Science in Christian Perspective
Planet Earth in Turmoil
GARY H. COLLINS
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Deerfield, Illinois
From: JASA 27
(June 1975): 49-54
Presidential Address given at the twenty-ninth annual convention of the American Scientific Affiliation, Bethany, Oklahoma, August 21, 1974.
It would be foolish for anyone to attempt to give a banquet talk, a presidential address, and a State of the Union message all at the same time, but on the assumption that fools and psychologists rush in where angels fear to tread, I would like to attempt all three goals in this paper. To begin I would like to look back to an ASA convention which we had five years ago at Gordon College where we discussed our society in turmoil. Then I would like to think back over the past five years and make some observations about our Affiliation in turmoil. Finally I would like to share some personal observations that I have made recently about our planet earth in turmoil.
Our Society in Turmoil
At our convention in 1969, we discussed a number of social issues
race, famine, pollution and war. Following the convention, these
papers were published
in a book (Collins, 1970). I'm not sure I liked the title or even the
but Christianity Today picked our ASA volume as one of the twenty best books to
appear in 1970. Shortly thereafter, Moody Monthly published a rather positive
view which read in part:
Unrest ... best describes the social and spiritual turmoil of our times. This symposium effectively confronts us with the fact that we evangelicals can no longer pontificate smugly, "just preach the gospel and society will right itself." The result of this strategy in the past has been, in the words of John Montgomery, "a socially retarded evangelical Christianity" with an introverted, semi-monastic life style.
Though from varied backgrounds (eleven professors, two medical doctors, one editorial assistant and one an authority on space science), all sixteen authors agree that evangelical Christianity can play a key part in helping to bring order out of confusion-if it will.
There was also a review in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation. This Journal is usually perceptive and the reviewer wrote:
Most of the book's chapters use a format of facts, conjecture and Christian application. However, before specific issues are discussed, an initial tone-setting chapter by John Montgomery demonstrates a Scriptural basis for social involvement by the believer. In addition, Montgomery very lucidly challenges Christians to he as aware and outspoken in such areas as open housing and ecological responsibility as in the area of sexual freedom, the traditional fundamentalist's major moral concern. Fourteen social issues follow Montgomery's chapter, most of them relevant in contemporary thinking.
A chapter on racism by William Pannell is an incisive plea for the church to stop being racist: "The sin of Evangelicalism is not that we are un-American. It is rather that we are more American than Christian."
In a discussion of crime and civil disobedience Russell Heddendorf takes the sociological position that civil disobedience indexes a basic questioning of the "presuppositions which are fundamental to society." The distinction made between crime and civil disobedience is one of many extremely provocative notions set forth in this well-written and scholarly essay.
A chapter on birth control by Merville Vincent furnishes a good exposition of the problem: he presents the issue and the most viable alternatives before giving his bias. Other lively and well-reasoned chapters focus on issues of war, space exploration and man's future with computers.
Some chapters, however, are not so strong.
Despite some shortcomings, Society in Turmoil deserves reading by the great majority (silent) of Christians because of its unique willingness to grapple with contemporary issues. The final goal of the hook is stated as challenging renewed dedication to our Lord. Potentially, she essays can serve as a basis for evangelical churches to "stir up that gift which is within them," so as to he aware of and involved in meeting our current social dilemmas in a Christ-like end informed manner.
A review in Eternity magazine was, to say the least less than positive:
Never trust a book that can't even get its footnote numbers straight and gives cross references to nonexistent chapters. These are but intimations of worse to come.
All but two of the volume's 16 contributors are members of the American Scientific Affiliation. Their purpose was to examine current social issues from the vantage points of both science and Christianity.
The result is drab indeed. John Warwick Mongomery's theological overview, Bill Pannell's comnsents on race, and Gary Collins' on student unrest are rehashes. Some of the articles, e.g., C. Eugene Walker on Christianity and scientific control of human behavior, and Rodney W. Johnson on space exploration, become silly.
