Science in Christian Perspective
JOHN W. HAAS, JR.
From: JASA 35
December 1983): 203-209.
British scientist-philosopher Donald MacKay is prominent among those who feel that complementarity should be based on logical grounds rather than on experimental considerations in quantum physics. In this account we outline the basic formulation for logical complementarity, provide illustrative applications, and consider some philosophical questions that have emerged. We conclude that MacKay's approach is more effective than that of Bohr for identifying the significance of scientific and biblical statements about particular events, yet there remain substantial questions that cloud the significance of this integrative approach for evangelicals.
Complementarity stands not for a physical theory, still less for a mystical doctrine, but rather it stands for a particular kind of logical relation, distinct from and additional to traditional ones like contradiction, synonymy, or independence; it demands to be considered along with others whenever there is doubt as to the connection between two statements ... vindication of its use in theology, I would argue must proceed quite independently of dubious analogies with current physical theory.8
MacKay defines two types of complementarity. The first called nonhierarhic complementarity stems from "a difference in standpoint" such as may be found with a set of architects drawings for a laboratory.
Mackay has coined the term "nothing buttery" to characterize reductionist approaches that ignore or discount as meaningless other ways of considering a phenomenon, and views a properly conceived and applied complementarian approach as an effective counter to scientism.
Some of these were plans, showing us what the floor space would look like to an imaginary observer overhead: others were elevations, from one side or one end; or they were sections, in different directions and at different levels. Some drawings, from their very nature, showed a lot of detail; others showed relatively little; but so far as the architect could make them, each was complete.9
In this case each perspective is blind to the other; the complementary descriptions are developed at the same level, using concepts of the same kind but in different patterns of relationship.Hierarchic Complementarity
The second type of complementarity called hierarchic complementarity involves a difference in viewpoint. Here, each observer may have the same physical evidence available but his description depends on his background. A hierarchic example is a pair of terms such as English or electrical as used in different descriptions of a telephone signal, or the different ways an artist, poet or musician view a sunset. The observer in each case may be the same person. "What makes the descriptions complementary is the mutual exclusiveness of the respective schemes of explanation, rather than that one person cannot entertain both."10
MacKay argues that the relationship Niels Bohr claimed to find in microphysics is nonhierarchic and takes Bohr to task for basing his approach on a specific physical situation rather than a more general logical concept. For MacKay, complementarity in science and religion is hierarchic involving the viewpoints of man and God.11 Furthermore:
In the context of science and theology, it (complementarity) offers an alternative both to the view that makes all divine activity supplementary to the (presumed incomplete) chain mesh of scientifically describable cause and effect ("God in the gaps"), and to the "watertight compartment" theory that religious and scientific statements are logically independent.12
The criteria for complementarity employed in MacKay's
approach are contrasted with those of Niels Bohr in Table 1.
Harold Oliver has recently developed a complementarian model for relating theology and cosmology. He rejects the notion that the Bohr definition is definitive and opts for the view:
The thesis of complementarity can be derived deductively from a fundamentally relational metaphysic rather than being pieced together from apologetic (or physical) considerations. It is a thesis of complementarity in that it assumes that theology and cosmology are coordinate perspectives on the same domain, that is, the totality of reality.13
For some, cosmology represents the most sustained successful attempt to understand reality. For others, theology has no equal in this regard. The position of this relational metaphysic is that they are distinct but complementary perspectives on reality. If ultimacy is assigned to either, the result is unproductive. The-ism in holding god talk as fundamental and world language as derivative is as myopic as Natural-ism which takes world language as fundamental and god talk as emotive, attitudinal, or even obsolete science.14
Oliver finds that his approach meets the requirements laid down by MacKay. Evangelicals may have some difficulty with this perspective on theism.Logical Complementarity Applied
It is important to note that MacKay finds no conflict between science and Holy Scripture if the Bible is seen as establishing the divine significance of an event and science as engaged in developing causal links that provide a mechanistic explanation for the same event.
