Science in Christian Perspective
UNITY THROUGH COMMUNICATION
W. JIM NEIDHARDT
New Jersey Institute of Technology
Newark, NJ 07102
From: JASA 35 (March 1983): 13-16.
There is a biblical theme that reveals how man can actively accomplish the cultural mandate of Genesis 1: 28: " Be f ruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over all created reality (my translation)." The theme is that of God the communicator. in the Gospel of John we are told that the "Word became flesh and dwelt among us" thereby communicating to us (note that words are key elements of the human communication process). Earlier in John the "Word" was identified as God and as being the Creator of all things. Furthermore Psalm 19 declares that God communicates to us through created physical reality: "The Heavens are telling the glory of God ... their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world (Psalm 19:1-4). The God of the Bible is seen to be an active communicator in all that He does; and, as human beings are made in God's image, they also should be active communicators. Indeed it can be argued that all of human endeavor is most creative and exhibit the most unity when full and open communication exists between all the participants in humanity's many varied disciplines.
The following communication model is presented as a framework from which to study and actively participate in the spectrum of disciplines that form the ongoing cultural tradition. This model is adapted from the ideas of William W. Watts as contained in the article, Natural Science and the Christian Faith in a Cultural Continuum.1 It portrays all the disciplines as most creative when actively communicating both with a many-faceted physical reality and with a philosophical-religious framework that acts as a common base to undergird all human activity. This philosophical-religious base must, in turn, be in open communication with physical reality through which God often reveals His purpose toward His creation. Figure I portrays the main features of the model which are now presented in outline form.The Basic Propositions
1. Communication is at the heart of the very nature of God. Before the creation, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were in communion with one another.
2. Human beings are made in the image of God. They can therefore participate in communication with God.
3. Through two-way communication with God, human beings develop insights that grow into a philosophical and religious framework that motivates and guides in all endeavors.
4. Philosophy and religion are in continual communication with a physical reality that was created by and is continually held in being by God. Such communication enables philosophy and religion to be open to what God reveals through His prophets (Special Revelation) and the grandeur and variety of physical reality (General revelation).
5. The various cultural disciplines come into being as a
result of communicative interactions with a many-faceted
physical reality. These cultural disciplines flourish as ongoing
communication between the philosophical-religious base provides presuppositions that creatively guide the dialogue with
communication-oriented model of the cultural continuum' Physi
6. As the various disciplines grow, communication between neighboring disciplines is established. These newly-formed communication linkages enable insights, concepts, and techniques from one discipline to be modified and adapted to the activities of other disciplines. Such "cross-fertilization" of ideas enables all disciplines to be more creative. Eventually even widely separated disciplines become aware of each others activities as information flows through the network of neighboring communication linkages.
7. Each discipline is distinct as it relates to only certain aspects of a rich and varied physical reality. These differing aspects cause each discipline to have its own subject matter and its own methods. Yet all the disciplines are united together by communication linkages between one another and the philosophy-religion base. Thus they form a cultural continuum, differing but nevertheless sharing a common base of presuppositions whose consequences are worked out by the disciplines in distinctive ways.
8. Sin operates in the world by jamming true communication both between God and its creatures, and between human beings. The first loss of communication results in the development of faulty philosophical and religious presuppositions. Such presuppositions inhibit proper communication between physical reality and the various disciplines, so that the disciplines develop in a distorted way. One of the most common faulty presuppositions is reductionism that occurs when workers in one discipline make the claim that the concepts and methods of their discipline are sufficient to exhaustively explore and understand reality. The insights of all the other disciplines are then "explained away" as not being unique but merely reducible to the concepts of the given discipline. Lastly, further distortion results as the neighboring disciplines no longer communicate accurately with one another, for all communication has been twisted by sin. As a result ugliness results where God intended beauty to be present, and the various disciplines are no longer integrating their varied insights in a holistic fashion to truly form a cultural continuum.Presuppositions of Biblical Philosophy and Religion
What are some of the presuppositions of biblical philosophy and religion that aid all the disciplines of the cultural continuum in maintaining good communication between
themselves and physical reality? Some key presuppositions are now listed.
1. Reality at even the most complex level possesses a rational structure, often deeply hidden in unfamiliar patterns. Therefore reality can be comprehended by human beings who exercise their God-given rationality in creatively "fusing together common elements from various apparently diverse experiences"2 to bring into view new patterns of order.
