Science in Christian Perspective
As evangelical Christians we are faced with the problem of trying to help both the skeptical, non-Christian scientist, and the modern ultra- fundamental creationist. If we are going to be able to help either or both of these we must have genuine confidence in both the Holy Scriptures and in the results of careful scientific research. The skeptical nonChristian scientist has little or no confidence in the Scriptures, and is usually doubtful about the permanent value of the discoveries of science. The ultra-fundamental creationist usually has a similar skepticism concerning the value of science, but of course has a strong confidence in the Scriptures.
,camp" a lack of confidence in the results of scientific research, and an uncertainty concerning man's ability to know the creation in a reliable and enduring way. And we sometimes seem to have the same problem that the ultrafundamentalists do in doubting the stability of God's natural laws.' (I speak of God's natural laws, and in so doing recognize that this universe in which we live was ordered by God, and therefore that the activities and relationships we see in nature are consistently orderly, and not erratic.) Of course we must not take an extreme uniformitarian view of the earth's history, for we know that there has been great variation in the forces and processes which have formed the earth's crustal features. But this variation has never included changes in the fundamental physical and biological laws which God established when He created the universe.
Concerning the certainty and dependability of modern scientific discoveries we must recognize: (a) There are many theoretical aspects of science which are transient or temporary; (b) On the other hand, there are a good number of known scientific truths which are enduring, because they are actually discoveries of some of the principles of God's plans of the creation. In other words, God allows man to discover by scientific research some of the stable, natural laws which He established and understood from the beginning. I
If we recognize that there are divinely established, stable physical and biological laws, we should not take the pessimistic view that the scientific principles which have been discovered in the past are all subject to being outmoded and fundamentally changed within the coming decades.
A specific example of the confusion which now exists concerning the question of the permanency of scientific
discoveries may be helpful here. It is often said by laymen, theologians, and some scientists, that all science textbooks go out of date practically as fast as they are published. This is taken as an indication that the scientific truths in those books rapidly disintegrate as scientific research progresses. From the standpoint of the popularity of certain themes in the various scientific disciplines, the books soon do become out of date. But it is very far from true that the validity of the actual content goes out of date. For example, in the 1940's and 1950's the textbooks of general biology put heavy emphases on the detailed stages in the reproductive life cycles of many kinds of plants and animals, and on taxonomy. Then in the late 1950's biologists throughout the entire western world became excited about the biochemical cycles within the cells of living organisms, and about the working principles of the genetic code which is built into cells (the functions of DNA, RNA, and other informationbearing compounds). Demand for even the best biology textbooks of the mid-1950's quickly dwindled to a mere trickle.
This circumstance was particularly amusing to extreme fundamentalists who had been saying all along that scientific truth is only transient. But these critics were illinformed. Practically none of the principles taught even in the biology textbooks of the 1920's and 1930's had been declared invalid, New principles and the life cycles of many new plants and animals had been added in the textbooks of the 1940's and 1950's, so that the college freshman at that time had a 600 or 700-page book. Half or more of that material had to be dropped for the adding of new biochemical materials-and then more biochemical materials as the years progressed. So we have merely observed a trend in science education, and in the interests of scientists-not a disqualifying of the discovered principles concerning the life cycles of marine plants and invertebrate animals. Finally, the trends in biological education have continued to go on, as Professors have become infatuated with new aspects of biochemistry and the physiology of living cells, and have let other aspects of the science fall by the wayside. This same principle of legitimate change is seen in the textbooks of other disciplines of science. For example, in the medical and surgical sciences, the publications are constantly being brought into conformity with the latest discoveries in methods of treatment, the exact causes of diseases, and newly discovered functions of various tissues in the human body. But we do not find the newly published textbooks denying the basic functions of the tissues and organs which have been known for the past half-century. It is of course true that occasional corrections in the textbooks have to be made, due to inadequate data at the time the earlier editions
were published. An example of this was the change from 48 to 46 chromosomes in human somatic cells (about 1960), but this is not the denial of a fundamental principle such as the fact that human cells do have chromosomes which are duplicated in the process of cell reproduction.
1. We need first to recognize that there is a biblical, reasonable basis for believing that man can discover some of the permanent physical and biological laws which God originally ordained. This basis rests upon the fact that man was created "in the image of God."' What do we mean, "created in the image of God"? This term refers to several spiritual and mental characteristics that man has, but the trait that concerns us here is our possession of a rationality that is fundamentally like the rational nature of God, except in lesser degree. It is true that man lost some of his "image of God" characteristics at the time of the Fall described in Genesis Chapter 3, but the Bible makes it clear that man still retains fundamental God-like abilities.' These abilities enable man to know the same kinds of relationships, laws, and principles as God knows, and thus to comprehend God's creation to some degree. Possessing this ability, man is thus able to gain objective knowledge of the created world-which means that our knowledge of created objects, laws, and relationships can correspond to (be fundamentally similar to) God's knowledge of the same, except to an incomplete degree.' The scientist must of course seek to exercise honesty, persistence, and breadth in his research, so as not to violate the rationality that God has given him. We do not maintain that a scientist has to be a Christian in order to discover enduring scientific truth, but it is necessary for him to be an honest seeker of truth with a recognition of rational, cause-effect relationships that have been established by an Authority greater than himself.
