Science in Christian Perspective



Christ and Science
The King's College
Briarcliff Manor, New York 10510

From: JASA 28 (March 1976):

At the expense of the dignity of both science and Scripture, discussions of "science and faith" are often reduced to infinitesimal debates over footprints in the mud, or carbon dating reliability, or the meaning of the Hebrew word for "day." Noticeably missing is any extended acknowledgment of the basic framework in which one attempts to relate science and faith. And yet these overlooked frameworks may be the most essential elements leading to resolution of some of the science and faith controversies.

H. R. Niebuhr has done Evangelicals a great service by suggesting some presuppositional frameworks from which Christians approach culture. In Christ and Culture Niebuhr describes five models that represent some of the major attempts at relating faith and learning.

Similar models can be proposed for categorizing the many themes in the debates between science and faith. In this article, six models are proposed, with the ones of Niebuhr being obvious to the reader of his book. As with any such models, there are overlapping and fuzzy edges, Most likely, there are additional models for other themes.

The Committed Anti Science Christian. The Committed Anti-scientist rejects science in its totality. In this tradition belong the Anabaptists, Pietist&, and modern Separatists.

To such groups, the Fall of man is total, and unredeemed mankind is completely incapable of doing anything of merit. Sin is identified with the material world. It is a person's material body and his senses that represent sin. Knowledge gained through such senses is ilhistory, In this scheme of priorities, effort should be concentrated on the spiritual world, the world of the mind.

In the Committed Anti-science group belong those who eschew the products of modern technology. They avoid the automobile and television and modern communications. In the extreme, they retire to a monastery or some primeval forest.

Anti-scientists believe that science is some grand machination of the Devil designed to keep men from faith. Thus they claim that the theory and data of modern science are guided by nonbelievers and demonic forces in such a way as to destroy or prevent the salvation of the weaker soul.

In education, then, the Anti-scientist fears the power of the non-Christian scientist. The further his education is removed from science, the better.

The Anti-science Christian is an isolationist-from sensory experience, from secular science, from modem technology.

The Scientific Anti-Science Christian. The Scientific Anti-scientist accepts those elements of science that corroborate his predetermined religious system, at the same same rejecting the opposing findings and models of science. In spirit, be believes that he is combating science; nevertheless, he uses some of the established methods of science.

This Christian usually has a strong salvationist emphasis. To, him, science as practiced and taught in the secular world is one of the major stumblingblocks to saving faith. In reaction, be proposes a "true science," which agrees with his interpretation of Scripture, thereby making salvation an easier matter.

The Scientific Anti-science Christian suspects the same diabolic scheme as his Committed brother. The most obvious symbol of this threatening scheme is evolution. Many of the Christian writers on the creationevolution controversy have belonged to this group. Given a pre-conceived notion of what Genesis says, they then select those data and reasonings of science that support their viewpoint, such as interpretations of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. All else is pronounced unscientific, ridiculous, and/or unbiblical.

The Scientific Anti-scientist is selective. Science is his enemy, but he will use science in an attempt to defeat science. Similarly, he does not retreat from technology. Radio, television, films, busses, and modern advertising methods are acceptable if they lead to the higher goals of converting souls and guarding the faith.

The Scientific Anti-scientist and the Committed Anti-scientist share in their rejection of science. To the

The Christian concerned about science must be prepared to approach both science and Scripture holistically.

Anti-scientists, there are two worlds: the spiritual world, commanded by God, and the world of science and technology, ruled by Satan. The Committed Antiscientists have retreated from all culture, choosing thereby to enhance the life of spiritual purity. The Scientific Anti-scientist remains on the battlefield.

The Secular Christian. For the Secular Christian, authority rests in human culture rather than in the Bible or the church. If angels can't be seen and miracles are not repeatable, then this Christian, with his nonreligious friends, rejects them.

Modernists and liberals are prime examples of Secularists. But the Secular frame of mind influences us all. The Secularist tends to relegate miracles to a subjective, nontestable, "spiritual" realm. As science advances, Scripture is reinterpeted or disclaimed. There is always the urge to "explain" the sun's standing still, the Red Sea's parting, and even the Resurrection, on the level of completely naturalistic causation. The Secularist is servant to the latest in current science.

Scripture is interpreted figuratively. Events in Scripture are viewed much like Aesop's fables-with a moral and a grain of truth, but not as potentially verifiable, accurate, historical realities.

The Secularist feels little tension between science and faith. The former is hard, concrete fact; the latter is mystical and relative. Such was the case with the Deists of the eighteenth century, To them, Nature was an abandoned machine, created by some sort of perfect spirit-being somewhere. The Deists' real world was the physical machine. Any faith that came by reason and experience was acceptable. Faith that came by revelation and submission to a higher authority did not meet the Deists' criteria for truth.

The Secularist minimizes the influence of sin on man's culture. Man is basically good; nature might be a little bad. Man's problem is not himself; it is his environment. Man's reason and his senses are to be trusted with little reservation. The world as it really is can be explained and managed by human effort.

The Secularist Christian accepts the scientific way of knowing as the reliable way of knowing. There is not really a "faith-way" of knowing that can be applied to the real world.

The Synthesist. The Synthesist Christian is the Christian Aristotle. He has a neatly structured system that has an answer for almost any question.