2. The biblical God is perfectly free in all of His creative activity, hence reality is contingent. Reality possesses regularities and patterns, as its Maker is rational, but these regularities and patterns cannot be predicted a priori, as He is free; they must be discovered by examination. Therefore communicati6n with physical reality by observation, experiment, and dialogue (in the human-centered disciplines) is a necessity for all the cultural disciplines (I would argue even mathematics has grown when related to the understanding of physical phenomena.)
All human disciplines are most creative when actively communicating both with a many-faceted physical reality and with a philosophical-religious framework that acts as a common base to undergird all human activity.
3. Honesty, an ethical dimension, is necessary for the well-being and healthy growth of any human discipline. Ethical statements must come from outside of any science as they are not falsifiable by experience (Popper's Criteria). If you say, as an example, that it is wrong to bear false witness, you say something that cannot be proved or disproved by experiential facts.3 Ultimately ethical imperatives emerge from a philosophical-religious tradition to which society is committed.
4. God has deeply embedded beauty in all His creation and has given human beings the ability to respond to that beauty. Therefore aesthetic considerations are an important component of all human disciplines. A key element in such considerations is the finding of unit in variety, which as Coleridge noted 4 is central to the concept of beauty. This is illustrated by the creative role that invariance principles play in art and science. An invariance principle postulates that some observable quantity will maintain its shape or form as it undergoes some type of transformation. As an example of such a principle, regularity of shape or pattern is responsible for the same shape or pattern being observed when a specific rotation or translation of the object occurs. This is why many flowers, animals, as well as paintings appear beautiful to a human observer; it is also of great use to the physicist in working out crystal structures. But the human sciences utilize the invariance concept as well; anthropologists look for basic components of human nature that remain the same under geographical and cultural shifts. For example, the basic human need for love and forgiveness, or the need for esteem emerge relatively unchanged under wide geographical and cultural shifts.5
These presuppositions, and others taken from a biblical philosophical-religious base, provide a framework that can integrate and unify the many components that make up the spectrum of human disciplines that explore physical reality. The effect of these presuppositions and the communication between neighboring disciplines jointly results in the disciplines being united to form a cultural continuum, rather than each discipline existing independent of all other human activities. Such unity is ultimately based upon the notion that the universe is a cosmos, not a chaos; for human beings, in all their creative efforts, act as if some order exists both in the medium they are using and in the portion of reality they are attempting to portray. Even those artists who base their work upon random patterns have tacitly accepted some notion of order, for randomness can be defined only in the context of some notion of order. It is in terms of the biblical doctrine of God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, that we are guaranteed the existence of cosmos, not of chaos.
Biblical religion, which as Stanley L. Jaki has argued6 is responsible for the birth of modern science, has also long provided inspiration to the written and visual arts (indeed the literary form of the Bible is artistically of the highest caliber). it is therefore ideally suited to the role of being a source of insights that can integrate and bind all the disciplines of man into one cultural continuum. indeed such a continuum is but one manifestation of the unity of God's creation.
Finally I stress again that this model is based upon the biblical concept that communication is central to the creative activity of God and the human race. The Judaeo-Christian religion at its very heart stresses that "no man is an island" and that human beings needs companionship even when engaged in creative activity. And companionship is deeply rooted in undistorted communication. In this context science has been shown to be an activity done in conjunction with others, a community activity. 7 In other fields, artists, writers, those engaged in the humanities, and religious worshippers are often thought of as acting in isolation during their creative moments, but even here community with other members of their disciplines plays a role at some point in their development as creative contributors and participators. Community, grounded in mutual communication, is thus seen to be another way in which God unifies all His creation.REFERENCES
Bronowski, quote contained in W.W. Watts,
3Michael Polanyi and Harry Prosch, Meaning, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1975, p. 27.
4J. Bronowski, Op. Cit., p. 16.
5Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture, Orbis Books, MaryKnoll, N.Y., 1980, pp. 81-99.
6Stanley L. Jaki, Science & Creation, Science History Publications, N.Y., 1974 The Road of Science and the Ways to God, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1978.
7M Polanyi and H. Prosch, Op. Cit., particularly chapters 12-13. M. Polyani, Personal Knowledge, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1958.
