Science in Christian Perspective
[Five]Personal Reminiscences [on the influence of The Christian View of Science and Scripture]
F. Alton Everest Everest, Carpenter, Willis, Haynes, Yamauchi
From: JASA 31 (September 1979): 187-189.
Of The Christian View of Science and Scripture, Wilbur Smith wrote,
The most important discussion of the problems involved in the vast and difficult subject of modern science and the ancient Scriptures that has appeared in this country in the last fifty years. It is the only book that I know of, by an evangelical scholar of today, that can be favorably compared with the masterly, learned works in this field which were produced in she latter part of the nineteenth century.1
I shall leave the justification of Wilbur Smith's enthusiastic
opinion of Ramm's
book to others. However, his appraisal of the book seemed to be fully in line
with my own reactions at the time.
Consider the setting: the ASA was 13 years old when Ramm's book appeared, but really only about 9 years if you count the growth rings because of the limited activity during World War II. Much of that early period was taken up in writing the "handbook" which culminated in the volume Modern Science and Christian Faith [Van Kampen, 1948, revised 1950]. The ASA membership was small, qualified writers scarce, but the exercise brought into sharp relief the enormity of the philosophical, exegetical, and scientific problems involved.
Ramm's book was a breath of fresh air. I am speaking primarily of the first four chapters of the book which deal with the principles with which problems of science and our Christian faith must be approached. These are of classic and lasting value. The last four chapters, applying these principles in the specific fields of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology, were also helpful, but recognized as tentative and from one whose specialty is elsewhere. Ramm's Science and Scripture nailed a list of new criteria to the church door right under Luther's.
When Bernie Ramm defended his doctoral dissertation in the field of philosophy of science at the University of Southern California, I had the privilege of sitting in. It was a masterly exercise in defending Christian concepts in the face of sharply critical attitudes. The knowledge and poise he exhibited and his winsome elucidation of evangelical perspectives served him well during those gruelling few hours. These same characteristics in the first four chapters of this book have also served the evangelical community well during the past quarter century and should continue to do so for many years to come.
1An Epochal work on Science and the Christian Faith," appearing in Wilbur M. Smith's In the Study feature, Moody Monthly.
Dewey K. Carpenter
Department of Chemistry
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
It is a pleasure to acknowledge the great influence which Ramm's book has exerted on me. I first read it in 1955, just after finishing my Ph.D. in chemistry, several years following my conversion to Christian faith. Before reading
Ramm, I had not done much to relate my views on Christianity and science. I had my hands full scientifically with my graduate work in physical chemistry at Duke University and in my Christian reading and thinking I had concentrated on distinctively biblical and theological writings. Such overall perspective as I had was seriously infected with a God-of-the-gaps mentality coupled with suspicion [acquired from overdoses of what Ramm taught me to call hyperorthodox literature] that scholarly investigations of the Bible and its relationships with other fields including the sciences were almost always fatally flawed by relationalistic presuppositions. Reading and rereading Ramm' s book was quite mind-clearing for me. He was the first to show me several important things:
I. The existence of a tradition of scholarly Christian investigation of Christianity and science which combines high standards of scholarship, open mindness, and commitment to the unique revelation given in the Scriptures.
The need to see the biblical doctrine of Creation as basic to an intelligent discussion of these matters.
3. The need to see Creation and Providence as involving more than a discussion of origins and mechanisms.
4. The nature of biblical descriptions of natural phenomena as essentially theory-free.
The necessity of combining the profoundly theistic view of nature found in the Bible with philosophical categories if it is desired to make contact with discussions which themselves employ philosophical terms.
