Science in Christian Perspective
Secular Scientist Find Himself
Pressed to Support
A Christian Philosophy of Science?
HAROLD T. WIEBE
Department of Biology
Seattle Pacific College
From: JASA 29 (December 1977): 153-158.
Out of the vast amount of published materials in the field of science in the twentieth century it appears that only a limited segment has come to grips with deep philosophical implications. I am suggesting three possible reasons for this dearth. One is a deliberate attempt to bypass controversy; another calls for a line of thinking which admonishes scientists to stay clear of science's philosophical overtones; and a third recognizes that there is a fear of engaging in philosophical inquiry in the area of science because such endeavor will demand consideration of the metaphysical.
In this paper I explore and document reactions of secular scientists to some deep questions. I also present some of my own thinking and attempt to deal with the kind of philosophy of science that secular scientists are allowing in the field, and thus see if they find themselves pressed to support a Christian philosophy of science.
The use of the term "Secular Scientist" is not to be taken as judgmental regarding a scientist's theistic beliefs, but it is used in the sense that he shows a reluctance generally to give credit to a Divine Creator even though he does not exclude an admission upon occasion that a Superior Being could exist. This Superior Being of course is the One evangelical scientists do not hesitate to acknowledge as God and Creator.Philosophical Inquiry Valid in Science
In harmony with the contention that philosophical inquiry in science has a valid place and should be engaged in, I refer to David A. Hollinger's article which appeared in the April 1973 issue of The American Historical Review. In it be draws attention to Thomas S. Kuhn's point of view. Perhaps you will recall that Kuhn authored a book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970). Hollinger says, "Kuhn seems to assume that physical inquiry, philosophical inquiry, zoological inquiry, political inquiry, or whatever, whether or not they have become developed sciences, or whether they ever will, do possess a kind of primal validity . . . ..1
Furthermore, Nicholas Wade, who is on the editorial staff writing in Science April, 1975 under the caption "Daniel Bell: Science as the Imago of the Future Society" quotes Bell, professor of sociology at Harvard University as saying, "I am old fashioned enough to believe that the genuine questions are philosophical questions.2The Origin of Life
In this exploration I refer first to Sidney W. Fox's article "How Did Life Begin" which appeared in Sci ence, July 22, 1960. Fox is affiliated with the Oceanographic Institute and is a member of the chemistry department of Florida State University, Tallahassee. Fox says,
The scientific question of the mechanism of life's beginning is a more sophisticated version of the personal question, 'Where did I come from?' This question appropriately phrased is one which man generally has long asked himself and which man individually asks from his early childhood. If we accept the proposition that the impetus of the scientist is truly curiosity, virtually all thinking men are to a point scientists because of their special curiosity about this problem.3
Jere P. Segrest in the October 26, 1973 issue of Science under Science and Society echoes very much the same note:
Many scientists avidly follow developments outside their areas of specialization in such exciting fields as cosmology and the origin of life, mind research, and geophysics and paleontology. Everyone, scientists and public, shares an interest in these questions.4
Gideon E. Nelson, et al state in their book, Fundamental Concepts of Biology, "The origin and early evolution of life remains one of the baffling puzzles of biological science,"' and in another place of the same book comment is made, "All the evidence that supports evolution has not by itself yielded any explanations of the actual mechanism that governs the process."5
To add to the above I cite a brief portion of Hampton L. Carson's presidential address delivered before The Society for the Study of Evolution. In this speech given in December 1971 Carson said, "The origin and evolution of life provides us with some of the most fascinating and challenging questions in any field of scientific endeavor."6
At this point I would give special emphasis to Frank B. Salisbury who has served as Head of Plant Sciences and Professor of Plant Physiology at Utah State University. He has written under the title: Doubts About The Modem Synthetic Theory of Evolution (1971),
Surely our ideas about the origin of life will have to change radically with the passage of time. Not only is the gene itself a problem: think of the systems that would have to come into being to produce a living cell! It's nice to talk about replicating DNA molecules arising in the soupy sea, but in modern cells this replication requires the presence of suitable enzymes. Furthermore, DNA by itself accomplishes nothing. Its only reason for existence is the information that it carries and that is used in the production of a protein enzyme. At the moment, the link between DNA and the enzyme is a highly complex one, involving RNA and an enzyme for its synthesis in a DNA template; ribosomes; enzymes to activate amino acids; and tranfer-RNA molecules. Yet selection acts only upon phenotypes and not upon genes. At this level, the phenotype is the enzyme itself. How, in the absence of the final enzyme, could selection act upon DNA and all the mechanisms for replicating it? It's as though everything must happen at once: the entire system must come into being as one unit, or it is worthless. There may well be ways out of this dilemma, but I don't see them at the moment.+
Salisbury obviouslv sees inadequacy in the Modern Synthetic Theory to explain the origin of life and proposes that requirements call for everything to happen all at once.
