Science in Christian Perspective



Richard H. Bube
Stanford University
Stanford CA

From: JASA 22 (March 1970): 2-3.

A New Period

It is probably not possible for a scientist to look ahead into the next years without being in some sense a prophet of gloom. What appears most certain is that we have passed into a new period when the increase of science and its public glamor are rapidly being braked to a standstill. Statistics alone demand this. If the world's participation in science were to continue at the present rate for several more decades, most of the people of the world would be practicing scientists, and most of the resources of the world would be used in scientific research by a small fraction of the total world population in a very small fraction of the earth.

To this intransigent fact must be added a basic disenchantment with science as a means to the good life. For almost a century the conviction has been growing that the insights of science have made the faith of religion impossible. Bereft of the traditional religious basis for moral values and for simple hope, men have turned against science because of the role it has played in turning the joy of life into apparent despair. This is not so much a conviction that people come to as the result of a long and careful search of the evidence; it is part and parcel of our cultural heritage today. Young people growing up never question the basic premise that science makes the supernatural impossible.

Add to this the growing evidence that man's careless use of scientific technology is beginning to backfire on a large scale all along the line. Environmental poisoning is a problem that grips most of the world. Even the beneficial results of science, such as improvements in health and the conquest of disease, have accentuated the population explosion, problems that arise simply because there are too many people for the world to feed, or to hold without drastic changes in habits and practices. The effect on students is evident in decreasing enrollment in the sciences, a situation further aggravated when a national physics journal reports that a large fraction of the PhD graduates in physics today already cannot find a job In India I am told that tens of thousands of graduate engineers are without work in their field.

The Application Gap

The gap between basic and applied science grows wider as more scientists become involved in research. Most of the great public problems to which scientific solutions are applicable are not problems in knowledge; they are problems in how to apply knowledge already largely available to specific problems to gain specific results. Only a small fraction of the results of basic research are applicable to practical problems at any given time. Practical applications of science build up such an extensive technology that so much expense is invested and so much involvement of lives and training is involved that a change from this technology requires an improvement in a product not by a factor of two but by at least a factor of ten. Economic factors become intricately involved in such vast enterprises and the extent to which immediate economic considerations dictate longrange scientific or social goals is always a serious question.

This kind of statement is true not only of the physical sciences but they apply at least to some extent to the biological sciences as well. I am told that far more is known than is currently being used in medicine; the need is for a transfer of applied knowledge from the storehouse of basic research to the bedside. And in a situation where a growing population is one of the greatest concerns of the world, research that promises a variety of ingenious ways to contribute to this population growth by controlled aids to artificial life production must seem an anomaly to almost anyone who thinks about the question from a broad viewpoint. With all the promise of biological engineering to control and improve the condition of the human being, there is always the underlying fear that the concurrently increased possibilities for the inhuman control of man is also increased to an extent that makes wise men ponder.

Expected Trends

Concrete suggestions of the trends to be expected are fairly easy to make. But in the making of them there is the vague and general impression that they are perhaps not the important steps that will shape the future of the world. Science will of course continue to be done, and man's conquest of nature and an achievement of an understanding of the natural world is an occupation that needs no apology. Computers will play an increasingly larger role in the management of functions and the performance of services. They will find their way into the homes of those able to afford them and may well revolutionize such practices as shopping, banking and politics. Life-saving through organ transplant will increase in use and advances will he made toward the production of a variety of artificial organs to increase the supply and to diminish the dilemma of the choice of donors. Practical substitutes for the internal combustion engine, at least for short-range travelling, will be developed in an effort to combat air pollution. Nourishing food substitutes will be developed to stem the hunger problem.

Some of the largest scientific enterprises, such as military defense, space travel and nuclear research will come up against an economic barrier that will force a change in policy regardless of the desires or intents of the participants. Unless investment in military defense is severely cut, and this must of necessity include some of the funds devoted to scientific development and technology involved in military defense, we may not even survive the ten years that we are here projecting into. Isolated successes in the space venture are to be expected, but also the growing realization that space travel by itself is a fruitless and non-productive waste of earth's resources; space efforts can be expected to concentrate on the terrestrial part of space with local space stations for weather and military purposes primarily. The next major breakthrough in nuclear research may require a "machine" so expensive that it is finally ruled out and the practical decision is enforced that this is as far as we can afford to go.

Social Upheaval

But behind and above all these isolated events on the scientific and medical scene, population pressures, famine, and social upheavals can be expected on a global level. In every part of the world there are people living who have never enjoyed the beneficial products of scientific technology that have characterized the life of the majority in this country. Still living in the ways of poverty and personal privation, they are becoming aware that the "good things" of the world may never be theirs, because these things are in the hands of men who appear determined (or helpless) to let the world be destroyed rather than face the major changes in practice and policy that are called for. It is small wonder that the lives of such people are constantly and inevitably involved in various outbreaks of violence and social upheaval in a determined effort to reverse the current of present affairs and preserve in their time at least some of the things and conditions that others have enjoyed before them. This common-place upheaval of peoples in every country, regardless of specific motive or local cause, is a world-wide phenomenois that cannot he ignored, It is an upheaval that, coupled with world-wide famine and disaster, may so dominate the future that the contributions of science and medicine may assume only a relatively small place. And even this would in many ways be preferable to the outcome of the "haves" of the world deciding (either deliberately or unconsciously) to use the power of science and technology to maintain their hold on the things to be enjoyed and to keep them out of the reaching hands of the "have nots."

Science and medicine treat a world of things, of impersonal objects. This is no slander or slur on these noble professions; it is a simple statement of the nature and scope of science. But when science assumes the all-important role that it has acquired in the last half-century, the concurrent emphasis on the value of things and a discounting of the personal and religious aspects of human life can have only a cumulative detrimental affect on society. The next ten years will be a period when men realize as seldom before that their very existence as men (and not as impersonal objects) requires more than the perspective of science, scientific progress and the economic and political systems compatible with these perspectives. They will reach out desperately for some way of validating their existence as men in a day when their humanity is daily more threatened. They will search for every -ism, for astrology and scientology, for mysticism and drugs, for sensitivity training and awareness stimulation, for freedom to "do their own thing" while the rest of the world goes on to hell if it must.

The Answer

What they seek is what every man seeks: the knowledge of who he is, and of what the meaning of his life is. There is an answer provided in the person of Jesus Christ and the God who is His Father. But how important it is today to know what the questions are. Answers given to questions that are not asked, seldom are accepted.
R. H. B.