Ramm helped me to see that legitimate differences of opinion are compatible with a distinctly Christian perspective, and that differing interpretations may be possible even with the same Christian presuppositions. Since Ramm's book seems to have involved a breaking of new ground with many evangelicals it is surprising to realize how well the main part of the book [the first three chapters) stands up to rereading today. I am thinking here primarily of how Ramm treated such general matters as the need for harmonization of science and Scripture, his analysis of the conflict, and his survey of the fundamental issues involved. I suppose that the situation is different with respect to the later chapters of the book in which the specific scientific disciplines are considered, since much has been written on these subsequently, a great deal of it doubtless as a reaction to Ramm's treatment. This is especially the case with evolution, a topic whose supposed importance has never captivated me.
It is not with respect to evolution or any other particular scientific issue or suggested resolution of a conflict where I have found my help from Ramm. Rather, it is in terms of general orientation of learning what the basic issues are, and of the need for bringing an irenic spirit to an investigation which must be both scholarly and devout. I do not expect that I will undergo any significant changes in my opinions regarding these basic and general matters, and accordingly I owe to Ramm both the incentive to become mature in my Christian outlook towards science as well as the basic outlines of the position which he laid down and which I still find to be best.
David L. Willis
Professor of Biology
Oregon State University
It was my great privilege to have Bernard Ramm as a professor during the years 1947 and 1948. I was then a student at Biola Seminary [the forerunner of Talbot Seminary] in Los Angeles, California. He was teaching full time and completing his doctoral studies at the nearby University of Southern California in the philosophy of science. To the best of my recollection, he was the only seminary faculty member there involved in graduate study in other than theological fields. As was typical at the institution then, he was teaching a wide variety of courses, some well outside his areas of professional preparation. Regardless of this handicap, he brought a freshness of approach and an intensity of scholarship to his classes that was unmatched by any of his faculty colleagues.
At that period in the Seminary and the associated Bible Institute, many faculty members followed what Ramm later characterized as the "ignoble tradition" regarding the relationship of science and the Scriptures. To suggest that interpretations of Scripture might profit from some knowledge of science was tantamount to heresy. In this setting, Ramm's scholarly, rational and unemotional presentation of the concepts which later appeared in The Christian View of Science and Scripture was both controversial and unsettling to many.
For me, personally, Ramm's ideas were most refreshing. He saw the field of science as a challenge to Christian thinkers, but not a threat. A career in science was viewed as a valid and worthwhile option for young Christian students. Needless to say, such ideas were unusual in an institution dedicated to educating pastors and missionaries. His influence played a very large role in directing me into a scientific career after completing theological studies. His constant emphasis on attempting to harmonize the two fields has been foremost in my thinking for over three decades.
When The Christian View of Science and Scripture appeared in 1954, I eagerly secured a copy and devoured every word. Over the ensuing years, I have loaned and given copies to students and faculty colleagues, used it as a text on occasion, and been immensely grateful for its continued availability. It is obviously not the last word on the subject, and I've long regarded the choice of the definite article in the title with some dismay. However, it certainly represents the only acceptable approach, namely that since the world of nature and the word of revelation come from the same author, we must harmonize, not polarize our understanding of their interrelations. While not a new approach, Bernard Ramm has certainly set it forth in the most thorough, reverent and scholarly style of our lifetime.
John D. Haynes
American Cyanamid Company
Pearl River, New York
This industrial biometrician, a servant of science, who just had had theological questionings satisfied by studying Mere Christianity, Miracles, and Problem of Pain, all by C.S. Lewis, welcomed the appearance of The Christian View of Science and Scripture as an eminently logical, scholarly treatise, which met a definite need and kept me in the fold. Markings in my book give a clue to the needs of those years.