Janet Robler Greisch on organ transplants, and Merville 0. Vincent on birth control, supply competent but pedestrian papers. "Hunger, Malnutrition and Famine: The World Food Problem," by Richard T. Wright, is the book's only outstanding essay. It is superlative and deserves to be part of a better book.
One other review appeared in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies.
Our Society in Turmoil is composed of fifteen articles written by scholars belonging to the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization which accepts the Bible as the inspired Word of God, seeks to understand the relationships between faith and science, and also has as its purpose the communication of its understandings to others. The essays within this volume are written from the viewpoint of "evangelical" Christianity. The purpose of the book is to explore various social and intellectual problems in order to encourage social action on the part of "evangelical" Christians, particularly scientists. Given its chosen task, it is a fairly creditable production considering that it is pointed to a very selective audience, i.e., the scientists of "evangelical" Christian persuasion.
In general, this book demonstrates the weakness of the fundamentalist approach to social problems in two ways: directly, by decrying the lack of interest and even an antipathy toward relevant social issues on the part of "evangelical" Christians; and indirectly, by demonstrating in its very format the limitations of reductionism, i.e., of trying to interpret everything from the one assumption that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and has something to contribute in all areas of human existence. Also, there is a type of sectarian chauvinism which underlies almost all of the contributions-a failure to acknowledge that there are other viable faiths or even other forms of Christianity which have something to offer toward the resolution of man's worldly dilemmas.
We who are scientists must carefully and diligently apply every scientific technique that God has given us to deal with the problems and issues of mankind.
I have learned that a book review often says a great deal more about
than it dues about the book, In one sense this kind of a review in the Journal
of Ecumenical Studies is a compliment. They could see what we are doing. They
recognized that we take the Bible seriously and I am glad that this point got
The meeting we had in 1969 and the volume that our ASA members produced subsequently at least was an attempt by competent evangelical scientists to grapple with the issues facing our society and our culture. As we look hack to that 1969 symposium, however, it is interesting to note how the issues have changed. We did talk about ecology then and we discussed hunger; but we were also concerned about the Viet Nam war, about student rebellions, the ethics and wisdom of space exploration, and whether or not we should he doing organ transplants. Nobody mentioned corruption in the government, prison reform or young people who are caught up in transcendental meditation, eastern religions, western cults and the occult. During a short period of five years our focus of interest has changed a great deal.
I wonder what we will be talking about at ASA meetings five years from now? Probably the issues will have changed, but I suspect that our society will still he in turmoil. Social turmoil reflects an underlying instability within men. I agree, therefore, with the writer of this last review when she suspects that the ancient world views reflected by these essays will hardly suffice to resolve the complicated problems of our society in turmoil. I think, however, that the essays pointed to the fact that if we are going to understand the world in which we live, and if we are really going to make a contribution to our changing society in turmoil, then at least we must do two things.
We who are scientists must carefully and diligently apply every scientific technique that God has given us to deal with the problems and issues of mankind. We come from varied scientific disciplines and backgrounds. We do not all approach scientific problems in the same way. But we are all scientists and our emphasis must be on good scientific investigation. Evangelicals and other Christians sometimes show a tendency to speculate or to accept poorly documented "scientific" findings because we are trying to prove something. Nowhere is sloppy science more apparent than in attempts to prove our pet views of the earth's origin. In the ASA we must develop the reputation for being good scientists.
We also, however, must be men and women who seek to understand, develop and apply the best knowledge of the Scriptures and of theology that we can get. For the most part we are not theologians, but just as Christians in science have on occasion been guilty of sloppy science, so too have we on occasion been guilty of poor Biblical exegesis and apologetics. As competent scientists we should never tolerate poor science, and as committed Christians we should not accept poor theology either.
Christians in science can do the cause of Christ much harm by being poor in Biblical exegesis and careless in scientific techniques. Perhaps there is no place where this happens more often than in the field of psychology. We have literally dozens of people traveling around the country conducting seminars which combine pseudopsychology with what seems in many cases to be poor Biblical theology. All of this is set forth in the name of science and Christianity.
