Science in Christian Perspective


Christian Priorities in Science*

Department of Communication and Neuroscience 
University of Keele
Keele, Staffordshire, England ST5 5BG

Paper presented at the conference "Christian Faith and Science in Society," a joint Meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation and the Research Scientists' Christian Fellowship, held July 26-29,1985, at St. Catherine's College in Oxford, England.

From: PSCF 39 (June 1987): 67-74.

1. The Scientist as Map-Maker

The scientist is by profession a map-maker; and like other map-makers he is pledged to allow his own particular values to distort as little as possible the representation he makes of the state of affairs. "Whether I like it or not, or you like it or not, that's the way it is as far as I can see." In this sense, he strives to make scientific knowledge "value-free." His maps are meant to be reliable guides to other people, of whose values he can know nothing; so "scientific detachment" and "depersonalization," far from being arbitrary eccentricities of the trade, are all part of his duty as an honest craftsman.1

The world mapped by the scientist is a world of events as well as entities-a world where one thing causes another. His maps are not merely of observables but of correlations between observables and (in due course) of interacting causal factors. Thus, unlike a map of the continents or even a motoring route-map, his maps offer explanations and predictions as well as descriptions. His "laws" are prescriptive, not in the sense that they make things happen, but in the sense that they tell us what in given circumstances we ought to expect on the basis of precedent. Confronted with a reliable (and comprehensible) scientific map, we have lost the innocence of ignorance and can be held morally accountable for the expectations we entertain in the relevant domain. Scientific laws (as mere codifications of precedent) do not of course assure us that the unprecedented cannot occur; but they impose an obligation on us to justify any contrary expectations.

This emphasis on value-free objective knowledge might be taken to suggest that evaluation, as distinct from meticulous observation, plays little or no part in the practice of science, and that there should be little need for a whole lecture on "Christian Priorities in Science;" but let us see.

2. Evaluation in Science

Once we think of science as a human enterprise, questions of value crowd thick and fast upon us. To list
just a few examples, science demands of us evaluation, explicit or implicit,

(i) In accepting the obligations, both ethical and social, of map-making;

(ii) In choosing what to map;

(iii) In choosing the categories in terms of which to map (e.g., geological, agricultural etc);

(iv) In assessing relative costs and benefits in relation to identified "needs;"

(v) In deciding where and in what terms to apply for financial support;

(vi) In assessing the ethical/moral acceptability of research methods;

(vii) In the creative process of inventing hypotheses to test;

(viii) In noticing and reporting data adverse to a chosen hypothesis;

(ix) In selecting what to publish, and when and where;

(x) In encouraging/discouraging specific applications of scientific discoveries;

(xi) In accepting/rejecting new scientific problems that may be raised by given applications;

(xii) In presenting to the general public, including any fellow-Christians who have to make pronouncements in the name of the Church, the implications (practical, theoretical, philosophical, religious if any) of scientific discoveries.

This list is not meant to be exhaustive, and it would make a dull paper indeed to run down it with the Bible in hand to identify relevant Christian priorities in each case, but I hope it may serve as a useful check-list in terms of which to test the implications of what follows.

3. Christian Priorities

"Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever." So the shorter Catechism sums up the rubric under which the Christian must practice his science. Not only must he seek to live to that end, but in all his efforts to serve his fellow men he must aim to further, and not to hinder, their own prospects of doing the same. This already constitutes quite a severe filter, as a glance at our twelve examples of evaluation will show. We glorify God first and foremost by establishing love (in its strongest sense) as the ruling spirit of our whole enterprise-love to him as our Master and Redeemer, and as the Giver of being to all our data and all our powers; and love to our neighbor which must never fall short of the love we have, or ought to have, for ourselves.

Love of God involves grateful and obedient service with all our heart (enthusiastic commitment), mind (scrupulous acceptance of the rational implications of God's data) and strength (diligence in action). Though God can be glorified by mere admiring contemplation of his works (e.g., Ps. 8, Ps. 104), full obedience, especially for the scientist, demands precisely those emphases on accuracy, objectivity and rationality that (in most disciplines claiming the name of "science") are recognized as professionally essential. Our service being that of stewards, our master sets a high priority on initiative as well as diligence.2 We are meant to use our gifts of imagination as pioneers in areas where no specific biblical instructions may have been given, and in which we can be guided, or at least limited, only by general biblical principles. This is so not only in exploring new territory for the benefit of our fellow men, but also in cases where we may see no immediate practical relevance (e.g., in cosmology or some branches of pure mathematics). In these fields too, our Master is glorified by imaginative enterprise and let down by lack of it. We cannot remind ourselves too often that "God has given us richly all things to enjoy,"3 and that the works of the Lord are meant to be be sought out by those who take pleasure in them."4 For the Christian with biblical priorities, science is meant to be f un as well as labor, even though in a fallen and needy world be must be prepared for claims of compassion to compete sometimes with those of curiosity, however highly motivated.