AN ESSENTIALLY RELIGIOUS UNITY
ROBERT E. VANDERVENNEN
I believe that there is a fundamental unity encompassing all things that exist. By this I mean that there is a single meaning and purpose in which all things in the world participate and to which they contribute. Nothing exists or has meaning outside of that central meaning and purpose of the universe. Everything in God's creation, except where marred by sin, fits together with harmony and accord.
The foundation for this f undamental fact of existence is the religious confession that everything that exists, except for God himself, has been created by God. All things exist by the will of God. God's law is the orderly way God has designed all of creation to exist in response to his will. There are no contradictions nor unrelated elements within God's will.
This statement affirming unity in creation is a statement of faith, not a scientific statement based on observation or logic. My belief about unity is confirmed by experience and reason, but it is not based on them. I believe that the world is a unity because I am sure the Bible teaches it. Genesis 1 strongly suggests unity, many Bible verses clearly teach that God created all that exists, and the Bible leaves no room to doubt the singleness of God's will and purpose. The New Testament, as in Colossians 1: 16,17, shows us that the core meaning of all things is centered in Christ. He is the Truth (John 14:6) and there is no truth apart from him.
I want this confession of my heart to color and give direction to the way I live and the way I do scientific work. I am predisposed to see the world as a fundamental unity, and where observation or logic may at times lead me to think that part of the world lies in fragments and disunity, I trust that the fault is mine and that the problems may be cleared up in the future. I look at the world through glasses of a certain color. Everyone, whether aware of it or not, has a distinctively colored outlook. It is best to be as aware as possible of the color of glasses each of us wears so that we can be alert to how this color may affect the conclusions we draw from our experiences, and even our scientific work.
The scope of the unity of creation is world-wide, excluding no created thing. Embraced in over-arching unity are material things, laws and relationships. The fact of sin, of course, is a challenge to God's perfect unity in creation. Sin is rebellion against God's will, but God's will and law remain intact, and
even the rebels themselves must live within the structures of God's law whether they want to or not.
The nature of the unity of the world is fundamentally religious. God has created all things for his own glory (Romans 11:36), and all things are called to respond in a never-ending harmonious chorus of praise to him. Stones, trees, animals and especially people, with the fantastic multidimensionality of our lives, are called to respond obediently to God's will. Therein lies the essence of the unity of all things. It is not that some things are subject to God's law and his will, while other things are not.
The unity in creation can be apprehended by us in various ways. We can understand relationships, including logical relationships, from one end of creation to another. There are intimations of certain laws, like equilibrium and economy, which hold for many kinds of situations ranging from subhuman to human relationships. Yet it is my conviction that the universe is not in principle knowable by human rationality, and that rationality is not the key to nor the means of apprehending the unity of creation. Our rationality is limited, is less comprehensive than the universe itself (Isaiah 55:9, 1 Corinthians 13:9).
The belief that the world has an essential unity does not imply that everything is the same. There is a great diversity in the world. In the Bible we read of the "many-splendored wisdom of God" (Ephesians 3 :10), and of the manifold works made in wisdom by God (Psalm 104:24). Only those who fully accept the fact of unity are fully free to accept the fact of diversity. Our drive for simplicity should not trample genuine differences. Reductionism as a search for ontological unity is bound to be a fruitless activity. There are genuinely different kinds of things in the world, and very different aspects of things. They have all been created with interrelationships to the rest of creation. Although we may have a limited understanding of the nature of such interrelationships, in the deepest sense we stand before a mystery. Boundaries between kinds of things indicate the God-given uniqueness of different things. A fascinating aspect of difference among kinds of things is that some laws are valid for different kinds of things but other laws apply only to a given kind of thing. Both humans and rats, for example, are subject to the same numerical laws and laws of gravity, but there are some laws
If there is a basic unity to all reality that is essentially religious, with its meaning centered in Jesus Christ, this leads to the interesting and tricky question as to whether Christians and non-Christians are on the same footing in doing scientific and analytic work. I think the answer needs to be both yes and no. Unbelievers have the same scientific and analytic gifts as believers, and they can observe the same phenomena, since God's world impinges on all people whether they acknowledge it as his or not. It has become widely (though not universally) accepted that one's worldview is likely to influence one's scientific conclusions at certain levels. Einstein's rationalistic and deterministic worldview led him to
honestly by what they see in experiment and observation, and be led honestly by the canons of logic. But there is more to the research than description and theory. A Christian and a humanist understand "scientific law" rather differently, the Christian believing it to be an expression of the will of God to be discovered in part, while the humanist may believe that laws are human inventions. A theist and a materialist will differ in some of their understandings of living organisms. Such differences arise from different religious standpoints, and in the case of such differences, I consider a non-Christian to be handicapped. In the social sciences, where a great deal depends on the view one has of the nature of the human person, I should think that Christian research built on a
The nature of the unity of the world is fundamentally
religious. God has created all things for his own glory, and all
things are called to respond in a never-ending harmonious
chorus of praise to him.
