Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Reply to the Replies to Sir George Porter
Arnold M. Lund
2913 N. Bristol Apt. P
Santa Ana, California 92706

From: JASA 29 (September 1977): 140-141.

In the March 1976 issue of the Journal ASA an article by Sir George Porter entitled "The Relevance of Science" was reprinted from Engineering and Science. 1 The article, and the myriad responses which accompanied it, raised some rather stimulating questions. Neither the article nor the majority of the responses managed to approach the questions from a sufficiently transcendent perspective however. Each, for the most part, seems to share an excessively bounded view of science. It is to this problem that the present article is directed.

At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, Porter's argument is developed around three key points. First of all, he joins such contemporary prophets as Skinner and Toffler in directing our attention to a sort of technological addiction. in the spirit of the optimism of the late nineteenth century, science has made tremendous progress in its fight against hunger, disease, and ignorance. Yet, as Skinner suggests 2 the tools science has given us have not been implemented optimally nor have they been implemented with impunity. Pollution, depletion of resources, nuclear roulette, the specter of Brave New World, and more have been attributed directly or indirectly to scientific progress. Further, in stripping men of their ethereal belief systems, science seems to be reducing subjective happiness rather than increasing it.

Porter's second point is that "Most of our anxieties, problems and unhappiness today stem from a lack of purpose . . ." Traditionally, religion provided this sense of purpose. However, as Colin Brown has documented in Philosophy and the Christian Faith,' religion in general and Christianity in particular became associated with the reality 'which could not be tested.' An analogue of Cartesian dualism with science set against religion emerged. As the 'unknown' fell to the onslaught of science, Christianity apparently retreated. Its facade of solidity seemed to be slipping and Homo sapiens' sense of purpose seemed to slip with it. Indeed, Schaeffer 4 argues that "this change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem, as I understand it, facing Christianity today."

Few would take exception to Porter's development so far. It is with regard to the conclusion he draws from this lack of purpose that the debate is waged. Again, like Skinner, Porter argues that the answer is not less science, but rather the situation calls for more science. Skinner even hypothesizes the form such a scientifically derived purpose might take. Purposes, ethics, and beliefs are forms of human behavior. A science of human behavior must therefore be able to deal with them. As science discovers the nature and the dynamics of such entities, to the extent that they intrinsically exist in man, it should be possible to bring man more effectively under their control.

Clearly, 'herein lies the rub.' The indomitable reviewers, and very likely the average Homo sapiens himself, feel that indeed there are areas within which science will not find a receptive environment. Among them is the area of man's purpose. Jerry D. Albert' succinctly exemplifies the point of view when he says, "Science can have or can be given a purpose, but science itself is incapable of leading to or discovering ultimate purpose for anything." It is likely that behind this idea is the assumption that science studies things which can be measured or controlled and ultimate purpose" does not fall within such a classification.

A second thrust of the replies deals with the hoary issue of revelation. Scripture does what science cannot do. It provides us with information concerning God, the creation, and God's relationship to the creation that is not obtainable in any other way. No amount of scientific 'works' can do what God has done in His love in revealing this information to man. As 2 Peter 1:21 says, "No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." In this sense, Porter is an embodied version of Paul's statement that "they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened." (Romans 1:21) Even worse, he may be a form of false prophet, as his heresy directs intellectual commitment away from the true purpose of man, and the true answer, in Christ. In this light the righteous indignation which Porter's statements arouse is not particularly surprising, nor is it unjustified.

It is appropriate at this point to step back and look at the ideal situation with an 'enlightened objectivity.' Presumably there is little quarrel with Porter's assertions concerning a crisis of meaning and the historical phenomenon of the abdication of conscience. Further, there seems to be agreement concerning the fact that science per se is a method of understanding which involves systemization, mutual verification, and so on. The parting of the ways, however, stems from disagreement concerning the subject matter of science.

The issue is a complex one, but perhaps the perspectives of the two camps can be summarized in the following manner. Porter recognizes a physical universe which can be subjected to scientific study. For him, if purposes are real (in the sense that ideas, concepts, feelings, etc. are real) they exist within or are defined by the universe. They are, therefore, valid objects for study. The replies to Porter, on the other hand, agree that there is a physical universe which can be subjected to scientific study. They wish to argue however, that there is another, or encompassing nonphysical universe which is not subject to scientific study. It is here that the realm of purpose lies.

Emerging from these two points of view is the realization that indeed, science is a methodology, and that methodology is to be applied to reality. That is the subject matter we wish to understand. A particular methodology may be more or less useful in its application, perhaps even not useful at all, but when we speak of science it is with respect to all of reality that we must be concerned. It should be added that the universe is not divided into two categories, physical and nonphysical. Rather, the reality we are concerned with can be conceived of hierarchically with our physical reality being a part of a greater reality.

This is not a particularly remarkable notion. Paul argues that, "Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made." (Romans 1:20) God has revealed Himself to man through miracles, prophecies, and in the most profound way through His Son. God created and upholds the universe. Romans 8 even suggests that the creation itself is "groaning" from the spiritual fall of Adam. The whole spirit of Scripture speaks to the fact that, while the physical universe is distinctive, it is little more than a subset of the larger reality. It is the fallen state of man which prevents him from grasping or acting upon the implications of the manifestation of the metaphysical within the physical. Nevertheless, the information is there and all men have access to at least some of it.

Aside from the various questions of natural revelation, the phenomenon of Scriptural revelation is an interesting case in point. God's word concerning His unseen nature and prescriptive laws is continually attested to in real space time by physical activity. Thus Acts 2:22 says "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know . . ." It is because of the acceptance of this as real evidence, real testable information concerning the metaphysical, that we can speak of a science of theology.

Science is a general methodology composed of topic specific particular methodologies. It is directed towards an understanding of all reality, but due to its unique nature its point of access is physical reality. The Biblical restriction on knowing is not defined by the nature of science, it is defined by the nature of fallen man. Man can know his purpose. He can know what is right or wrong. He can know the metaphysical, at least in part. He chooses not to by rejecting God. Thus, while man resists the knowledge and understanding of all of reality, to the extent that the increment of understanding that science could ideally yield would serve to improve the conditions of mankind, the Christian working as a scientist stands as a unique channel for that aspect of God's love. It is with these qualifications that Porter's quotation of Tolstoy's remark can be repeated, "The highest wisdom has but one science, the science of the whole, the science explaining the Creation and man's place in it."

1Sir George Porter, "The Relevance of Science," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, vol. 28 (1),1976, pp. 2-3.

2B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, New York (Bantam Books). 197 1, pp. 1-23.

3Colin Brown, Philosophy and the Christian Faith, Chicago (InterVarsity Press), 1969.

4 Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who is There, Chicago (InterVarsity Press), 1968, p. 13.

5Jerry D. Albert, "Man Without God, Groping for a Purpose," Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, vol, 28 (1), 1976, p. 3.