4. Biblical or Pagan?

Already we see a strong contrast between the Biblical concepts of nature and man and a variety of pagan ideas. Many people in our day, as in previous ages, suppose the typically "religious" attitude toward natural science to be that embodied in the ancient Greek legend of Prometheus, who stole the sacred fire. Nature is thought of as semi-divine; she has her secrets. The gods would like to keep some of these to themselves, and jealously resent any advances in man's knowledge of them. Science is thus thought of as an irreverent and dangerous pursuit in which sinful man aspires unto the place of God. If disaster results from attempts to apply man's scientific knowledge, this is considered to be what he deserves for prying into the sacred mysteries of the Creator.

Now it cannot be denied that if your idea of God (or the gods) were that of the ancient Greeks, indeed of almost any pagan religion, all this would make good sense. To some people it might seem to represent the proper humility of man before the majesty of his Maker. But is it in fact biblical? I think not. The Bible has no time for human pride; but its teaching about the natural world is precisely the reverse of the pagan's at crucial points.

Donald M. MacKay, B.Sc., Ph.D., F. Inst. P., born 1922 in Lybster, Scotland, has Physics degrees from St. Andrews and London. Wartime radar experience, and early work on foundations of information theory and electronic computing, led him into brain research. The Department of Communication and Neuroscience at the University of Keele, which he founded in 1960 and directed until 1982, combines physiological and psychological studies of brain function. In parallel with his scientific work Professor MacKay has been active in exploring its philosophical and theological implications, and has written several books on the integration of Christian faith and scientific inquiry, including The Clock Work Image; Brains, Machines and Persons, and Human Science and Human Dignity. He is an honorary Fellow of A.S.A.

The Bible sets man in perspective as a creature of God, a part of the vast created order that owes its continuance in being to the divine upholding power. Unlike the rest of the natural world known to us, however, human beings have powers of foresight, planning and action that make us especially responsible in the eyes of our Creator. With these powers, according to the Bible, goes a special obligation toward the Creator. Men are commanded, not merely permitted, to "subdue the earth" (Gen.
1:28). This is to be done not, indeed, in a spirit of arrogant independence, but as the stewards of God's creation. Human beings are answerable to Him for the effectiveness with which they have fulfilled His mandate.

We are meant to use our gifts of imagination as pioneers in areas where no specific biblical instructions may have been given, and in which we can be guided, or at least limited, only by general biblical principles.

The Christian ethos is thus in complete contrast to the pagan caricature with which it is so often confused. In place of the craven fear that haunts the unwelcome interloper, we are meant to enjoy the peaceful confidence of a servant-son at home in his Father's creation. We know that we are on our Father's business no less when investigating His handiwork than when engaged in formal acts of worship. In place of jealously secretive gods we have One whose very nature is Truth and Light, Himself the giver of all that is true, who rejoices when any of His truth is brought to the light and obeyed in humility (e.g., I John, passim).

The Bible encourages man to roam the domain of the natural world in responsible freedom, showing all of it the respect due to his Father's creation, but none of it the superstitious reverence that would deny its status as a created thing like himself. As Professor Hooykaas has put it,

The Bible knows nothing of "Nature" but knows only "creatures" who are absolutely dependent for their origin and existence on the will of God. Consequently, the natural world is admired as God's work and as evidence of its creator, but it is never adored. Nature can arouse in man a feeling of awe, but this is conquered by the knowledge that man is God's fellowworker who shares with Him the rule of the fellow-creatures, the dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth ... Thus, in total contradiction to pagan religion, nature is not a deity to be feared and worshipped, but a work of God to be admired, studied and managed. In the Bible God and nature are no 
longer both opposed to man, but God and man together confront nature.5

5. God's Fellow-Worker

The biblical concept of man as God's fellow-worker is not without its logical difficulties. If God is almighty, why does He need our help? If He has willed things thus and so, how can any action of ours improve upon His presumably perfect will? The answer sometimes offered is that God voluntarily sets limits to His power, and leaves us room to supplement His action. According to this model God does so much, and man's part is to do the rest. I will not go into the further theological difficulties that are raised by such an answer. All I would say now is that it is emphatically not the answer offered in the Bible itself.