MacKay has applied logical complementarity in a number of situations that often arise in discussions of science and Christian faith. Rather unexpectedly, he does not find the story told by the cosmologist and the theist to be complementarian accounts of creation. The rationale for this comes in differing perspectives on creation. For MacKay [and Mascallfs creation in the theistic sense is a perspective that embraces all of history and thus the "creative act that gives being to our space time is clearly not itself an isolatable event in our time."16
The concept of a "first event" referred to by some cosmologists as "the creation of the universe" is not the same concept as the theologian's which is referred to by the same name. By the same token the story of evolution (or creation science) is logically neither a rival of nor strictly complementary to, the creation narrative in Genesis I-any more than the early history of the characters of a novel would be either a rival of or complementary to, a narrative of their conception by its author, although each (in a different sense) answers questions about "origins." It is only when we are considering created history as a whole that we can strictly say that the scientific and theistic answers to the question of origins have the same reference and are complementary in the sense of describing different aspects of the situation from mutually exclusive standpoints, though not in fact answering the same question. 17
MacKay finds many biblical references to particular events to be complementary to the scientific attempt at explanation. The hardening of Pharaoh's heart by the Lord could be 11 explained" in psychological terms, or the statement "the Lord sent an east wind" could find a meteorological description. The feeding of the fowls of the air by the heavenly Father or, in more general terms, the simple statement of faith that God answered one's prayer in a particular way, represent for MacKay the need to examine the significance of an event from the perspective of the Creator as well as from that of the scientist or historian. "To recognize an event as an answer to prayer is no more antiscientific than to recognize an event in a computer as the solution to the problem being solved in it."18
The longstanding problem of predestination may be handled along similar lines.
It follows that even predestinarian explanations of created events as acts of their creator cannot be reduced to mere translations of libertarian explanations in terms of human actions (such as prayer) within the created history, for it is not the facts asserted in the one explanation which are necessarily different from (though not contradictory of) those asserted in the other." 19
In viewing the question of miracles, MacKay takes into account "the communicative significance" of the event as well as its unusual (but not necessarily inexplicable) characteristics. " He warns that we should not use complementarity to make plausible a simultaneous belief in miracles and universal scientific law or to suggest that "all historical events have been instances of scientific law.20
What distinguishes a miracle from other providential events is its having an alternative rationale to the normal. It makes sense first and foremost as an expression of the Creator's faithfulness to His purpose for the people involved. In terms of this overriding criterion of rationality, its coherence with our scientific expectations based on normal precedent is irrelevant and may therefore be expected to vary from case to case.21
The "miracle" of Christian conversion can be appropriately discussed in terms of the hierarchically complementary approaches of the psychologist and theologian.22 Two recent papers have employed MacKay's ideas. D. Gareth Jones follows MacKay in applying complementarian considerations in dealing with the issue of human responsibility in the context of the brain-mind relationship.23 David Bruce affirms MacKay's approach in dealing with issues which arise in physiology vis a vis man as complex machine and man as person.23Logical Complementarity Evaluated
Our approach in evaluating logical complementarity should endeavor to see if it is an effective integrating tool for science and Christian faith. This should involve a concern for the structure of the concept and overall effects of application. One of the major hazards in such an evaluation is the problem of separating the concept of logical complementarity from the presuppositions and the ways with which people have made application. An idea may have merit even though its formulation or particular applications appear inappropriate. Conversely, a well structured concept may fall short when its broader implications are considered.
I have noted above the enthusiasm with which Harold Oliver embraces logical complementarity. Other writers have recognized the positive aspect of MacKay's contributions. He is considered a leader among those who seek a harmony of biblical and scientific truth. By establishing the roles of science and theology MacKay provides room for each to work without fear of interference from the other. He provides "a point of contact" with the secular community by arguing the necessity for considering the biblical perspective. Significantly, for scientists, he emphasizes the importance of scientific efforts to establish causal explanations for physical events yet stresses the need for the idea of God in order to give meaning for the existence of the created order. However, it is fair to say that not all aspects of MacKay's thought have been accepted.Need for Paradox
John W. Haas, Jr. is Professor of Chemistry and Chairman of the Division Of Natural Science and Mathematics at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. He received his BS degree from The Kings College, and his A.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Delaware. His research interests are in the area of carbohydrate analysis, metal-sugar complexation and metal speciation in sea water. He is an Elder and organist at First Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, where he lives with his wife Ann. His hobbies are gardening, cross-country skiing and boating.
Line of Demarcation
Charles Orlebeke has suggested that MacKay may draw too sharp a line of demarcation between science and religion. MacKay believes that science and religion are two separate enterprises, not one, and that when they remain within their separate domains they are effective partners.27 One must ask whether the scientific and biblical enterprises are so sharply separated that there are no links remaining between the two. Science has provided evidence for some biblical factual claims and expanded our understanding of particular passages. On the other hand, some Christian social scientists28-30 and natural scientists.31 I have seen Scripture as providing models in areas such as psychology, geology and origins. While the net effect of these approaches has usually been dubious, it may be insisting too much to ignore all connection between the statements of science and Scripture. Ronald Burwell, also questions the isolation of science and religion implicit in a complementarian approach. He would see the two as more closely allied. "I would argue that science is as much ideological as it is religious, in the sense of ideology as understood by the sociologist of knowledge. Hence, to the extent to which religion permeates a world view, it must also permeate science."32 Burwell considers MacKay's methodological separation between science and religion as too severe or artificial.
