Science in Christian Perspective



Gems of Wisdom and Wrong Conclusions
Vernon I. Ehlers
Professor of Physics, 
Calvin College. Grand Rapids, MI

From: JASA 32 (June1980): 78-79.

It was with genuine anticipation that I sat down to read Pollard's article, "A Theological View of Nuclear Energy." We Christians are often remiss by not applying our faith to contemporary problems, and based on Dr. Pollard's earlier work I assumed he would have a genuine contribution to make to this particular topic. After reading the article, I have mixed feelings. There are gems of wisdom in the article, but unfortunately they are accompanied by a number of wrong conclusions.

Let us begin by pointing out what is good: Pollard has an excellent understanding of stewardship and dominion, as exemplified by his statement that "the biblical understanding of man's dominion over the earth is one of stewardship rather than domination I am mildly surprised that he does not include a reference to Genesis 2:15: "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it." Theologian friends inform me that a better translation is that man is to "serve" the land. Thus the dominion discussed in Genesis I is modified by the concept of stewardship and service presented to us in Genesis 2. Our task as Christians then is to serve the land, just as the land "serves" us in enabling us to meet our needs.

In spite of Pollard's excellent understanding of dominion as service and stewardship, he goes astray by introducing extraneous concepts; extraneous in the sense that, although related to Biblical events, they are not an integral part of the Christian framework derived from Scripture. As an example, his discussion of fear (although interesting) is a general discussion with a few examples drawn from the Bible, hot it does not use any particular theological framework as a basis for the discussion. It is certainly true that humankind has been fearful of each new technological development, and has been hesitant to use even the most beneficial. However, that does not mean that every new development should immediately be embraced, without fear, and used to its fullest. I believe the sense of fear with which we are endowed is very useful. It is primarily a fear of the unknown, and reflects a healthy respect for that which we do not vet folly understand. The biggest difference between our present fear of nuclear energy and previous fears of fire, electricity, and the locomotive arises from the scale of the danger, both in space and time. Although it is true many persons died as a result of electrocution, very few persons were affected outside of those actually working with electricity; the damage was confined to the death or injury of those participants. The situation with nuclear energy (and many other modern developments) is that the dangers extend far beyond the user, both in space and time. A release of radioactivity from a nuclear plant affects many "innocent" persons. Furthermore, because the long-term genetic effects of radiation are poorly understood, we may possibly be affecting future generations by adding to the ambient radioactivity levels surrounding us. In view of this, I believe our fear of nuclear energy is well-founded, and we should be doubly cautions in developing this energy source.

This is not to say that we most abandon nuclear energy. As Pollard correctly points out, all of creation, including unclear energy and its associated potential for production of useful power, is a gift from God and as such is "good." I lowever, the evil, as Pollard again correctly points out in another context, arises from the use roan makes of these gifts from God. In his mind, nuclear weapons are evil; nuclear power is good. I do not believe the division is that simple. One might even be able to argue (although I certainly would riot) that nuclear weapons in a certain context might be good. I believe one can certainly argue (and I am willing to do so) that nuclear power plants may be either good or evil, depending on their design and construction, their mode of operation, the validity of the need they satisfy, etc. Clearly, rushing an inadequately tested plant into operation, as was done at Three Mile island, is not good. Nevertheless, there are many situations in which nuclear power can he used productively and safely.

1 have particular problems with Pollard's discussion of nuclear energy and creation. As I understand his argument, he states that because God created the universe so that its essential power source is nuclear, and because most of the Matter of the universe is encompassed in stars (which are in fact nuclear reactors), therefore it is obvious that God intended to have its use nuclear power. I find this argument both misleading and fallacious. If one follows that line of reasoning logically, I believe one can construct a much stronger ease for solar energy. The nuclear reactors that God has created are placed far from us in spare, and only one of them is of use to us as an energy source. Furthermore, throughout the many years from creation until now the Earth has depended primarily on that one nuclear reactor (the Sun) for energy, and that energy has always been delivered to its in a benign fashion through electromagnetic (themal and light) radiation. Thus it appears to me that the logic of Pollard's argument demands that we rely exclusively on solar energy, which is the energy source all other organism on earth rely upon for existence. In other words
I conclude that we should use nuclear energy, but that the reactor should he kept 93,000,000 miles away'.

Pollard s last argument , that the appearance of nuclear energy upon the stem' just as we are depleting our petroleum and natural gas resources reveals a providential role or nuclear energy, although intriguing, once again is misleading. Obviously, God's providence manifests itself' in many ways, but to equate providence with the coincidental development of a particular energy source as another nears depletion is to to equate our self-centered choices with God's plan. We should recall that the development of nuclear energy resulted from development of the most destructive weapons the world has ever known. Can we truly call this providential?

One final comment: to my mind the article does not represent ''a theological view of nuclear energy,'' but rather "a Christian's perspective on nuclear energy." Perhaps my understanding of the discipline of theology is different from Dr. Pollard's. but it appears to me, that we have in this article not theology lint rather an attempt, by a Christian, to provide it biblically related justification of his previously adopted view point on nuclear energy. Only Pollard's discussion of dominion and stewardship reflects good theology. I only wish that he had used this as a framework to discuss our stewardly responsibilities as crew members of Spaceship Earth, as we seek to develop new energy sources.

I fear that these comments are more negative than positive. Such is not my overall intent. Pollad has muchgood to say, arid I applaud him for his willingness to display his Christain perspective on this contemporary issue. I am delighted to see an article of this nature appear in a journal such as Nuclear News, arid Dr. Pollard is to be commended for his work not only in this article but in other hooks and articles he has written. However, I do not regard this article as a definitive   discussion of the topic', but rather as a stimulus to further study and thought. The context in which this article arid its responses are appearing in the JASA indicates that Dr. Pollard is admirably fulfilling that purpose. I hope that he may continue to do so, and that others may join him in this effort.