For the biblical writers there is no question of any such partition of action between God and man. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you to will and to do of His good purpose" (Phil. 2:12-13). This injunction was given to New Testament Christians. The Old Testament is just as clear that in one sense at least all men, whether they love God or bate Him, are giving expression to the creative purposes of God by their choices and actions. "You thought evil against me," says Joseph to his brothers, "but God meant it unto good ... (Gen. 50:20). God is the immediate giver of being to all that is and all that moves, the wicked as well as the good. In a profound sense the whole drama of creation unfolds according to His "determinate counsel and foreknowledge" (Acts 2:23).

Unlike the rest of the natural world known to us, however, human beings have powers of foresight, planning and action ... With these powers ... goes a special obligation toward the Creator.

It would thus be a logical blunder to interpret human responsibility in the Bible as something that takes over where God leaves off. The Bible clearly represents us as both wholly dependent on God for every event of our existence, and wholly answerable to Him for the responses we make. The slogan: "Work as though all depended on you; pray as though all depended on God" may be somewhat oversimplified, but it comes far closer to expressing the spirit of biblical realism than any attempt to parcel out zones of responsibility between God and man.

This is not the place to spell out the logical fallacy in attempts to make a contradiction out of these complementary emphases'. Suffice it here to say that if we pay attention to the differences in logical standpoint between talk about a creator (any creator) and talk about his creatures, it becomes clear that the agency of the creator is not an alternative to, but a necessary condition of, the agency of his creatures. This does not make the creator morally answerable for the actions of his creatures (it would make no sense to hold Shakespeare guilty as an accessory to the murder committed by Macbeth!). Nor does it abolish the moral responsibility of the creatures for the exercise of their created capacities. But if, as the Bible declares, our Creator is One to whom it makes sense to pray, then it makes abundantly realistic sense for us to acknowledge in prayer our total dependence on Him. Simultaneously, as agents within His created drama, we recognize also our full responsibility for our action or inaction, and the logical absurdity of shrugging any of it off on to him.

To put it in another way, it is essential to distinguish between two quite distinct meanings of the will of God. One, denoting what we might call His creative will ' is what is expressed in the Genesis phrase "Let there be..." Any idea of our going contrary to God's creative will is strictly meaningless, since apart from His creative word nothing happens. "He upholds (gives continued being to) all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3).

The other concept we might term God's normative will. This is what is expressed, for example, in the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount, in the words "Thou shalt. . . " The idea of our going contrary to God's normative will is, alas, far from meaningless, however wrong and unrealistic it may be. Without God's help, according to the Bible we will lack both the ability to recognize His normative will and the desire and strength to carry it through. The gift of vision and strength to do God's normative will is what the Christian knows as grace. It is mediated through God's creative will. It is the daily experience of living in dependence on the grace of God that unif ies the complementary doctrines of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

6. Technology In Biblical Perspective

The contrast between biblical and pagan theologies of nature is at no point more decisive than where science comes to inspire technology. "What right has man to improve upon nature; aren't we beginning to usurp the prerogatives of the Creator?" Such questions are often asked rhetorically, backed by observations of the kind parodied by Flanders and Swann: "If God had meant men to fly, he would never have given us the railways."

There is of course a sober warning for all ages in the story of the Tower of Babel, where men sought to build 11 a tower whose top may reach unto heaven" (Gen. 11:4). What the context makes clear, however, is that their sin consisted not in the building but in the motivation for it-an arrogant desire to be independent

Nowhere in the Bible is technological achievement disapproved, except where it expressed human pride and vainglory.

of God. Nowhere in the Bible is technological achievement disapproved, except where it expressed human pride and vainglory. More relevant is the reiterated biblical teaching that "He that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (Jas. 4:17). From the biblical standpoint whatever needs to be done to alleviate the lot of our fellow men is a duty from which we can excuse ourselves only for good cause.

