Science in Christian Perspective


Robert B. Fischer            Richard H. Bube

The Commission on Science Education of the AAAS 

California Consultant Committee Introductory Statement

From: JASA 25 (June 1973): 68-70.

In December 1972 a Consultant Committee of four members was appointed to make recommendations concerning changes in state-adopted science textbooks in the state of California. The charge to the Committee was "That oil the subject of discussing origins in the Science textbooks, the following editing be done prior to execution of a contract (with a publisher):
1. That dogmatism be changed to conditional statement where speculation is offered as explanation for origins. 2. That science emphasize "how" and not "ultimate cause" far origins." Two of the members whose statements are given here, have served as President of the ASA in the late 60's. One state ((lent was prepared for presentation (it a meeting of the California State Board of Education in November 1972 by Dr. Robert B. Fischer, and the other is some remarks by Dr. Richard H. Robe, also published subsequently in the California Science Teacher's Journal, p. 15, February 1973.

Robert B. Fischer

I make this statement as one whose vocation is that of an academic scientist and who has long had avocation in Biblical studies, hermeneutics and theology.

The immediate issue is what to do about science textbooks. I submit that, if this immediate issue is to be resolved rationally and effectively, it must he considered in the context of its relation to the underlying, basic issue.

The basic issue is not one of creation vs. evolution. This is not even a sharply-defined issue. "Creation" signifies origin. There is ample evidence that the universe, life and man have not always existed in any way even remotely approximating their present conditions, but rather that there were origins at some point or points in time. "Evolution" signifies change and development. There is ample evidence that significant change and development have occurred over periods of time. There are indeed issues in science as to the time or times of origin, and over the extent and the detailed mechanisms of change and development, but these are not the basic issue.

The basic issue is not one of design vs. change in nature. This, again, is not a sharply-defined issue, "Design" signifies orderliness, and "chance" signifies randomness. On the one hand, there is general agreement that nature exhibits orderliness and is describable in terms of natural laws. On the other hand, there is varied evidence that some individual natural events occur in apparent randomness, in ways not individually predictable, at least not on the basis of present scientific knowledge.

The basic issue is not one of whether or not scientists should engage in speculation. Speculation beyond immediately verifiable observational data is an integral part of the on-going development and application of scientific knowledge and understanding. Speculation may extend beyond those present limits of science which are set by currently available knowledge and tools of measurement. Speculation may even extend beyond the limits. set by the very nature of scientific inquiry and may involve presuppositions, for there are
basic limitations, and presuppositions of science and of scientists.

What, then, is the basic issue? I submit that it is this . . . . does a Supreme Being exist and, if so, of what essence is this existence and of what relationship is this existence to nature and to man generally and individually? Or to restate it with respect to the immediate issue . . . do the concepts of origin, change, development and design signify an Originator, a Master-Changer, a Master-Developer, a Designer? This basic issue lies beyond the limits of science, but not beyond the limits of speculation and of belief and of personal commitment by human beings, including human beings who are scientists. It involves man's intellect and emotions and actions; it involves the totality of man's being. Science legitimately includes the study of design in nature and of the natural mechanisms whereby this design is exercised. But the basic underlying issue of the designer is much more directly within the realms of theology and of philosophy which, like natural science, are very relevant to all human beings.

The immediate circumstances and the immediate issue are surely not appropriate for the full-scale consideration of the basic issue. I submit, however, that frank identification of what this basic issue is and of
what it is not points to a two-fold resolution of the immediate issue. First, science authors and their publishers should exercise greater care to insert identifying and qualifying clauses when they engage, properly, in speculations beyond the present or the ultimate limits of science, with open recognition as appropriate of the weaknesses as well as the strengths of these speculations. This is especially difficult, yet especially important, in science materials which are necessarily simplified, as for the elementary grades. Second, frank statements should he made as appropriate to the effect that science per se deals with natural phenomena and with natural mechanisms, verifiable and/or speculative, of origins and of design and not with more ultimate issues of an Originator and a Designer.