". . . We must insist that one of the greatest mistakes of modern scholars is to equate the Christian mind with the medieval mind and then to accuse the Christian mind of all the mistakes and fallibilities of the medieval mind." (p 26)
"...Creation and development are both indispensable categories in the understanding of geology and biology. The fiat creationist can be embarassed by a thousand examples of development. Progression cannot be denied geology and biology. The chasms in the order of life can only be bridged by creation." (p 272)
"...We note that the language of the Bible with reference to natural things is popular, prescientific, and non-postulational" (p 76)
A mutual understanding by the "Two Cultures" (especially Christians thereof) is fostered by this book. This understanding can be helped also by a book from the other culture, That Hideous Strength, which commonly is viewed as anti-scientist but the facts belie this-Hingest, the only eminent scientist in the institute, who motored away when he found it to be really "something like a political conspiracy," was murdered ("No one leaves the Institute."). The message is about something the two cultures share-men seduced by power; mutual understanding is gained here too. Ramm's objectiveness, fairness and, above all, truthfulness set a high tone, e.g. "White's The Warfare of Theology with Science needs correctives, yet. . . (it relates) how profoundly the progress of science has purified theological thought." (p 60) This characteristic of "giving the devil his due" is even more evident in his recent book, The Devil, Seven Wormwoods, and God. Thank you, Bernard Ramm.
Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
As a high school student I was keenly interested in science, giving
my first lecture
on evolution in the 9th grade. In the 10th grade I was converted to Christ and
instinctively rejected evolution, much to the chagrin of my biology
Before I graduated from high school in 1954, I had read Jeans, Eddington, Dampier, and Heim. But it was Bernard Ramm's The Christian View of Science and Scripture, published in 1954, that helped me to clarify the issues between science and the Scriptures, and to demonstrate that there were no insuperable problems and no necessarily final conflict between evolution and a Christian view of origins. Ramm pointed out both the strengths of microevolutionary data and the weaknesses of some of the macro-evolutionary theories.'
As I have reread the volume, I have been impressed anew at the perceptive way in which Ramm dealt with all the
major issues - many of which still remain today. In a manner which I did not fully appreciate 25 years ago, Ramm demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the literature which was both diachronic and synchronic. That is, he was well aware of the history of the controversies, and was widely read, particularly in the writings of Catholic scholars.
Those who do not know history are perforce often led to repeat the same historical errors, as we can see from the extreme positions which have been taken both by some who affirm the biblical record and by some who deny it. On the one hand, we have Christians who insist that we must interpret the account in Genesis as a "late" creation with only apparent indications of time. On the other hand, Magnus Magnusson, rector of Edinburgh and a commentator on BBC, has just published a book Archaeology of the Bible [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977], in which he pokes fun at Christians who according to "a literal reading of Genesis" believe that Adam was created in 4004 B.C. - a view which Ramm had long shown to be untenable [p. 37].
In the areas where I have contributed articles, e.g. on Noah's Ark, 2 on the Babylonian flood story, 3 on the Table of Nations,' etc., I find that Ramm's judgments were essentially sound, and that what he wrote is still well worth considering.
Although it would be captious to suggest weaknesses in such a classic work, I am surprised in rereading Ramm's book to see how little reference there was made to archaeology - with but one reference, for example, to the
epochal contributions of W. F. Albright.'
In conclusion, I must express my admiration for the courage and the confidence which enabled Ramm to take issue with such popular writers and oracles of conservative Christians as G. H. Pember, G. McReady Price, and Harry Rimmer. His must have been a lonely voice crying in the wilderness at the time. Professor Ramm must be gratified to see many of his views adopted by younger scholars and vindicated by the growing number of Christian men of science, particularly in the American Scientific Affiliation.
1Cf. L. Duane Thurman, How to Think about Evolution [Downers Grove:
2Critical Comments on the Search for Noah's Ark," Near East Archaeological Society Bulletin 10 [19771, 5-27;
3Is That an Ark on Ararat?" Eternity 28 [Feb., 19781, 27-32. 'Anthropomorphism in Ancient Religions," Bibliotheca Sacra 125 [19681, 29-44.
4Meshech, Tubal, and Company," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19 , 239-47.
5Major works by Albright which were available before 1954 include: Recent Discoveries in Bible Lands , From the Stone Age to Christianity , The Archaeology of Palestine [1949), and The Biblical Period Abraham to Fzra .