2. We have, in the inspired Scriptures, several statements that Christ made while He was here on earth concerning man's ability to make reliable observations of the natural phenomena around him. These should be taken as highly significant, and relevant to the ability of man to collect reliable scientific data today. In Matthew 7:9-10 Jesus referred to the people's ability to accurately distinguish between bread and stones and between fishes and snakes. (Perhaps you say, "Of course those distinctions are obvious." Yes, but it is highly significant that they are obvious to man, and that Jesus had no question concerning man's ability to make such observations.) Some other human observations of the natural world that Christ recognized as valid are: (a) the distinction between old cloth and new cloth, and between old wine and new wine (Matthew 9:16-17); (b) time distinctions (John 11:9); compare John 4:53 for an inspired assertion of a particular man's ability to make time distinctions; and (c) the recognition of clouds as precursors of rain (Luke 12:54-56).
3. Science has already made many time-honored discoveries that give no prospect of ever being fundamentally altered. We referred in a general way to this principle, in the discussion of the content of science textbooks above,
Holding to a view that scientific truth is only transient will render us powerless in the task of helping those who claim that scientific observations on the history of the earth are not dependable.
but should now consider some specific cases of discoveries which are undeniably permanent, and thus indicate to us that in these cases God has allowed man to discover principles that have been known to and upheld by Him from the earliest times.
The first of these to be considered here are discoveries concerning the make-up of the human body. There was a time when man did not know that the elemental components of his body are the same as those found in sea water and elsewhere on the earth (Ca, 0, H, Mg, etc.). At least most of the elements in the human body have now been identified and shown to be the same as those which are found in the ocean, in limestone beds, in phosphate deposits, and elsewhere in the earth. Even though one or more rare elements now thought to be present in human tissue may eventually be eliminated from the list, there is no chance that we will one day discover that calcium is not present in human bones, or that the water in the human body contains no oxygen or hydrogen. The same validity of man's discoveries applies to such characteristics of the body as cellular organization, and the presence of muscle fibers, connective tissue fibers, and functioning organs.
Over 300 years ago, the famous physiologist William Harvey conducted detailed experiments and observations regarding blood flow and the function of the heart in mammals. These experiments and observations were carried out over a period of 20 years, and resulted in the discovery of the primary function of the heart and some laws of blood circulation-such as that blood flows out of the heart through vessels and back to the heart through a different set of vessels. God had known these laws ever since the creation of mammals, but now He allowed man to discover them for himself. Thus, these are part of the body of scientific truth known to man which is not transient. We accept this fact, whether we will admit it or not, since we realize that the function of the heart as discovered 300 years ago is being faithfully redemonstrated on operating tables in many hospitals every day.
Some other examples of scientific discoveries that are in no danger of being shown to be erroneous or a mere part of man's cultural bias at this point in history are the following: (a) mosquitoes carry malaria, (b) many green plants take in CO,, give Off 02, and synthesize sugar and other organic compounds, (c) mammals are dependent upon oxygen as one of the elements needed in metabolism, and give Off C02 as a by-product, (d) sea urchins reproduce by eggs that they release into the water, (e) some sharks bear their young alive, (f) the globicerina ooze of the ocean really is produced by living organisms, (g) the sun is farther from the earth
than the moon, (h) liquid water can be evaporated into a gaseous form, and that same water recovered by condensation, (i) quartz is distinctly different from calcium carbonate rock, with regard to both hardness and chemical content, 0) both acidic and basic lavas are produced by volcanoes, and (k) the element lead is more dense than iron.
Is it not self-evident that these are enduring truths which will not change, even though our entire culture may be completely altered, and the time may come when human beings will no longer be performing experiments that demonstrate these principles, or writing scientific reports? Also we will have to recognize that even though I or some other person might make one or more accidental errors in our statements concerning these principles, this will not alter any basic, known truth that has been carefully observed and recorded in hundreds of scientific reports. Again, we need only to recognize that God has allowed man to search out and begin to know some of the truths concerning his creation, which were known to God from the beginning but not known to man until comparatively recent times.
We now deal briefly with the frequently-heard suggestion that scientific truth can be considered transient because of a possibility that God may sometimes change the controlling principles or natural laws that He originally established. This is a charge made by some extreme fundamentalists, but it need not worry anyone who is familiar with the biblical teaching on the nature and character of God.
First of all, we should accept the principle that natural laws, e. g., the laws of biological growth, are objectively real. The success of early modern science seems to have been based on the fact that Copernicus and other scientists of his era insisted that man can discover what is actually true in nature. I Any theist who accepts the Bible as a revelation from God should have no trouble in accepting such an objectivity in the universe. In Hebrews 1:3 we read that God "upholds the universe by his word of power," and we observe all around us an order, regularity, and dependability of natural events that readily convinces us that God has "backed up" his creation with what we might call "regulations which work." Any denial of the cause-effect relationships involved in this is a denial of the validity of human observation, knowledge, and rationality.' Such a denial is contrary to the statements of Christ referred to above ' as well as to the teaching of Scripture with regard to man's possession of "the image of God."