Robert B. Fischer
Dean, School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Professor of Chemistry
California State College, Dominguez Hills

The Commission on Science Education of the AAAS passed the following resolution at its meeting on Oct. 13, 1972:

The Commission on Science Education, of the American Association far the Advancement of Science, is vigorously opposed to attempts by some boards of education, and other groups, to require that religious accounts of creation be taught in science classes.

During the post century and a half, the earth's crust and the fossils preserved in it have been intensively studied by geologists and paleontologists. Biologists have intensively studied the origin, structure, physiology, rind genetics of living organisms. The conclusion of these studies is that the living species of animals and plants have evolved from different species that lived in the past. The scientists involved in these studies have built up the body of knowledge known as the biological theory of the origin and evolution of life. There is no currently acceptable alternative scientific theory to explain the phenomena.

The canons accounts of creation that are part of the religious heritage of many people are not scientific statements or theories. They are statements that one may choose to believe, but if lie does, this is a matter of faith, because such statements are not subject to study or verification by the procedures of science. A scientific statement must be capable of test by observation and experiment. It is acceptable only if, after repeated testing, it is found to account satisfactorily for the phenomena to which it is applied.

Thus the statements about creation that are part of many religions have no place in the domain of science and should not be regarded as reasonable alternatives to scientific explanations far the origin and evolution of life.

Richard H. Bube

Science courses should he devoted primarily to the teaching of science. A scientific theory is one that can in principle he contradicted by empirical data. Any theory that can in principle he contradicted by empirical data can he taught in a science course; any theory that cannot in principle he so contradicted should not be taught in a science course. The question is: can creation theory" he contradicted in principle by empirical data in the same way that "evolution theory" can? If the answer is yes, then "creation theory" should be taught in a science course; if the answer is no, then "creation theory" should not he taught in a science course.

To the best of my knowledge, current forms of creation theory" cannot be, contradicted by empirical data, even in principle. Wherever empirical data might be thought to contradict the theory, appeal to miracle (i.e., to a non-scientific description) is commonly made. In one popular form of "creation theory" it is proposed that the earth v vas recently created with the appearance of age; in such a case the scientific age of the earth is the age it appears to be, and no possibility exists for contradicting the theory empirically. Indeed it may well be argued that any theory' of ultimate origins (i.e., the origin of the first matter or the energy of the universe) must remain intrinsically speculative, not definable in a form subject to ready contradiction by empirical data. Unless some form of "creation theory" is available with which I am not familiar, therefore, which can be contradicted empirically, I do not believe that the teaching of "creation theory" in a science course is appropriate.

On the other hand this does not mean that the common teaching of "evolution theory" shows clearly how it may be contradicted by empirical data. I believe that evolution theory" is in principle contradictable (e.g., by an increase in our understanding that showed that all age dating was in error by a factor of a million-however unlikely that might seem to be at present), and that therefore it should be taught in a science course. But I also believe that "evolution theory" is all ton often presented in science teaching as some kind of an absolutely infallible law free from all possibility of future contradiction. For many adherents, evolution has assumed the proportions of a religious faith and this dogmatic acceptance shows up in many texts on evolution. In other words, the trouble with science courses on "evolution theory" is that they frequently misrepresent what science really is and what science can really say authoritatively. In the teaching of evolution, what we can say about the processes going on at present is the must solidly based, what we can say about processes in the immediate past is probably largely valid, what we can say about processes in the distant past becomes increasingly speculative, and we can say nothing scientific at all about absolute origins. Yet the typical discussion of evolution starts the other way round, presenting theories about origins as if they were the foundation of our evolutionary knowledge and established beyond the shadow of a doubt. What evolution teaching needs is not the introduction of an alternative non-scientific "creation theory," but the reformation of the present courses so that they are faithful to the potentialities and limitations of the scientific method. The student should be clearly informed, for example, that all science leads ultimately hack to scientific ignorance of necessity, that this happens in the ease of origins in the universe about which science can say nothing except in a speculative and variable manner, and that a quantitative theory of evolution which shows exactly how it is possible for natural selection and mutation to bring about the apparent changes in living forms over the allowable time span is not yet in existence. 