Lawrence Bogorad, professor in the Department of Biology, Harvard University wrote in Science (May, 1975) under the title: Evolution of Organelles and Eukaryotic Genomes, as follows: "All the genes for a structure as well as their products were together when or just before a eukaryotic cell formed."8 This observation appears to support the "all-at-once" demand proposed by Salisbury and harmonizes with the concept of a purposeful, immediately functioning, creation brought into being by a Designer.
John A. Behnke, Editor, BioScience, AIBS, Dept. of Biology makes a very significant comment in BioScience September, 1974, about Paul A. Weiss' book, The Science of Life: The Living System-A System for Living, stating,
The widely accepted explanations for the origin of life are seriously questioned by the author who finds the idea that an organism could be created stepwise by the serial synthesis of biochemical moieties over a long period of time untenable. He argues that the survival of an organism is dependant upon a workable system and that primordial organisms bad to 'originate' rather than 'evolve'.9
Here again we see the call for the "all-at-once" concept. Weiss, earlier in 1962 had a publication in Science entitled, "Experience and Experiment in Biology' in which he said,
This is not to question our success in reducing cellular phenomena to molecular terms. However, to pretend that the process can be reversed, that the molecular shambles can reassemble themselves into a functional living system without the cheating intervention of another living system is a conceptual perversion, whatever one may think of the primordial origin of life.10
The question I raise here has to do with "another living system". Could one read into this that Weiss is pressed to support a Christian philosophy of science which acknowledges Divine intervention in making the inanimate come to life?
Alfred S. Romer who formerly was professor of zoology and curator of vertebrate paleontology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University visited Seattle in 1967. On April 4, 1967 1 had the opportunity to hear him speak at the University of Washington about vertebrate evolution. In his talk he recognized that the move of vertebrates from water on to land was a major jump. Striking to me was his comment to a sizable audience that they should not put the Supernatural in unless they had to. I wonder if he found himself pressed to this answer from time to time as he faced insurmountable scientific problems.
Admittedly secular scientists have a wealth of factual information, but how to infuse the facts with purpose in order to give meaning to life and the universe without introducing the metaphysical becomes a monumental struggle.
In my paper
"What Can Be Learned from the Evolutionist Who Takes a Hard Look at His Own
Theory," presented at the ASA Convention in New York state in 1965, 1 drew
attention to a couple of scientists from
the University of Illinois, my center for graduate study, who dealt with the origin of life in their publication,
College Botany. What they said fits in so well here that I refer to them again. Harry J. Fuller and Oswald
Tippo stated as follows:
Some people assume, entirely as a matter of faith, a Divine Creation of living substance. The only alternative seems to be the assumption that at some time in the dim past, the chance association of the requisite chemicals in the presence of favorable temperature, moisture, etc., produced living protoplasm. In other words, if one subscribes to this theory, he admits that the first protoplasm to appear on our earth was a product of spontaneous generation. Then, if be accepts the evidence of Pasteur and others against spontaneous generation, he must reverse his explanation of the origin of the first protoplasm to explain the origin of all subsequent living protoplasm from that first protoplast. In other words, spontaneous generation, according to these opponents of the idea of Divine Creation, worked when the first living substance was formed, but probably hasn't worked since. Actually, biologists are still as far away as they were in their attempts to explain how the first protoplasm originated. The evidence of those who would explain life's origin on the basis of the accidental combination of suitable chemical elements is no more tangible than that of those people who place their faith in Divine Creation as the explanation of the development of life. Obviously, the latter have as much justification for their belief as do the former.11
In 1969 Frank
Salisbury said he would like to discuss the area of creation and evolution with
me. One point that came out definitely in our conversation was his admission
that he was a theist. This fact is born out in his article mentioned above; he
does not rule out a Creator but says,
We are entitled to think about another solution: an intelligent Creator of life. We can try to write Shakespeare by piling computers on top of each other and letting them rearrange letters of the language, but a much better way is to let Shakespeare apply his intelligence to the job. Could God apply his intelligence to the ordering of nucleotides in DNA chains, providing the genes for selection to act upon? Certainly, if He exists. I believe in such a God for reasons quite independent of the discussion here. But scientifically this solution is not satisfying, because it does not (to me, at least) suggest reasonable scientific tests; indeed, it might even lead to a complacent loss of desire to use science in the first place. The idea may be an important part of my personal life, but so far I see no suit able way to make it a part of my scientific life.12
To those who see integration between science and Christian faith a viable option, it would be a real inspiration to have Salisbury accept that option as a feasible scientific rationale to explain one of the great questions in the philosophy of science. If the naturalistic theory for the origin of life which involves a whole series of hypotheses can be accepted as a scientific rationale, obviously calling for a belief in such an explanation, then surely another explanation also involving belief, in this case acknowledging design and Intelligence, a Designer, should not be excluded as a rationale.