We also, however, must be men and women who seek to understand, develop and apply the best knowledge of the Scriptures and of theology that we can get.
We who are evangelicals and particularly we who are members of the ASA must grapple carefully and head-on with problems of a society in turmoil. Our meeting five years ago was a good move in the right direction, but we must continue the search for a way to apply our science and our knowledge of the scriptures to the problems of our society. We must show the Christian community the difference between good science and bad science, and we must show the scientific community how a Biblically Christianity differs from pseudo-Christianity. We have an outreach to both communities: to the Christian community to show what good science is, and to the scientific community to show what Christianity is. This is a challenge that faces our Affiliation and our individual lives as we spend our days in a society living in turmoil.
Our Affiliation in Turmoil
I am not sure that turmoil is the best word to use in describing the recent history of the ASA. Certainly there have been many changes, especially during those five years that I was looking at the ASA from inside the Executive Council. Many exciting things have happened. Harold Hartzler and others have worked for many years to build the ASA on a solid foundation and now within the past five years we have been able to hire a full-time executive secretary who has "taken hold" and has done a number of creative and worthwhile activities in our central office. We have established a larger and more active central office, more effective because we now are able to have more people working there. We have paid off our back debts, we have increased the size of both our Journal and our Newsletter, and the influence of both publications has increased. In addition, within the past year we have increased membership in the ASA by roughly 15%. This growth has not stopped and we must continue recruiting - helping the organization to grow. Within recent years we have increased our visibility through advertisements and news stories in Christian and scientific magazines. In addition, our members were active in the California textbook controversy.
We must recognize, however, that we are not universally accepted. We have been criticized by some because we are ton liberal and by others because we are too conservative. We have been forsaken by some because we refuse to endorse some preconceived (and not necessarily Biblical) view of the earth's creation. We have been rejected by some who believe that evolution and creation are the only areas where science and Christianity are in contact. Some sincerely fear that we are getting too involved in social issues such as those that we wrote about in 1969. We have been overlooked by some who do not know we exist, and we have been ignored by others, including many Christians in science, who seem to feel that Christianity and science are two fields that are completely separated and have nothing to do with each other.
I find ASA meetings to he stimulating and challenging times for interaction. I do not know of any other interdisciplinary organization in existence that seeks to explore the relationships of general science and Biblical Christianity. I enjoy the opportunity to interact with chemists, biologists, mathematicians and others whom I do not normally meet. This is an exciting opportunity that makes our affiliation a growing and developing organization.
Nevertheless there is much to he done in the ASA. As a start, we need to be more solvent. We received a $10,000 grant last year and this helped, but expenses are constantly going up. In the past years we have borrowed money every summer, but we did not have to do that in 1974. We are still going to have to rely on continuing gifts if we are to meet our expenses and keep moving ahead as we have done in the past.
We must show the Christian community the difference between good science and bad science, and we must show the scientific community how a Biblically based Christianity differs from pseudoChristianity.
We also need more exposure. This comes when individual members spread the message. We must also develop strong local sections so that we can have an impact in our own communities. We most also look at our publishing policy and move out a little more. Those of us who speak as we travel around the country should mention the ASA in our talks. Quite often people come up to me after a talk and mention that they have never heard of our organization. Every one of us can have the kind of an outreach that will give the ASA more exposure.
As individuals we must also get more active. Over the years the ASA has become an organization of many fine people who read the publications but do little else. While serving on the Executive Council I have seen us struggle with numerous projects that we could complete if we had sufficient man-power. Worthwhile projects often require active people, time, energy, and money to complete.