work toward a unified field theory and to shy away from quantum mechanics. It is clear that differing worldview and faith commitments are at work in producing different conceptions in the field of psychology. In our day and in previous generations the fact that religious views shaped work in the biological and geological sciences is beyond dispute.
What is not so clear is that the unbelieving scientist is demonstrably handicapped by not responding in faith to the fundamentally Christ-centered nature of the universe. There are too many ways of being wrong, and for Christians to be wrong, too, to come to that conclusion in general terms. Perhaps Christian and non-Christian scientists are most likely to be in close agreement when the scope of an investigation is narrow rather than comprehensive. On a broader scale, where the experiments and conclusions range on a wider horizon, there are more likely to be differences which arise from different worldviews and different belief-commitments.
This position implies that full objectivity is not possible in scientific work. To be sure, all investigators must be led
biblical view of man should have an edge. However, a Christian may draw faulty conclusions even from his or her Christian convictions, and may generally lack the competence of one who denies the Christian revelation, so that it cannot be assumed that the findings of a Christian will be superior to those of a non-Christian.
If it be true that there is a unity to all of reality, and that this unity is fundamentally religious because the world was created by God and has its central meaning and coherence in Christ, it follows that a true understanding of the world is intrinsically and inescapably a religious matter. This will be reflected in how people handle scientific knowledge, whether that be expressed subliminally or explicitly, whether one understands the religious implications or not. Therefore the distinctives of the Christian faith will be expressed intrinsically in the basic sciences as well as in applications of science to societal situations.
Robert E. VanderVennen is Executive Director of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, Canada. He holds the Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Michigan State University, and has done chemical research at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Applied Physics Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory. He has served as Professor of Chemistry at Belhaven College (Mississippi) and at Trinity Christian College (Illinois), at which latter institution he also served as Academic Dean for ten years.
When I first became interested in writing about unity in creation, I thought that there would be general agreement among Christians on the subject. But since The Unity in Creation appeared I have not been so sure of that agreement. Perhaps this symposium brings some questions out into the open.
Cook assumes that unity exists and that unity can be seen in biology and in physics. For him, the Christian position is that ". . . the order in creation speaks of the Creator in a unified voice." Leegwater seems to say that unity is to be accepted on faith and that such unity cannot be confirmed by our scientific work. Manweiler accepts unification only if man himself is part of the unity in view. Murphy presents two unities, one represented by the existence of fundamental structures and interactions, the other by the harmonious interaction of complex entities. He says that these two unities are one, even as the one God exists in three persons. In Neidhardt's somewhat different approach he looks at the same unity as the other authors, but in terms of two-way communications between God and creation and between disciplines. Vander Vennen holds that diversity exists, but that there is still harmony and therefore ultimately there is unity. All men can "do" science, but Christians, who know that all creation is under God, will because of that knowledge sometimes do better science.
Evidently there is agreement that unity in creation is what it is because God is Who He is. Every author-each in his own way-gives special attention to diversity. Concerning the question of reducing this diversity, that is, of explaining one aspect of creation by the laws or structures of another aspect, everyone is at least reluctant to make such a reduction and some categorically deny the possibility of reduction.
My impression is that virtually everyone-others as well as the participants in this symposium-considers the existence of diversity extremely important in any discussion of unity in
creation. Some (after the Dutch philosopher Dooyeweerd) speak of modalities of creation; some, of aspects (I find this concept convenient); some, of levels of complexity; some, of disciplines.