Science and Faith
If the secular scientist finds himself resorting to a belief or a faith to build the bridges required in accepting "Evolution" as an answer for origins, and if we admit the element of faith in the process of scientific thought and philosophy, then surely the activity of faith which is not foreign to a Christian philosophy should easily permeate the whole area of science in the thinking of an evangelical scientist and this process should be no embarrassment.
Warren Weaver who in 1957 was on the staff of the Rockefeller Foundation wrote in Science of that year
under the caption, Science and the Citizen, "The average age citizen tends to think that science has destroyed
scientific publication regarding Divine Creation when the element of faith in religion; instead, be should
the scientific climate is and has been so strongly anti- realize that science is itself founded on faith."13 Even
creation and so overwhelmingly pro-evolution. though many scientists step with trepidation when
Referring again to Frank Salisbury, I draw attention discussing the tie-in of science with the metaphysical,
to his visit to Seattle in 1969. At that time I had occasion to talk with him personally, and he indicated that answers continues.
In an article entitled "Scientists as Philosophers" Alfred P. Stiernotte in the American Scientist says:
And then I am very
astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is very
deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a
magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry
that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a
word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight;
it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good and bad, God and eternity.
This solution is one which has a respectable history and is given by the British empiricists, Locke, Zerkeley, and Hume, the subjective idealists, and the modern positivists-with this important difference, however, that Schrodinger regards the idea of God as "the most sublime idea that presents itself to the human mind" whereas the sterner band of Viennese positivists regard any metaphysics whether it be of God, of mind, or of matter, as so much nonsensical baggage that should be dropped from the emancipated excursions of the scientific traveler. Such positivists, however, are in great danger of suffering the greatest loss that can be imagined, namely, what Paul Weiss calls "losing the world.'14
Another expression of this outreach for the intangible is revealed in the October 1961 bulletin of AIBS. The
principal address at the 1961 AIBS meetings at Lafayette, Indiana delivered by H. J. Muller of Indiana University appears in the October issue. He explored this quest by saying, "If so, it is hoped that in our future our wanderings in space we will come upon a form of life or mechanism that embodies a higher combination of realism and idealism than ours. Perhaps this encounter will bring us to our senses in time, but more probably it will be too late."15 Could this be a reaching out for a Personality in the Universe called God? In Hollinger's article referred to earlier, attention is drawn to T. S. Kuhn's quest which might fit in at this point. Hollinger says, "But for Kuhn the crucial questions are: whose word do we take concerning what's out there' (in other words, which theory explains the relevant phenomena the most satisfactorily?)"1
with the search for answers in this field we find the development of a new
theory built on an old one. Albert Rosenfeld, science editor for Saturday
ReviewlWorld wrote in the November 20, 1973 issue about this theory. He
Leslie E. Orgel of the Salk Institute has for some time been dissatisfied with current theories that all living creatures derive from precursors of life that sprang into being in the seething primordial atmosphere of early earth. If that was the case, why don't we see creatures with varying codes? Now Orgel, in collaboration with Francis H. C. Crick-wbo shared the Nobel Prize with James D. Watson for elucidating the architecture of the DNA molecule-has offered a new theory: "directed panspermia."
In the first panspermia theory, put forth in 1908 by the Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, the earth was seeded inadvertently by living cells wandering at random through the cosmos. But Crick and Orgel see no reason why the seeding couldn't have been deliberate.16Toward the end of his article, be writes,
Remember the strange monolith in Stanley Kubrick' s 2001, left on the moon by never-seen beings millions of years earlier to signal them of man's arrival on the lunar surface? Arthur C. Clarke, who co-authored 200 1, says he and Kubrick never tried to visualize or explain these beings for one simple reason: They would be utterly beyond human imagining, and anything they could do would have to seem like magic to us. To attribute to them motivations similar to man's-as these theorists do-is thus at least as chauvinistic as the notion that life can exist only as it is organized on earth.