William Hasker makes much the same point in an exchange with MacKay:
Agreed, the Bible contains no theories about brain-functioning, mechanistic or otherwise. But the Scripture does view man as a free and responsible agent, and if (as I firmly believe) a thorough-going acceptance of mechanistic brain-theory is incompatible with this, then the Scripture does place some constraints on what is an acceptable theory of brain functioning.33
Significance of Multiple Descriptions
One potential difficulty with complementarity may be found in situations where contradictory conclusions may be drawn from complementry pieces of evidence. There appears to be no provision whereby one can get at the truth of the propositions offered by each area. How does one establish the significance of religion even though one is forced to take it into account? Or, when forced (by complementarity) to accept two or more accounts that are true and necessary for their own purposes, how does one respond to questions relating to the situation?
Consider the following case: Cars A and B collide on a highway. The police arrive to find driver B dead at the wheel. Information given by eye witnesses indicates that driver A's car ran into that of B and that driver A was driving erratically prior to the collision. A breath analysis indicates that driver A is "under the influence." With the passage of time driver A is indicted for manslaughter and brought to trial. Numerous witnesses describe the course of events immediately preceding and following the collision from their vantage points near-by (multiple examples of non-hierarchic complementarity). Police experts take the stand and testify to the alcoholic content of driver A's breath and blood, and traffic experts present technical details and conclusions drawn from skid marks, types of damage and the final positions of the vehicles (non-hierarchical complementarity). The prosecution rests. The defense offers one expert witness-the coroner who provides incontrovertible evidence that driver B died of a heart attack moments before the collision. The case is dismissed in the best tradition of Perry Mason (or Agatha Christie). This incident is saturated with complementarity at both levels, yet only one of the witnesses establishes the guilt or innocence of driver A. This suggests a serious limitation in the complementarian approach. We have at best a way of establishing "apparent connections" rather than a means for establishing the truth. The reader may well find this illustration to be defective in applying logical complementarity. Yet, I would suspect that this decision was partly based on the punch line, and that in it's absence one would have been as quick as were the police to bring driver A to trial on the basis of evidence that was complementary but not relevant. The "logical force" that demands that we look at the complementary evidence does not deliver when we come down to the truth of the matter. Complete knowledge does require an exhaustive description on every level, but one seldom if ever is looking for complete knowledge.
A more humorous illustration may be found in a comic page series set in the 14th century: father, mother and son stand gazing at the moon in early phase. The father asks, "What are you thinking about, Hamlet my son?" The son replies, "I'm thinking the moon looks smaller because the shadow of the earth is on it." Father, "Ho-ho ... the shadow of the earth." Mother, "Don't snicker stupid! Explain the moon to the poor child. " The father expounds in the next set of panels: "Let me explain why the moon is sometimes big-sometimes small. The moon is a big melon-and it's always growing! And if nothing stopped it-it would soon be bigger than our whole village! But Rika the night raven loves moon melon and once a month he flies to the moon and eats and eats ... until he can't hold anymore-then he flies home until the next month. . . and the moon starts to grow again" Father concludes, "This is called the balance of . ." when mother breaks in, "That's enough dear. A boy's head can only hold so much information at a time."Cramer and MacKay
J. A. Cramer has questioned MacKay's approach along several lines.' He views the argument against "nothing buttery" as invalid because the things compared in science religion questions are insufficiently similar and, more significantly, that MacKay's electric sign illustration (explanations in terms of electrical circuits or in terms of its message) fails because:
MacKay responded vigorously to these allegations:
To the secular mind both explanations of the electric sign are basically mechanistic, although the meaning of the sign supposedly requires a more complicated mechanical explanation than does the mere circuitry. This is after all what "nothing buttery" is all about. It is not admitted that the two explanations of the electric sign are really explanations in two different sets of terms. The example does not support the conclusion then unless "nothing-buttery" is false. The conclusion is assumed in the course of the argument and we find once again a circular argument.35
My attack on anti-religious reductionism here is a reductio ad absurdum. In order to show that the form of an argument is invalid, it is enough to find one good counter-example in which that form of the argument would lead to an absurd conclusion. This is the purpose of my illustrations of "nothing buttery"-to show that the logical form of the ontological reductionist's argument is unsound, and not to argue by analogy from man's purposes to God's purposes, or anything of the kind.36
The alleged success of the
reductio ad absurdurn
does not, however, carry over to
the case for logical
complementarity in terms of the conditions under which it is
Cramer finds MacKays view wanting, ultimately, because:
His conclusion that multiple and equally valid accounts of the universe are possible amounts to a denial of Occam's razor (the law of parsimony). If a complete explanation of the universe in one set of terms is indeed available, Occam's razor forces us to reject as superfluous any more complicated set of terms that might also comprise a complete explanation.37
