Science in Christian Perspective
Current Challenges for Christian Professors
WALTER R. HEARN
Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
From: JASA 21 (September 1969): 87-88.
Many of us who hold simultaneous citizenship in the world of science, the university community, and the Christian church may feel that all our foundations are being shaken at once. Strong loyalties bind us to institutions that have been relatively stable in the past, yet we sense that stability based on inflexibility has little survival value. Great wisdom is required now to know when to instigate change, when to accept it, and when to resist it. There are times when we disagree profoundly on these questions, so great love is also required.
Paul wrote to Christians at Colossae: "As you live this new life, we pray that you will be strengthened from God's boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through an experience and endure it with courage. You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light. For we must never forget that he rescued us from the power of darkness, and reestablished us in the kingdom of his beloved Son, that is, in the kingdom of light." Children of light should not be afraid of the dark, but we should learn to be careful where we step.
The future of science seems to have dimmed noticeably. Research budgets have been cut both by government agencies and by industry after years of generous support for training young scientists. Inevitably the competition stiffens for good positions and for grant funds. We now do our jobs amid sharp conflicts over priorities between research and other national needs, between different areas of science, between "big science" and "little science," and between project support and institutional support for academic science.
On the university horizon dark clouds appear along with flashes of light. At the same time that desire for higher education has become almost universal, the value of much that now passes for it is gravely doubted
by many. The insistent demand is for greater efficiency to teach more knowledge to more students, but our consciences cry out for something else as well. Views of the primary function of a university vary from conservator of traditional ideas to instrument for radical social change. The noise level rises on campus, but who is listening?
Helping conservative Christians understand science...
Blending philosophical insights of science and Christian faith...
Setting our personal priorities...
Public vs. private witness...
Social sensitivity in scientific research...
Ambition vs. humility...
Showing love through life...
In the realm of the church, too often we live in shadows cast by
institutions whose upkeep drains our energies and whose design is
in the modern world. What shall we do? Some would be continually
would bulldoze and rebuild, some simply abandon the institutions to decay.
There is clearly much to challenge us in each of these areas, and we could easily devote our full attention to any one of them. Let us here concentrate, however, on what we can do that overlaps all three at once. We may not be fully successful, but let us try to live one single life; if we speak three different languages, we can at least try to say the same thing in each one. As a basis for discussion, here are some questions that occur to me:
1. What more can he done to help theologically conservative Christians appreciate the value and limitations of science? On the one hand we find science and other forms of scholarship looked down upon, and on the other we continue to see science and pseudoscience used to justify questionable or erroneous interpretations of Biblical passages. Can we counter gullibility with skepticism without appearing to be the enemies of faith to the hyperorthodox?
2. What kinds of forum are appropriate for blending the philosophical insights of science with those of the Christian faith? In a day when students demand a loosening of the curriculum, wholeness and relevance in their education, are we ready and able to provide these insights? Have we participated in experimental or interdisciplinary courses in the regular curriculum, in "free university" courses, in seminars, or in dialogues with colleagues that express our own wholeness? Have we done our homework well? Have we written letters or articles for campus publications on these subjects? Do we encourage others to express their views openly, and do we try to learn from them?
3. How do we go about setting our own priorities between, say, scholarship and campus evangelism, or teaching and research, or speaking and writing, or time spent with students and time spent with our own children? Should we try to he the best in our field of study? How can we shoulder our full responsibilities in our profession, department, university, Inter-Varsity chapter, church, political party, neighborhood, family, etc-and still maintain a sense of joy in whatever we do? Is there something we can do as Christians to he creative and redemptive within professional life, something extra that our non-Christian colleagues won't bother to do or wouldn't he able to do? Can we demonstrate that we know Jesus Christ without having to advertise it?
4. Is it important to seek opportunities for public witness, or is it more important to spend our time quietly with individuals? If we agree that research papers should not reveal a personal bias, what about our lectures? What about our comments in staff meetings, administrative committees, oral examinations? Do students and colleagues with personal problems come to us for encouragement and help? Do we treat our technicians as though we also were under a Research Director, our students as though we were under a great Teacher? Do we know how to exercise critical judgment without withdrawing personal support? What do we pray for when our research paper is sent to a referee, and also when we have a paper before us to referee? Do we have a reputation for fairness?
5. Have we really examined the value of what we are doing in research and compared it to what we might he doing? Are we sufficiently sensitive to human needs, or are we having too much fun in the lab to give much thought to public problems? What value judgments do we actually exercise in choosing the course of our work? Do we think about the constructive or destructive potential of what we are doing? Do we care enough about the effects of technology on people? On how broad a scale do we exercise stewardship of natural resources? Are we helping to solve urgent ecological problems, or are we part of the problem?
6. Are we sufficiently ambitious to do good work, yet without having inflated ideas of our own importance? Do we know how to appreciate good work in the social sciences, the humanities, the arts, even in the non-scholarly pursuits of business, politics, labor, athletics? Do we welcome insights from other fields when we deal with social, economic, or ethical problems arising from our own field? If Christian professors in American universities are predominantly in the pure or applied sciences (see IVCF Faculty Directory), is it time to begin counseling bright evangelical students out of science and into fields with more critical needs? Does this imply that we have circumscribed the area of our witness among scholars too narrowly? Is it time for some of us to redefine our own area of scholarship to broaden our contacts? Have we done all we can to cross racial barriers, sex barriers, international barriers within our profession?
7. Do we ourselves demonstrate a love of all science, of all scholarship, of all life, of all people, and of God to our students? Have we found effective ways of transmitting that love to them, and of nurturing it in those who have come to know God in Jesus Christ? Is our own inner peace strong enough to enable us to live joyfully in the midst of tension? Can we ever accomplish anything as peacemakers without learning how to survive in a combat zone?