as a child, being puzzled by the readiness of people (and Bibles) to attribute
all-too-human motivations to God. I thought of that the other night when I was
chatting about all this with a nonscientific friend, who finally commented: 'As
an early reader of the Book of Genesis, I'm somehow not surprised at the idea
that Someone Out There put us here. And if such a magical, mysterious, and
powerful intelligence exists that is utterly beyond human imagining, can you
give me a good reason why I shouldn't call it God?' I could give him no good
reason why not.16
Man's reaching out with his mind for an answer to the big questions, "What is man?" and "What is his origin?" could ponder with profit the comments of many men. I will refer to four. Fred Hoyle, internationally recognized cosmologist, stated in his lecture, "Extrapolations into the Future", I am going to make one big bypothesis-a religious hypotbesis-that the emergence of intelligent life is not a meaningless accident."17 The narrator in The Hellstrom Chronicle released on television channel 4, Seattle, Washington. February 20, 1974, said that only man ponders his existence; and Einstein is quoted as saying, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."10
George Santayana, in a kind of summary says, "Whoever it was who searched the heavens with a telescope and found no God would not have found the human mind if he had searched the brain with a microscope."") John Archibald Wheeler, Joseph Henry Professor of Physics at Princeton University, wrote in the American Scientist (1974), "Nothing gives one more faith that we will someday understand the mystery of creation than the ability of the human mind to predict, and predict correctly and against all expectation, so fantastic a phenomenon as the expansion of the universe."20Beyond Science
In the search for answers the process often goes beyond routine science as Alvin M. Weinberg, Director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, suggests in "The Axiology of Science" (November-December 1970 issue of American Scientist), ". . . the program of philosophy of science is to clarify questions that arise in, but transcend, science."21
This recognition of "beyond science" is also brought out by Allen L. Hammond, editorial staff member of AAAS Research News who wrote as follows in Science (May 1975) under the title, "Weisskopf on the Frontiers and Limits of Science" (V. F. Weisskopf is chairman of AAAS physics section):
Weisskopf is hugely optimistic that the frontiers of scientific knowledge will continue to recede. He believes that "it is reasonable to predict that man will eventually understand all of nature scientifically"-all observable phenomena. But he qualifies this sweeping claim by asserting that scientific insights will not cover every aspect of human experience. For example "one can understand a sunset or the stars in the night sky in a scientific way, but there is something about experiencing these phenomena that lies outside science". Quoting Wittgenstein and the Swiss philosopher Fierz, Weisskopf goes on to develop the point that science does not always illuminate the most important aspects of human experience, that there are limits to the scientific world view.22
This observation I would note parallels that of Weinberg above and the comment by Stiernotte made earlier that the scientific picture is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us.
It is, however, George Gaylord Simpson (Alexander Agassiz Professor of Vertebrate Paleontology) of Harvard University who personifies the quest regarding the "Beyond Science" aspect by saying, "The question 'What is man?' is probably the most profound that can be asked by man." He follows this by stating, "I do not mean to say that the biological study of man or even that the scientific study of man in terms broader than biological can here and now-if ever-provide a satisfactorily complete answer to the question 'What is man?"'23
Regarding this unique aspect of man_ I note that in Science, November 15, 1968, T. M. Sonneborn draws attention to a comment that H. J. Muller made in his book "Out of the Night" stating:
But man is
the first being yet evolved on earth which has the power to note this
changefulness, and, if be will, to turn it to his own advantage, to work out
genetic methods, eugenic ideals, yes, to invent new characteristics, organs, and
biological systems that will work out to further the interests, the happiness,
the glory of the godlike beings whose meagre foreshadowings we present ailing
For a man who admits that he has been converted to atheism25 (as indicated in the article mentioned above) to refer to man as a potentially god-like being is very interesting. This accomplishment he of course sees as a possible attainment by man himself.
Frederick E. Smith, who in 1969 was chairman of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, School of Natural Resources, University of Michigan is not so optimistic. He writes in BioScience of that year, "In one area, however, man is virtually impotent. Although he shows tremendous ability to alter the environment, improvising, correcting mistakes, salvaging disasters, and taming new regions, he shows almost no ability to change himself. "25
Before leaving the subject of man's superquality, yet recognizing his inadequacy, I refer to Edgar D. Mitchell who in February 1971 walked on the moon. He states in an article "Outer Space to Inner Space: An Astronaut's Odyssey" which appeared in the February 22, 1975 Saturday Review, "When I went to the moon, I was as pragmatic a scientist-engineer as any of my colleagues."26 And further down in the same article he says,
The contemporary scientific model of man as simply a complex organization of organic molecules is insufficient for explaining consciousness. Human beings are more than mere lumps of flesh. They have a dimension that transcends the entity of the person and takes them into the category of the trans-person.He continues,
That concept, of course, takes us right back into religion and philosophy. It presents a sound reason for religious beliefs-a rational basis for explaining why people throughout history have persisted in claiming that the physical world has a spiritual foundation. But it takes a change of consciousness if we are to 'see' that foundation.26
History and personal experience tell us that to change man positively is a phenomenal task; even the best education and access to the most pertinent information will not ensure such a change. Do we see in the above then an acknowledgment that if man is really going to change he cannot accomplish this on his own but needs help'? Here the Word of God brings hope through Jesus Christ, the One Who changes lives. The psalmist in Psalm 51:10 calls for Divine help saying, "Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me."