The debate about creation and evolution in education has unfortunately involved itself in two major types of category confusion. This confusion appears in discussions of creation vs. evolution, and design vs. chance. The terms creation and "evolution," for example, are really used on two quite different levels which may be distinguished as follows:

Worldview        Creation         Evolution

Scientific          spontaneous   evolutionary  process
mechanism       generation
                         (fiat creation)

  Creation (with a capital C) refers to the entire Judaeo-Christian doctrine of the origin and continual dependence of the world on the free power of God; Evolution refers to that philosophical (and religious) worldview which dispenses with God and considers an evolutionary process to be ultimately basic to all aspects of life. Spontaneous generation (which is the scientific mechanisn appropriate to what "creationists" call fiat creation) means the sudden coming into existence where nothing was before; evolutionary process means the gradual development of new forms from existing matter. Creation and Evolution are mutually exclusive worldviews; in any given phenomenon (origin of life, origin of man), spontaneous generation and evolutionary process are mutually exclusive mechanisms. But it should be clear that one could accept Creation and either spontaneous generation or evolutionary process without difficulty.

Worldview       Design       Chance
Scientific      determinism    chance

Design refers to a worldview in which the character of the universe has been formed in accordance with divine intelligence and concern; Chance refers to a worldview in which the universe is the product of blind, meaningless statistical process. The choices in a scientific description are only twofold: either a process is describable in terms of exact mathematical relations (deterministic description) or it is describable in terms of a statistical approach only (called "chance" in science). To say that a scientific description is one of chance, therefore, implies only that our present knowledge leads us to describe it in a statistical rather than a deterministic manner. Design and Chance are mutually exclusive worldviews; determinism and chance are mutually exclusive scientific mechanisms. But it should he clear that one could accept Design and either determinism or chance without difficulty.

It is important that our students come to appreciate Creation and Design as alternatives to Evolution and Chance, but this must come in some other setting than that of a science course. What we can do in a science course is avoid the opposite extreme of insisting that science somehow demands for us to accept only Evolution and Chance as worldviews.

Richard H. Bube, Department of Materials Science and Engineering Stanford University Stanford, California 94305

Introductory Statement Proposed for Science Textbooks Discussing Evolution by the California State Consultant Committee:

The subject of origins-how, things began long agohas always been fascinating. Certain questions about how things began science simply cannot answer. Where the first owner and energy came from is such a question, because it cannot he treated by the accepted methods of science. However, other questions of origins are appropriate for scientific investigation. For example, what are the physical mechanisms involved in the origin of life or the origin of specific living creatures? Considerations extending beyond a natural description of the physical universe, even as to whether any supernatural reality exists, are "non scientific," i.e., they lie beyond the reach of science and belong to other disciplines such as philosophy end religion. That such considerations are "non-scientific" does not mean that they are untrue or unimportant, but only that they cannot be evaluated by the scientific method.

The term "evolution" may be used in a number of ways. One use of the term describes processes that can be observed at present. These processes can be described with great accuracy. Another use of the term
"evolution" refers to the hypotheses that ( 1) all life forms now living have come from a munch smaller number of life forms in the past; this may have been just one or a few original sources of life; and (2) the great variety now Ms existence has developed by slow changes over long periods of time its response to hereditary and environmental factors. This theory, commonly called the "theory of organic evolution," attempts to tie together all living creatures and to explain similarities between living creatures in terms of slow change front one fonts to another fonts better suited to survive in the local environment. The accuracy of this theory, like that of all scientific theories, depends largely upon the validity of the assumption on which it is based.

Most scientists agree that the theory of organic evolution is the best scientific description ice have to account for the complex forms of life in the past and present. The historical reconstructions of life in the past described in this book are presented in terms of this theory of organic evolution.