Within the past few years I have noticed that those projects that have really grown are those that have been taken over by individuals. Dave Willis is doing something about his concern for high school science students. Dan Geisler wants some course outlines on science and Christianity; he has become concerned enough to get something moving. Jack McIntyre thought we needed to have a speakers' bureau; he has developed a workable proposal. John Stewart recognized that the people in Canada were not getting tax breaks for their ASA contributions; he and some colleagues took it upon themselves to get through the substantial legal red tape that led to the establishment of the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation. Harold Hartzler got the idea that we need to have one hundred members who are willing to donate one hundred dollars each year; he took it upon himself to get the 100 Club started. Many of us might have pet projects that we would like to see started in the ASA. Perhaps the place to start is with individuals - like you!
Our Planet in Turmoil
I have recently returned from a trip which took me around the world. This trip was sponsored by Overseas Christian Servicemens' Centers (OCSC), a missionary organization which has an outreach to American service personnel overseas. It may never have occurred to you that servicemen are often lonely and confused. Many live on ships or in military installations where there is no privacy or concern for individual rights. It is an environment where there is a great deal of boring work, meaningless activity, and considerable peer and sexual pressures. At the gate to the U.S. Navy and their families by offering their services to the American military community (and another 5,000 who are not registered). Although there are many good chaplains in the military, others are not; thousands of servicemen have need of a Savior but no opportunity to hear the gospel.
O.C.S.C. is a mission organization and their personnel have considerable training in Bible study and evangelistic techniques. But they did not have any training in counseling, and so I was invited to help with their counseling skills. Here was an opportunity to apply my training in a practical way to the problems of our planet in turmoil.
As I traveled around the world (accompanied for a part of the trip by my family), I talked to missionaries, servicemen, seminary students, Youth for Christ leaders and a host of other people. I have come back impressed by several things; I want to mention six of these.
These are, of course, the observations of only one man. They are observations that may mellow over time, but at present they are fresh. I am a psychologist and I see things differently from you whose specialties are in other areas.
I have observed first that planet earth is in a mess. Recently I read the address of Malcolm Muggeridge (1974) to the International Congress on World Evangelization. Let me quote a portion of his paper:
...let me boldly and plainly say that it has long seemed to me clear beyond any shadow of doubt that what is still called Western Civilization is in an advanced stage of decomposition, and that another Dark Age will soon he upon us, if, indeed, it has not already begun. With the Media, especially television, governing all our lives, as they indubitably do, it is easily imaginable that this might happen without our noticing. I was reading the other day about a distasteful but significant experiment conducted in some laboratory or other. A number of frogs were put into a bowl of water, and the water very gradually raised to the boiling point, with the result that they all expired without making any serious effort to jump out of the howl. The frogs are us, the water is our habitat, and the Media, by accustoming us to the gradual deterioration of our values and our circumstances, ensure that the boiling point comes upon us unawares. It is my own emphatic opinion that boiling point is upon us now. and that as a matter of urgency Christians must decide how they should conduct themselves in the face of so apocalyptic a situation.
One need not travel around the world to recognize there are problems on this planet. It was interesting to me to observe the political nervousness in Greece and to a lesser extent in Spain; the intense poverty and hunger in India; the superstition which is overwhelming in Thailand; the stress and pressure in Hong Kong; the occult bondage in the Philippines; the sexual looseness in England; the national smugness in Germany and Switzerland; and the self-centered attitudes which I saw everywhere but especially in America.
Recently I read an interesting comment by Arnold Toynbee the historian.
With the mechanization of industry came acceptance of Adam Smith's philosophy which held that the selfish pursuit of private interests would create the maximum benefits for society. This, I think, is an obvious untruth it does not, as Adam Smith contended, produce the maximum benefit for society. It produces, in the end, the destruction of society. He tried to make private selfishness respectable by saying it was socially beneficial. This is not true. In our generation we are paying for this philosophy, because it has now become the philosophy of the ordinary man.