One of Niebuhr's examples of a Synthesist is St. Thomas, of the thirteenth century. An important feature of his system was its hierarchical nature. The world is filled with purpose. Human culture and earthly existence serve as schoolmasters to lead us to higher realms of faith. In this scheme, it would seem that science has little value in itself.

To the Synthesist, there is little conflict between science and faith. Science exists in a lower sphere which has little in common with the higher sphere of faith.

Synthesist Christianity is institutionalized religion. The church sets the ground rules for interpretations of Scripture and of scientific data. Such is the church that brought Galileo to trial in the seventeenth century, but normally such conflict does not arise for the Synthesist.

For the Synthesist, science is morally neutral. Nature and science are not overwhelmed by sin. The Synthesist does good science by Christian standards whenever he does the best possible science as judged by secular methods. As a science teacher, he needs no Christian overtones for his class-be just performs at the highest possible level in his profession. The science and faith realms are widely separated. The Bible, he claims, is not a scientific textbook. Science alone cannot lead us to God.

In his quest for a complete system, the Synthesist leaves few gaps in his science or in his faith. Every question must have an answer, and we are not prepared to postpone some questions for future answers. Synthesists of the Middle Ages had the angels flapping their wings to keep the planets in motion. The Synthesist of today calls upon God as agent when he cannot fully explain how the nucleus coheres.

The Synthesist group has few scientists in its membership. Perhaps this results from the view that theology is so much higher and more important and more authoritative than science. Perhaps it also comes about because faith is not allowed to invade the science realm.

The Dualist. The Dualist Christian stands midway between the two groups of Anti-scientists and the Secularist. The Anti-scientists confess the authority of Scripture, but reject science as authoritative. The Secularist opts for the authority of science over Scripture. The Dualist recognizes a type of authority in each.

To the Dualist, authority raises the issue in interpretation. The battle is not between God's revelation and the world of nature: God created both. The actual tension arises because of controversies between religion and science. These are two human institutions, marked by the imperfections of such undertakings.

Niebubr cites Martin Luther as an example of a Dualist who attempted to relate faith and culture. Luther recognized the negative influences of man's sin on all human institutions, including the church.

There arises a continual tension between science and theology. Sin has corrupted man as scientist, and thus science must be forever scrutinized by faith and moral principles. But religious institutions tend to become authoritarian and non-progressive, and these must be forever checked by the eyes of reason and experience-tools of science.

For the Dualist, man cannot become pure in the faith by retreating from culture and material things. Sin arises from within the person. There are some benefits to be reaped from science. Science alleviates suffering and helps control sin's effects on man. The Dualist must live and serve in a non-Christian culture, even in un-Christian religious institutions.

The Dualist somehow accepts human authority in these two spheres of science and religion.

The Transformer. The Transformational Christian, like the Anti-scientists and the Dualist, recognizes the prevalence of sin in culture. More strongly than the others, the Transformer believes that something can and should be done to change the world.

Niebuhr cites John Calvin as a Transformer. Calvin saw that culture is distorted by sin. But he also affirmed that man is made in the image of God. The Fall of man affects everything he does, but it dose not make man a zero. The Creation and the Incarnation serve as indications that the material world is basically good.

As the Transformer looks at science, he faces a challenge. Starting from basic Christian presuppositions, he attempts to develop a Christian worldview which will permeate all areas of culture, including science.

Christians are called to be scientists and engineers as well as missionaries and evangelists. Whatever he does, the Christian can do to the glory of God. Unlike the Synthesist, the Transformer does not view the world below as so widely separated from a spiritual sphere. There is no sacred-secular dichotomy.

The Transformer is socially concerned. He is an activist, Science should be transformed so that it is better helping man and serving God.

1. There are many cultural factors, in addition to Biblical and scientific factors, that influence which model one adopts to relate science and faith. For example, if at a given time in history, a society rejects science, the Christian may also do so, simply due to the influence that society has on his thought patterns.

2. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between Christian commitment and the choice of a particular model. Most of the above models presume an authentic relationship of the scientist with Christ and a concern for pleasing the Master. On the other hand, failure to adopt a particular model does not necessarily indicate some sinful rebellion on the part of the scientist-believer, but more likely would suggest ignorance or inadequate thinking.

3. The greatest difficulty in choosing the "best" model is to separate the Biblical position from theological. systems which quite often add to, or otherwise modify, what the Scriptures are saying. Our thinking is very much conditioned by a cultural-theological. framework, parts of which may make the system appear to be more "consistent" but not necessarily more Biblical. In the science-faith interaction it is ever so important to learn what the Bible says, rather than what scholars say the Bible says.

4. If one is seriously attempting to relate science and faith, he must believe that at least some of the statements of science are correct. After that, he must choose to accept all of the statements of science as correct or he must struggle with why some are not: is it because scientists are sinful? is it because nature is corrupt? is it because scientists are finite? is it because God is trying to deceive us? The answers to these questions are important as we seek the "best" model for relating Christ and science.

Whatever the approach he adopts, the Christian concerned about science must be prepared to approach both science and Scripture holistically. In life, he is not just a scientist or a theologian, or even both of thesehe is a whole person. Scripture is not just a few prooftexts, but a living message to whole persons about a God-created, purpose-filled, historically directed world of events. Science is much more than a collection of facts. As the holistic picture begins to develop, perhaps some further relationships between Christ and science will begin to come into focus.