These four ways of referring to complexity are not equivalent. In Dooyeweerd, modality has a precise meaning, similar to what non-Dooyeweerdian thinkers less precisely refer to as aspects. The modalities, which when taken together describe created reality, are thought to be arranged hierarchically, with the simplest, the numeric, first, followed by the spatial, through twelve more modalities, ending with the faith modality. Each modality is coherent and is related to the other modalities through the modalities next to it in the scheme. There is significant similarity between this kind of hierarchy and the hierarchy implied in attempts to interpret creation using the level concept. MacKay's ideas on levels-to which Murphy refers-constitute an example of the level approach. For MacKay, a lighted advertising sign can be analyzed on one level in terms of its message and on another level in terms of the physical principles involved in its electric circuits. For the Dooyeweerdian thinker, the linguistic modality must be used in understanding the message of the sign' the economic modality to understand the implications of the advertising, the aesthetic modality to relate the appearance of the sign to its surroundings, several of the first modalities to understand the physics of the circuits, etc. Finally, disciplines are related to modalities, aspects, and levels, but in no case is it a one-to-one relation.
The major points of agreement among the participants are (1) the complete dependence of creation upon God, its Creator; (2) the existence of unity within each aspect; (3) the unity of aspects; (4) the necessity of including man in any discussion of unity (this seems to be a corollary of accepting modalities, aspects, or levels); and (5) the necessity of communal investigation, such as that described by Neidhardt.
Russell Maatman is Professor of Chemistry at Dordt College. Previously he taught at DePauw University and the University of Mississippi, and was a research chemist at the Mobil Oil Company. Heterogeneous catalysis is his principal research area. He has published about 50 technical articles. He also has a strong interest in integrating faith and natural science. Many of his articles in that area have appeared in this journal. He has also written The Bible, Natural Science, and Evolution and The Unity in Creation.
Can we explain to our students the fundamentals of a
science so that they will conclude that they learned
something they would not have learned from a scientist who
is not a Christian?
There are some disagreements among us. No doubt I was not clear enough on some matters in The Unity in Creation. Thus, I certainly agree with Cook's goals relative to his first and third points concerning that book. As for the second point, more needs to be said than space allows. I believe that investigation in the different aspects will continue indefinitely and that we should recognize the possibilities of natural boundaries, boundaries we would not be able to cross. But some lines we think are boundaries might not actually be boundaries. Even so, our experience teaches us that some lines look more and more like natural boundaries as time passes. It may be that the Bible teaches that certain natural boundaries exist.
Although Leegwater makes several points about The Unity in Creation, this is not the place for me to discuss that book. Instead, I shall summarize briefly what I think the Christian position ought to be. God presents Himself to us as a God of order. He also says that creation speaks to us of Him. We examine creation and find that it is orderly. The results of this examination, that is, the results of our scientific endeavor, should not surprise us, since God told us that what He does is orderly. We do not make God subject to the laws of logic; rather, He is faithful and seen to be a Creator Who is orderly, just as He said.
I strongly disagree with Leegwater if he means in his reference to the second law, etc., that our scientific results do not indicate creation to be ordered. It would be interesting if we could explore in more detail than permitted in these short essays the claims he makes concerning classical mechanics, thermodynamics, classical electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, the first and second laws of thermodynamics, special relativity, and general relativity. Leegwater's idea ". . . that physical entities are individuals of a certain kind," taken from Stafleu, whom he cites, also needs more examination than it has received or can receive here.
What direction might the discussion of unity in creation take at this point? Murphy makes a good case for two unities, and generally the participants seem to accept this idea. Is it not true, however, that our discussion on unity almost always centers on only one of those unities, on how the various aspects are united to each other? Perhaps we discuss too little what it means for unity to exist within an aspect. Thus, it is one thing to say that we are beginning to formulate a Christian position on the environmental problems of a certain region of our country and that such formulation is possible just because we can understand the interplay between the biological, chemical, sociological, economic, etc. events
which occur in that region. There is a certain kind of unity in this interplay. It is quite another thing to say that we are beginning to formulate a Christian position on the f undamentals of (say) chemistry, fundamentals that include such things as the laws of thermodynamics and the De Broglie relation. Here the interplay of fundamentals constitutes a second kind of unity.
Are we doing enough work on this second kind of unity? For those of us who teach, can we explain to our students the fundamentals of a science so that the students will conclude that they learned something they would not have learned from a scientist who is not a Christian? Or is this unity of fundamentals neutral, having no particular relation to the Christian faith?