Toynbee's answer? "Although I am an agnostic myself, my answer is a religions one-religions in a more general sense. To reverse the breakdown of morals in our Western society will require self-restraint, self-denial-even against one's own interest - . . Being human, each of us seeks personal advantage. But at a certain stage he must stop and say although I have a grievance and a moral right and the power to remedy it for my personal advantage, I most stop at a certain line. I am not justified in wrecking society or putting society under tribute just for my own personal reason, That is the root of morality." (Evangelical Newsletter)
How are we going to get this self-restraint and self-denial? I think people in the ASA need to line up with those people in Switzerland who concluded in the Lausanne Covenant that telling people about Jesus Christ and social involvement are both part of our Christian duty. It is a concern for those of us who are scientists and for those who are not. We are all living in and are responsible for a planet that is in great trouble.
A second observation that I made is that many of the most severe problems on planet earth are human problems. We do not even know how to convince people to turn off lights, conserve energy, ride in ear pools, or deal in a personal way with the energy crisis. I know how they deal with these issues in New Delhi. One night we were having dinner and all the lights went out. My missionary hosts informed me that when too much power is being used, someone in the electric company pulls a switch without warning and all the power goes out for a portion of the city. The darkness may last from two hours to twenty-four. In Madras the water is turned on for only one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.
On our planet, people d0 not know how to handle stress; how to manage the economy (let alone their own finances); how to fight loneliness, discouragement, and emptiness; how to keep marriages and families together; or how to deal with a rising suicide rate. A well-known preacher stated recently that in his opinion young people aren't really interested anymore in intellectual questions about apologetics. They are worried about how to get along with people, what to do about the turmoil inside, and how to handle personal problems.
I am not trying to play down those sciences which do not deal with people. These are important and significant, but so are our families, our students, and the people that are all around us. It is time for us to realize that the problems that bother us most are basically human problems.
A third thing that I observed in my travels was that science does not have a11 the answers. Many people think that science has even created some of the problems. It is interesting that a psychologist like Abraham Maslow who formerly was president of the American Psychological Association suggested before he died that we need a transpersonal psychology: something that will go beyond man and try to find solutions outside of the realm of scientific experience. Maslow did not personally know the gospel of Jesus Christ but he realized that scientific man could not solve all his problems.
Recently I had a long discussion with a noted biologist named Sir Alister Hardy, whom I specifically went to Oxford to see. In retirement from his professorship of biology at Oxford, he is spending his time directing Oxford's Religious Experience Unit, because he thinks that religious experience is of extreme importance to mankind. This man is very much concerned about going beyond his earlier work and trying to find an answer to the problems around us.
How can we deal with these problems? I do not believe that science has all the answers, but I do believe that there is a God who exists, who is the source of all truth, and who has revealed much of the truth that we know about the universe through science. He has also revealed much of the truth we know about the universe through the Scriptures. Because of our understanding of both science and of Scripture, we in the ASA are in a unique position to pull the two fields together as we grapple with the problems men face on planet earth.
A fourth observation that I made in traveling was that my personal values on planet earth tend to get not of shape. I wonder if my experiences are widespread among ASA members? In graduate school it is ingrained in its that we should publish, push ahead, and he successful. But what represents success in our society? Fame and money. I have found it easy in my professional career to strive for fame sometimes without even being aware of what I am doing. Money also becomes important - too important. When I should he asking, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" I find myself saying instead, "Lord, help me to get ahead."
On the day after I returned from my trip my body was still on European time and I awoke long before my family. I went down to the living room, looked around the house and decided that it isn't as big as I would like it to he. I noticed that the carpet was worn
Six impressions as the result of world
1. Planet earth is a mess.
2. Many of the most severe problems are human problems.
3. Science does not have all the answers.
4. Personal values tend to get out of shape.
5. Missionaries are doing a highly significant but difficult job.
While Satan is powerful, God is ultimately sovereign.
by the stairs. I thought about my salary that is not as large as I would like
and began to think about my own dissatisfactions with life. Then I thought back
to the night that I left New Delhi for Athens. As was my custom, I took out my
log book and started to write what I had observed in India. There are children
there who do not have anything to wear, so they run around naked.
