Science in Christian Perspective



Can a Christian Be a Scientist?

From: JASA 28 (March 1976): 47-48.

In his book The Relevance of Science: Creation and Cosmogony (Harper and Row, N.Y., 1964) the German physicist and philosopher Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker makes the statement that belief in science is the prevalent religion today. The author proves this assertion convincingly. This leads us to question whether belief in science can really replace a well-understood Christian faith. How are science and Christian faith related to each other?

At first let us recognize the fact that there have always been outstanding scientists who are confessing Christians. This indicates that science and Christian faith are not necessarily contradictory viewpoints.

Statements on the compatibility of faith and science often reveal themselves to be biased. Sometimes the methodological limitations of the scientific approach are not considered enough. Furthermore, a shallow understanding of Christian faith complicates the discussion. It seems to be necessary to resolve first the prejudices concerning science as well as Christian faith in order to be able to relate one to the other.

Let us first look at science. How can the work of a scientist be characterized? A physicist, chemist, biologist, geologist, psychologist or sociologist starts with observation of reality. In view of these facts he develops an hypothesis. By logical conclusion he reaches statements which then have to be verified or falsified by further observations of reality. In case a contradiction appears, an hypothesis must be modified or dropped. It is essential to distinguish between observation and hypothesis. Each hypothesis may be supported, modified or even dropped because of new observations.

Furthermore, let us consider that a scientist approaches reality on a purely rational level. For instance, his personal feelings or certain prejudices must not influence the result of his work. Note that we as human beings operate differently in our daily life. The relationship between friends or in a marriage is certainly not the result of merely rational considerations. Here the whole person is involved. However, the scientific approach to reality is essentially rational.

Moreover, a scientist considers only a well-defined part of reality which in general is rather small. All the other parts and interdependent relationships between them and the investigated part are neglected. Various sciences also look at the same section of reality from a different viewpoint. A physicist for instance will see a river, the sun or man in another way than a chemist. A chemist's view of man is different from that of a sociologist or psychologist. Each science develops pictures of certain sections of reality. However, there is no science able to combine these pictures. This is beyond the capability of the scientific approach.

The foregoing considerations show some methodological limitations of science which are sometimes overlooked. From this we can conclude that no science will be able to answer the following questions:

1. What is the meaning of the universe, of human history and of my own life in particular?
2. What is the basis for the hope and trust that everybody seems to need?
3. What kind of ethical standards shall we choose for our private and public life? Nuclear physics for instance does
not provide us with standards on how to use it.
4. Does God exist? And if so, how does he relate to the universe and to man?

All these questions will not be answered by any kind of science, since the scientific approach is a limited tool useful for other purposes. This is a fact which Christians and non-Christians have to accept. What is left are essential questions that are pressing for an answer.

Various religions, ideologies and philosophies have tried to answer these questions. The Bible claims to have the true answers. But how can we verify the truth of biblical statements on God and man?

hristian faith does not result simply from the acceptance of certain dogma. On the other hand Christian faith does not come by intellectual effort only. According to the Bible, becoming a Christian involves the whole person. Christian faith is a continuous reaction of one's life to a great event about 2000 years ago when Jesus Christ died and was resurrected. His life shows me what I am supposed to be. Through his death he paid the penalty for my failures, and his death and resurrection enable me to live a new life.

The truth of biblical statements is revealed by a personal relationship to Jesus which is made possible by the grace of God. Observe that knowing God is described in the original language of the Bible by the same word that expresses the most intimate relationship between husband and wife, According to the Bible, insights to the essential truth for our life are always connected with certain steps of obedience. Jesus says in John 7, 17: "If any man is willing to do His will, he shall know of the teaching whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself."

In all
our effort to verify biblical statements our initial view is crucial. Many people prevent themselves from getting Insights to biblical truths because of their methodology: after having on reached apparently solid ground in themselves they try to decide on God, In this way they follow Descartes' approach to reality. Another mathematician of the same age, Blaise Pascal, shows us a completely different way, He warns us not to search
for a safe ground in ourselves. Pascal says that we know not only God but also ourselves only through Jesus Christ. Without Jesus we don't know who we are and who God is.

Siegfried Schaible
Ind'ustrieserninar der Universitat Kolm
West Germany