Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Strengthening Science Education
Charles E. Chaffey
University of Toronto
This is a copy of a letter published in Physics Today, commenting on the February 1982 editorial.
In his editorial "What is a scientific theory?" (February, page 128), Harold L. Davis calls for action by physicists in building stronger school science programs, in response to the current interest in creationism, and the laws requiring it to be taught. Something is clearly wrong when scientists will not obey a law enacted by the majority of the people, and go to court to try to escape from having to. The underlying problem has been aggravated by a failure of some educators to recognize, as the APS does in its statement on creationism (February, page 54), that religious beliefs are an element of the human experience. A scientific theory can indeed predict observational data. But it cannot answer a student's questions like "Who created me?" "What is the purpose of my life?". Unfortunately, the science class (consciously or unconsciously) may try to answer: "You are the product of random interactions of molecules governed by physical laws." "Your life is without meaning or purpose." Such atheism has no place in the science classroom. When the science courses are properly neutral on religious matters, then people of religious faith will have no further reason to call for curricula to be modified by biblical teaching.
Where information about the scientific method is not coupled with respect for experience or authority, a young person without a sense of purpose may well feel encouraged to experiment with sexual perversion or drug abuse. All parents with a high regard for traditional values will press for change if this is a result of their children's education.
There are deficiencies in the scientific enterprise that must be rectified. Physicists need to be scrupulously honest. Alienation from science after working in a laboratory where conclusions were drawn from insufficient evidence or where data were falsified, followed by a religious conversion, has led some people to disbelieve valid scientific results and to embrace creationism.
Students often never perceive the elegance and beauty of true science. Complex detail about concepts like relativity, molecules or evolution, which are Dot intuitively evident from experience in the real world, fills their courses. The creationist alternative then becomes appealing: it is simple, being based on the obvious stability of biological species; it has a circumscribed finality, as an interpretation of an inerrant holy book.
Physicists should interact more with theologians, frequently isolated from the large academic world in small religious colleges. They might then appreciate the anguish or lostness that pastors discern in many young people, who may be their own students in a large impersonal physics class. In turn, the theologians, who educate the pastors of tomorrow, need to be better informed about science. One pastor can call forth hundreds of letters to legislators from a committed congregation; when science is better appreciated, these will urge more sensible actions than anti-scientific teaching.
More attention should be paid to religious writers who respect science. In Darwin's time Charles Kingsley, Asa Gray and George Frederick Wright sought to resolve the apparent conflict between evolution and the doctrine of creation. Today many others continue this work. Affirming the truth of the Scriptures, given for spiritual edification, these writers generally see in evolution an account of how God creates in the actual imperfect world, the very good world of Genesis I and Eden now being inaccessible because of human sin.
Whether or not they openly acknowledge the Author of the laws of nature, all physicists should cooperate to remedy the weaknesses that have allowed scientific creationism to spread like a virulent disease. Otherwise God will no longer entrust us with greater knowledge of his creation. He will permit victory to go to the creationists, thereby degrading our educational system and withholding from our generation the privilege of sharing in the ministry of Christ-feeding the hungry, heating the sick, and teaching the ignorant.