not read any that clearly refutes what Clemens wrote. Sometimes it seems to me that scientists and clergymen have a tendency to think that unless an idea is presented in the proper straight-laced manner in a proper straight-laced journal or book by a proper straight-laced person with at least two degrees, it is not worth considering.
In conclusion, science as a matter of history did arise in the Christian milieu; but to say that without Christianity science would not have been possible, and to imply that science is utterly dependent on Christianity, is to go further beyond the facts than is wise at least on the basis of Mr. Siemens' arguments. Fortunately for the world, the validity of Christianity does not rest on its association with modern science, nor on Mr. Siemens' attempted defense of a necessary relationship with it.Daniel Parelius