Concerning our confidence that God does not follow an erratic pattern of occasionally or periodically changing His natural laws, we should remember the many statements in divine revelation to the effect that God is immutable; for example, "I, the Lord, do not change" (Malachi 3:6); Hebrews 13:8; and Psalm 102:27.
We also find assurance that God has not changed the natural laws in the fact that life as described in the Garden of Eden and soon afterward was very similar to what it is
today. Plants were carrying out photosynthesis; animals were using plant materials as an energy source; reproduction was occurring according to genetic limits; and, after the expulsion, man found that hard work produced "sweat on (his) face." The Genesis account gives us no hint that life processes or the environment in which man lived was essentially different from what it is now. Furthermore, if the laws of biological growth and maintenance were all functioning properly then, we have no grounds for thinking either that God would change them later, or that He found it necessary to go through a process of developing or perfecting them in earlier times.
In view of the foregoing evidences for the enduring nature of scientific truth, we should:
1. Encourage both laymen and professional scientists and theologians to recognize (a) that God has created a consistent and understandable world, and (b) that even though man's comprehension of God's works has been dimmed by the Fall, God wants us to know and rejoice in truth discovered by scientific research.
2. Remember that holding to a view that scientific truth is only transient will render us powerless in the task of helping those who claim that scientific observations on the history of the earth are not dependable. (Many of the latter are accustomed to thinking that science can discover nothing at all about the past history of the earth, and that the Bible is the only source of reliable information on this subject.)
3. Refuse to pattern our own thinking after that exhibited by educators who fail to recognize God as the author of both creation and man's ability to know it.
'It is true that many scientists, including some evangelicals, speak of man as "formulating the natural laws," but for the evangelical this can mean only that man puts into words a recognition of the law or relationship which was originally established by God (Holmes, Christian Philosophy of Science, p. 6). Such original laws are sometimes called "prescriptive laws," in contrast to "descriptive laws," which are man's formulations, made by synthesizing his observations of phenomena (from Russell Maatman, personal communication, 1980).
'Genesis 3; Psalm 8:5; Psalm 82:6; John 10:34-35; Acts 17:28; Romans 1:19-20.
'Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, p. 4; Schaeffer, He is There and He is Not Silent, p. 43, 48-50, 65-72, 76-80.
'Thorson, "The Spiritual Dimensions of Science," p. 239-245, in Horizons of Science, p. 217-257; and Schaeffer, He is There and He Is Not Silent, p. 67-69, 76.
4Schaeffer, Francis A., 1972, He is There and He Is Not Silent, Tyndale House Publishers, 100 p. (Chapters 3 and 4, "The Epistemological Necessity").
, 1%7, How Should We Then Live?, Fleming H. Revell Co., 288 p. (Chapters 7 and 8, "The Rise of Modern Science," and "The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science").
'Thorson, Walter R., 1978, "The Spiritual Dimensions of Science," in Horizons of Science, Carl F. Henry, ed., Harper & Row, 281 p.
Christians who require strong evidence for their beliefs would have little to lose should miracles be found inadequate to establish them. Other grounds for belief are, I believe, quite sufficient.' However, because we have good reason to believe that Jesus as well as the whole of the Hebrew and early Christian tradition accepted miracles as adequately verifying religious claims, Christians particularly should be hesitant to write off miracles completely.
With this as my own motivation for looking into this question, I would like to examine the logic of miracles as evidence for metaphysical and religious claims. I believe that only if such foundational matters are closely analyzed can we adequately understand miracles and answer many of the common objections to the claim that they possess evidential value.
Following this lead of going back to the ancients, I believe that contemporary apologists have basically gone wrong by building on modern concepts, such as that of natural law. It has become common to try to provide evidence for God's existence and activity by attempting to present phenomena which indicate a suspension of such natural laws. By making such a move in defense of miracles, apologists have left themselves open to the most devastating critiques.'
Another late concept, that of the nature/supernature duality, has not had the same disastrous results and, in-
deed, has greatly contributed to our understanding and defense of miracles. However, being a late concept, we will see that it is not strictly necessary for understanding the logic of miracles. We will examine the concept of supernaturalism later in this paper.
What is strictly necessary is to find a way to justify the claims of the agent of the miracle. But how can these claims be established as true? How can a miracle be identified which possesses evidential force?
Similar questions can be found in contemporary critiques of miracles. So it is of value to look at some common objections. Antony Flew maintains that one must have a strong sense of natural law in order to claim miracles: "It is only and precisely insofar as it is something really transcendent-something so to speak, which nature by herself could not contrive-that such an occurrence could force us to conclude that some supernatural power is being revealed." I He goes on to make his second point: "We certainly cannot say, on any natural (as opposed to revealed) grounds, that anything that actually happens is beyond the power of unaided nature any more than we can say that anything which any man has ever succeeded in doing transcends all merely human powers."'
The same objection can be found among orthodox Christians: the non-theist could quite justifiedly face a miracle