Admittedly secular scientists have a wealth of factual information but how to infuse the facts with purpose in order to give meaning to life and the universe without introducing the metaphysical becomes a monumental struggle.
Bruce Wallace of Cornell University mentions in Discussion Guide for Volumes I-III Essays in Social Biology, "An early geneticist wrote: 'The real trouble is not with the facts. It is with the interpretation of these facts. just at present we have more facts of a certain kind than we know what to do with. We need some one to put meaning into these facts."'27 It is admittedly true that the proper interpretation of facts gives ultimate meaning.
At the 1972 meeting of the Northwest Scientific Association Fred W. Fox of Oregon State University gave a presentation under the heading, "Beyond Concept and Process in Science and Education: An Ethic". He pointed out that scientific theories have ethical and philosophical implications, and that he thought man wants to know if there is purpose in the universe. He observed that process and concept have been driving us; should we not look beyond this to ethics? He drew attention to reverence for life and recognized the ethic of love as universal, and mentioned Oppenheimer in connection with the thought that we will not find the ultimate building block in "nature".
In spite of acknowledgment in the group during the lively and rather lengthy discussion which followed, that we were moving into theological and religious territory, one person spoke up saying that this indicates our need. Before his session was closed, Fox not only admitted that he was a humanist but also shared with us the problem facing him, namely, should we allow our students to ask the ultimate question?
To further acknowledge that science is inadequate in meeting man's great outreach and quest for answers, I refer to something Philip Handler said. As president of the National Academy of Sciences in 1970, he spoke on Science's Continuing Role at the dedication of the Loeb Building, Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, Massachusetts. In his speech he made a striking comment regarding science and faith. He said, "If our spiritual faith is somewhat shaken, whence do we turn? Science may be an inadequate substitute-but it is the substitute we have."28
What a challenge the above responses should present to the evangelical scientist! What can be learned from these observations? One thing I see in this is that the evangelical scientist should sense the urge and feel encouraged to present the philosophical answers in science that are needed to satisfy the outreach for meaning in this world and this universe.Conclusion
In my concluding comments I draw attention to Clifford L. Burdick, Hugh L. Dryden and Irvine H. Page.
Burdick, a geologist, states in a book Behind the Di7n Unknown edited by John Clover Monsma as follows: "In my own thoughts, I am close to Dr. A. Cressey Morrison, former president of the New York Academy of Sciences, who stated that the universe shows such definite design and purpose that it demands a Master Mind to account for its many perfections."29
Dryden of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Washington, D.C. in a talk given before the Cosmos Club, Washington, D.C. said, "Scientists, as well as others, have come to realize that atrophy of the moral and spiritual life is inconsistent with well-rounded development. Man's life at its fullest is a trinity of activity-physical, mental, and spiritual."30
And in an article, "Chemistry of the Brain" which is based on his vice-presidential address to Section N-Medical Sciences during the New York meeting of the AAAS in 1956, Irvine H. Page stated,I conclude with the hope that, for the small part we play in the shaping of things to come, the neuro-chemist will pursue his science to its utmost but will never forget that the problem of dualism of body and soul may not be solved in material terms only, and that on its solution hangs the fate of society. The problem must be approached humbly and with care lest ineptitude lead us into the greatest of human tragedies-a philosophy of nothingness; a philosophy without beauty; a philosophy without God.31
Philosophical judgments that must be made in the field of science dealing with the origin of matter, the origin of life, the concept of causation, the meaning of man in the universe and the factor of belief associated with scientific pursuits call for a faith in a Person, One who transcends the facts of science. This Person if excluded from scientific endeavors makes inadequate hypotheses a necessity and calls for the deification of man. On the other hand if this Person, God, is included in scientific quests (as even some secular scientists find themselves pressed to allow), answers will develop that have a unifying thrust and bring clarity to deep questions such as whether there is purpose in the universe.
In the light of the reactions of scientists mentioned above and others that might be added, I submit that even though the secular scientist may not be aware of it, be is found many times to be a supporter of a Christian philosophy of science.