... far from "denying" Occarn's principle, these statements presuppose it! They claim that in certain circumstances there is necessity not just for "more complicated terms," but for a whole new level of conceptualization, if we are to do justice to all that is there to be reckoned with. There is here no question of multiplying entities wiihout necessity. The necessity is there to be found empirically, by finding that there is indeed something (or someone) to be reckoned with at the higher level.38
If, indeed, MacKay has not violated Occam's razor, he does leave himself open to the need to sort out a never ending variety of statements in terms of their validity vis a vis level of conceptualization. A new discipline emerges that deals with standpoint and viewpoint as one tries to decide what is absurd, possible, probable, or merely useful. The decisions according to MacKay are to be made on an empirical basis. The question then comes down to how many of these somethings or someones there are and what they mean. What does he mean by empirical finding? Does man find God by empirical search?Broader Philosophical Issues
There are ontological and epistemological implications that should be addressed along the lines previously considered for .. classical" complementarity.1 Here we ask what there is in the universe and what can be known about it. The Bohr-Copenhagen response is that only observed events are real and that the truth-determinacy of a statement is conditional on the actual empirical verification of the statement rather than on its verifiability, e.g., there are no properties that exist independent of the standpoint (experimental approach) of
Based an Bohr's Quantum Physics Approach
Complementary statements have a common subject matter or reference.
Based on MacKay's Logical Approach
have a common reference.
the observer; the only world that we can know lies in what we observe. Many Christian thinkers (not all) tend to hold a realist position. They feel that the ordered universe created and sustained by the God of Scripture has being prior to knowing and that the image-bearing relationship to God allows some access to this being. MacKay is difficult to pin down in this connection. He claims that quantum-mechanical complementarity is non-hierarchic, yet:
If these quotations are representative, it appears that MacKay has not directly addressed the epistemological/ ontological implications in a systematic manner. It seems that neither an instrumentalist nor a realist position can be drawn from the evidence at hand nor that the instrumentalist position inherent in Bohr's view necessarily follows in logical complementarity. Orlebeke however, suggests that MacKay does not adopt an instrumentalist view of science. Yet at the same time he recognizes that (MacKay) "requires the recognition of diverse aspects of things, to be illuminated respectively by science and religion; but he denies that these aspects are themselves things or even parts of things."41 It appears that an exposition of the ontological-epistemological status of logical complementarity is needed before a full evaluation of this approach can be made.
Complementarity in microphysics hangs on the empirical relations E= hv, p = h/lambda and is not therefore in any sense absolute. If we want to find an area of logically unquestionable complernentarity in this area, we must go to the mathematics that underlies it.39
It is the data offered by the situation, ... that can be perceived in complementary ways. What is needed is not extra information per se but rather a different set of perceptual categories in terms of which to respond to its impact. It is only descriptions or explanations of the same situation that can properly be called complementary. What do we mean by standpoint? It has nothing now to do with a limitation on the evidence physically available. We may assume for the sake of argument that each observer has the same information presented to his eyes.40
Resolution of Paradox
One further concern involves the net effect of the complementarian approach for situations that give rise to paradox. This analysis "explains away" the paradox or apparent conflict by suggesting that the problem arises in the "standpoint" of the observer. In the case of the classical theological problems such as the Trinity, the transcendence and immanence of God, or, the divine and human natures of Christ, to add "standpoint" to the particular statement may relieve some mental stress or apologetic difficulty, yet the necessity for this addition suggests that the original statements are meaningless (or seen only partially) by themselves. It appears that complementarity requires us to view as nonsense the statement "Jesus, the Christ, is both divine and human" until the terms "is divine" and "is human" are relativized to the appropriate logical level. If the Bible is held to be selfinterpreting, the use of the complementarian approach to understanding should be clearly demonstrated to occur within the confines of Scripture without the need to refer to external analogies. The use of complementarity to legitimize scientific and scriptural statements falls prey to some of the same types of objections that arise in discussions of the proofs for the existence of God. The "proofs" and complementarity may be of great comfort to the person of faith, yet less than compelling to those outside the kingdom or others within the kingdom who do not hold the "natural theology" of Thomas Aquinas .42 MacKay and Aquinas both begin with the assumption that Christian theism is all-embracing; others do not.Conclusion
(MacKay) urges Christians to think christianly about the relation between God and the cosmos, less they are deluded into fear, uncertainty, or confusion by scientific ways of talking about the cosmos. And he addresses non-Christians with simple directness: you don't need the idea of God in scientific explanations, but you (and all of us) need God in order to give point to your existence. The priorities, then, are clear: knowing God in Christ is most important, a sine qua non; explaining God's creation through scientific activity is important secondarily as a proper service to God.43
The path of philosophical discussion is strewn with misunderstanding and misinterpretation. In raising the proceeding questions we challenge MacKay and ourselves to clarify, revise and extend our ideas concerning our world and our Creator,REFERENCES
2Malcolm Jeeves, The Scientific Enterprise and Christian Faith (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1969).