There are people
who have nothing to eat and no place to sleep except on the streets.
I have never
seen such potential for disease in my life, nor such poverty. I
though about the
superstition of the people in that country and about the fact that these people
have so little hope for getting out of their difficult living situations. Most
of them have never heard of Jesus Christ and missionary activity is
I sat on the plane that night and thought about these people that were behind
me in India-and cried.
We who are educated westerners have our values all wrong. Really we are very rich; we don't miss very many meals, our children rarely go to school without clothes, we have warm houses, people who love us and a God who cares about us.
In the midst of our difficulties, we need new values and a new sense of gratitude. We need to recognize what we possess, and how God is willing to work through and in our lives. Perhaps we need to be less concerned about pursuing our own personal little careers in a selfish way and more concerned about the needy people on planet earth.
A fifth observation is that the missionaries on planet earth are doing a highly significant but difficult job. In travelling I had the opportunity of talking to many missionaries; I have learned something of their sacrifices, their needs, their burdens, and their commitment.
Perhaps as individual Christians and as ASA members we should have a greater interest in the evangelization of the world in which we live and a greater concern about missionary activity. I wonder if we should have a greater understanding 0f missionary work. Perhaps we need a greater willingness to give of our time, our money, and our scientific skills in order to advance the cause of Christ through world missions.
Finally, in traveling I noticed the power of Satan and the sovereignty of Cod. C. S. Lewis in his introduction to the Screwtape Letters makes a frequently quoted statement, that we tend to make two mistakes when we talk about the devil. Either we give him too much attention or we don't give him enough attention.
A few years ago in our society if you said you believed in the devil people would have laughed. Now the devil is big news. We write books and hold conferences about him. Some people even worship him. It was interesting for me to see the grip that Satan has over so many individuals especially in oriental countries where superstition abounds.
I came home firmly convinced of the existence and power of the demonic forces that we read about in Ephcsians 6. It appears to me that there will be Satanic opposition especially when one is concerned about doing the Lord's work. I don't think we ought to forget that even as sophisticated scientists. One of the disturbing things I noticed about the devil's activity is that lie so frequently accomplishes his purposes by using other Christians.
While in Greece, I visited Corinth and was reminded of Paul's letters to the Corinthians.
I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying 'I am of Paul,' and 'I am of Apollos,' and 'I of Cephas,' and 'I of Christ.' Has Christ been divided? I exhort you, my brethren, by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and that there be no division among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. (I Cor. 1:10-12)
As I saw missionary work undercut by other missionaries, I came back thinking, "Am I doing anything to undercut the Lord's work?" Are my actions or criticisms hindering the Lord from working through someone else?
Perhaps we need to be re-alerted to the fact that Christians should work together. We might not be members of the same Christian organizations, we might not he in the same field as somebody else but let us not try to undercut people, especially other Christian people, by our caustic remarks and lack of cooperation with others.
In my travels, however, I also saw the power and the sovereignty of God. When thinking about the major lesson I learned in 1974 I am reminded of a little chorus taken from Song of Solomon (2:4), "His banner over me is love." Our society is in turmoil, our planet is in turmoil, but we who are in the ASA serve a powerful and sovereign God who provides for us and whose banner over us is love. Our real job is to be His instruments. He may work through us to reach our families, our scientific colleagues, our fellow Christians and our fellow ASA members, It is my prayer that we in the ASA will all be vessels, fit and ready for the Master's use, armed with the skills and the abilities that He has given us so that we might have a lasting impact on our planet earth in turmoil.
Collins, C. R. (ed.). Our Society in Turmoil. Carol Stream: Creation House, 1970.
"Does Self Interest Destroy Society?" Evangelical Newsletter. May 24, 1974, Vol. 1, P. 2.
Muggcridge, M. "Living Through an Apocalypse." Christianity Today. August 16, 1974, Vol. 18, Pp. 4-8.