Science in Christian Perspective
Putting Things in Perspective
Wilbur L. Bullock, Editor
From: JASA 37 (September 1985): 129-131.
Explanations for scientific phenomena as well as historic events (recent and ancient) sometimes appear to be mutually exclusive. All too often we respond to the resulting confusion with attempts to reduce the problem to an oversimplified "either-or" choice: there are only two possible explanations and the one I accept is right while the other explanation must be wrong. The solution to such a problem sometimes comes through education. Often it turns out that both of the previous explanations are partly right and/or partly wrong. Sometimes we find that both were totally wrong and the truth is found in some new and unexpected direction.
In recent years there has been a growing awareness that some natural phenomena must be viewed from what appear to be mutually exclusive perspectives. The nature of light-whether viewed as waves or corpuscles-has become a classic example of differing perspectives on the basis of the experimental methodology involved. For the Christian it is especially important to consider the relationship of scientific and biblical explanations since our understanding of one source (science) sometimes seems to conflict with our understanding from the other source (Scripture). Often these apparent conflicts are the result of using the wrong source to answer our questions.
The purpose of ASA "is to explore any and every area relating Christian faith and science." In addition to an honest and zealous discussion of these relationships, we need to carry out our exploration in a consistently Christian manner. First and foremost, we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but to think with sober judgment (Romans 12:3), and most of us have trouble with such humility when we think we have some answers. I hope that in all sections of this journal, including 'Letters to the Editor,' we can discuss the great issues of life in such a humble and honest form. This issue of the journal has several papers that should help us in our thinking about some of these weighty matters at both the theoretical/ philosophical and the ethical/practical levels.
The first paper, by Robert Herrmann and John Templeton, reviews some of the major advances in genetic research in recent years. These mind-boggling discoveries are discussed within the framework of the increasing interest in the philosophical and religious questions posed by modern science. The elaboration of the structure of the DNA molecule by Watson and Crick has increased our understanding of heredity. The intricacies of these body processes should be further cause for reflection on the marvels of God's creation.
The next two papers discuss some of the far-reaching implications of the proposition that biblical exegesis and scientific investigation are complementary approaches to truth. John Cramer evaluates what he considers to be the strong points and weak points of
Donald MacKay's concepts of the compatibility of science and Christianity. He discusses "science," "scientism," and "Christianity" in the light of various interpretations of "complementarity." Howard Van Till concludes that science and Scripture are "categorically complementary" and, therefore, neither contradictory nor concordant. He outlines a "creationomic perspective" as the means of properly integrating science and scripture. Both of these papers should help us in our thinking about problems for which we are often given simple "either-or" choices.
Many of our current problems would be considerably simplified by a careful study of history. The development of modern science has been related to the Protestant Reformation by many historians of science. Nevertheless, the relative roles of theology and sociology, of Calvin and "Calvinists," are frequently obscure or are misconstrued. Sara Miles gives us a helpful analysis of how the theology of John Calvin provided "the rationale for, and the methodologies of, the study of nature characteristic of the scientific revolution."
The above-mentioned papers explore areas relating science and Christian faith. In some points these authors do not agree with one another or with other writers and scholars on these subjects. There are certainly readers of the journal, including fellow evangelical Christians, who will take exception to parts or all of the positions taken. In the search for truth, especially eternal truths, by mere mortal human beings, this is to be expected. When "we see through a glass darkly," none of us is going to see perfectly. However, in our discussions-orally or in writing-we are to be controlled by basic biblical principles: we are "to speak evil (or slander) of no one," we are to "avoid quarreling," to be "gentle," "peaceable," "considerate," and 11 to show perfect courtesy to all men" (Titus 3). Not the least of all the guidelines for our words and actions is in Exodus 20:6-commonly known as the ninth commandment where we are told not to give "false testimony against our neighbor." This means, in part, that the position of those with whom we disagree must be honestly represented.
The paper by Gareth Jones, "The View from a Censored Corner," is the saddest paper I have accepted during my short term as editor of the journal. My first contact with Brave New People was through some of the strongly negative reviews which he quotes in his paper. When I was finally able to locate and borrow a copy-I felt like I was acquiring some underground bit of pornography or treason!-I was shocked to realize that most of these reviews had seriously distorted Gareth Jones' position. First, the book is a presentation of a series of important ethical issues associated with biomedical technology; it is not a book about abortion.
Second, Dr. Jones is positively against the overwhelming majority of abortions, although he does accept certain types of therapeutic abortions under a few extreme conditions-a tiny fraction of the horrendous number of the unborn who are terminated for selfish convenience, usually associated with violation of the seventh commandment, that against adultery. To castigate Dr. Jones as " pro- abortionist," or to question his evangelical commitment on the basis of the content of Brave New People is simply not warranted. Such unfounded assaults upon the author and his work are open to the serious charge of "slander" and "false witness" and are a far cry from the "gentleness" and "perfect courtesy to all men" recommended to us by Paul, let alone from courtesy to a Christian brother.
I personally am not defending all of Dr. Jones' views on bio-medical ethics, and I am not, as I am sure he is not, suggesting that his views are the only views to be held by Christians or the ASA. He was presenting a whole series of difficult moral and ethical dilemmas, most of which his critics ignored in their efforts to castigate him for what they considered to be a weak statement on abortion. At least some of these critics seem to elevate 100% opposition to all abortion as the most important mark of the Christian. When we need to join together to express our dismay over birth control by abortion why do we have to vent such unchristian anger over one small area of disagreement? Even if all therapeutic abortions are wrong, the other abortions are clearly far worse.
For any of our readers who might be disturbed by Professor Jones' paper and its publication in the journal, I would suggest two projects. First, get a copy of Brave New People and read it all the way through. As I read the book-after reading the reviews-I had the impression that some of the critics had never read the book. Allegations based on quotes out of context and incomplete information is false witness! Second, after having read the book and finding areas of disagreement, read some of the biblical recommendations, such as Titus 3, Romans 12, 11 Timothy 2, and other passages that remind us of the words of our Lord that, "All men will know you are my disciples if you love one another." Even if you consider that Gareth Jones has suggested serious error in some points, much of the language used against our brother f ailed to demonstrate that the writers were followers of Him who not only commanded us to love one another but to love our enemies.
As evangelical Christians we need to be making a biblical
analysis of the many areas of biomedical research that have serious ethical
implications. In the early stages of that analysis there will certainly be
serious disagreements; the human race has never handled such powerful,
manipulative knowledge before. However, we need to learn to disagree in a
reasonable, gentle, Christian way. Whether we disagree on some facets of
abortion or the time and nature of creation or if and when there will be a
millenium, we need to be honest, to avoid misleading quotes, and to be willing
to recognize that only the infinite, holy God of the universe
understands all of these difficult problems. Most importantly, while we search
for and defend truth, we must speak and write in accordance with all of the
godly principles of the Word of God.
"You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other."