3Donald M. MacKay, The Clockwork Image: A Christian Perspective on Science (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1974).
4As discussed in Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason Within the Bounds of Reason, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976) pp. 26-27.
5Charles A. Coulson, Science and Christian Belief (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 19M) p. 66ff.
6Karl Heim, Christian Faith and Natural Science (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1953) p. 44ff.7Ref. 3, pp. 42-44.
8D.M. MacKay, "Complementarity in Scientific and Theological Thinking," Zygon 9 (1974), p. 226.9Ref. 5, p. 67.
13Harold H. Oliver, "The Complementarity of Theology and Cosmology," Zygon 13 (1978), p. 30.14 Ibid., p. 32.
15E.L , Mascall, Christian Theology and Natural Science (London: Longmans, 1956) p. 133.16Ref. 8, p. 234.
24David S. Bruce, "Mechanical Man: A Christian Physiologist's Dilemma?," ibid. p. 202-205.25Hugo Adam Bedau, "Complementarity and the Relation Between Science and Religion," Zygon (1974) p. 216.
36Ibid., p. 126.
37 Ibid., p. 125.
38Ibid., p. 126.
39Ref. 8, p. 234.
40Ref. 8, p. 235.
41 Ref. 27, p. 55.
42Stanly K. Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978)
43Ref. 27, p. 63.
In the view of the late C. P. Snow, the prevailing theory in science of the "big bang" origin of the universe presents the strongest objective argument yet made in support of a theistic creation.' The theory holds that all of the "things" of the universe, of whatsoever kind and nature, are re-traceable to a single explosive event of colossal proportions occurring some 16-20 billion years ago.
A strong inference thought to arise from such a theorized specific beginning is that of an incomprehensible organizing intelligence; i.e., a God, capable of designing and setting into motion that concatenation of energy, materials, and associated forces having the inherent potential capacity to produce the remarkable results in observation today. Those countering the inference would assert the lack of necessity of an intelligent cause of it all: that "ordinary" physics and chemistry, in a space-time continuum, sufficiently explain the origin and development of the universe; that life, as we know it, is merely the by-product of random evolution in accordance with modified Darwinian principles.
It is not to be expected that meaningful progress may be made toward the implementation of a reconciliation between religious thought and science simply from an inference arising out of any one major phenomenal event (the "big bang"), or even by calling attention to a broad spectrum of other phenomena in nature that may be argued to infer intelligent design.
This is evident in that an acceptable basis for such a reconciliation has not been recognized to date even though very impressive "design-appearing" inferences of an empirical nature have been advanced by gifted writers over the centuries to appeal to the existence of a Designer of the universe. Cumulatively, these inferences are substantial, especially when one takes cognizance of a bewildering growth in what may be claimed as inferential evidence of design arising out of the information explosion we have witnessed over the past quarter-century or more. The following should be included among seemingly countless examples from the past and present:
- the variety and beauty of nature, rather than mere multiplicity and sterility;
- the existence of few basic kinds of self-constructing atomic elements which, when slightly rearranged, can readily transform into widely differing substances of meaningful aggregation in relation to life in general, and to conscious and creative man, in particular;
- the inherent selectivity and "goal-seeking" qualities of both animate and inanimate nature;
- the very existence of life and of fit, diverse, and complex features of living organisms, such as the human brain (with its computer-like qualities), the cognitive nature of the protein molecule, the coded mechanism of DNA, the eye, etc., that in intricacy and character resemble by analogy the workings of what we ordinarily attribute from experience to an intelligent cause;