The contrary pagan notion that it is both impossible and illicit for man to compete with or improve upon nature has had a long and fascinating history from ancient times. The Greek concept of the Golden Age, when men were supposed to have lived healthy and contented lives without technological aids, colored much classical and medieval thinking. The supposed divinity of nature was taken to imply that man would be claiming divine prerogatives if he attempted to copy or improve upon it. The general belief of the Middle Ages was that feats of nature could be surpassed only by magic.

The most powerful biblical arguments against this pessimistic view were advanced by Francis Bacon:

If there be any humility towards the Creator, if there be any reverence for or disposition to magnify His works, if there be any charity for man, (we should) dismiss those preposterous philosophies which have led experience captive, and approach with humility and veneration to unroll the volume of creation.

As Hooykaas puts it, Bacon

blew the trumpet in the war against the sins of laziness, despair, pride, and ignorance; and he urged his contemporaries, for the sake of God and their neighbors, to re-assume the rights that God had given them and to restore that dominion over nature which God had allotted to man. His ideal was a science in the service of man, as the result of restoration of the rule of man over nature. This to him was not a purely human but a divinely inspired work: "The beginning is from God ... the Father of lights. "

It is worth noting that traces of the Graeco-medieval tradition lingered even in such a champion of biblical Christianity as C. S. Lewis, who justified his antitechnological bias by identifying human dominion over nature with hubris, commending instead the (Stoic) 11 wisdom" of "conforming the soul to reality." Significantly, perhaps, he did not adduce biblical support for this attitude! As Hooykaas comments:

It is true that results of our dominion over nature have been unhealthy in many cases; the powerful river of modern science and technology has often caused disastrous inundations. But by comparison the contemplative, almost medieval, vision that is offered as an alternative would be a stagnant pool.

7. Materialism

Here, if not before, I can imagine some fellowChristians becoming restive. "Your science-based technology," they say, "is all part of the quest of Western man to free himself from the necessities imposed upon him by religion, society and nature. Science has been drawn in, perhaps without its knowledge, to become the engine of an essentially godless project of human self-mastery. Its most notable effect is the all-pervasive materialism of which our culture is spiritually dying."

From the biblical standpoint whatever needs to be done to alleviate the lot of our fellow men is a duty from which we can excuse ourselves only for good cause.

That a culture hell-bent on "freedom" from its Creator's demands will distort its scientific priorities accordingly has proved tragically true in many parts of our contemporary world, and I would say nothing to diminish the biblical content of such prophetic warnings. What worries me, however, is the confused and confusing tangle (as I see it) of extra-biblical presuppositions behind much currently fashionable "sciencebashing," and the damage that can be done to the Christian concept of science and its priorities when fellow-Christians climb on this particular bandwagon. I have discussed this elsewhere,'7and I want here only to draw one or two distinctions that seem essential if Christians are to make sense (let alone command respect) in this connection. First, the spiritually rebellious and damaging "materialism" that the Bible condemns was clearly as rampant in the pre-scientific days of the prophets and of Jesus Christ as it is today. Even the first man who built a shelter from the rain could have seen it as "freeing him from the necessities imposed by God and nature." He could have-but he need not, He could equally have seen it as a God-given improvement to be enjoyed with thanksgiving. Without belaboring the point, it is surely obvious that what is wrong in "materialism" in the anti-Christian sense is the lack of filial love to God in its self-gratifying enterprises, rather than any resulting "freedom from necessities. "

What worries me, however, is the confused and confusing tangle (as I see it) of extra-biblical presuppositions behind much currently fashionable 4C science-bashing."

Secondly, the fact that (classical) physical science is built upon the concept of "matter" and its "properties," and is thus "materialistic" in a technical sense, is totally irrelevant to this issue. If TV sets and washing machines can one day be designed effectively using a new physics that discards the concept of "matter," they will present no less, and no more, temptation to the "materialism" that biblical preachers rightly deplore. A physics based on "matter" may offer more scope for some forms of reductionist "nothing-buttery," but that is in any case logically fallacious.8

Thirdly, whatever a few godless scientific popularists may have suggested, the whole idea of human "selfmastery" by scientific means is so manifestly incoherent in strictly philosophical terms that it is misleading to the Christian public if we preach against it as if it were conceptually a live option. "He that sits in the heavens shall laugh at them"9-and if there are good analytic reasons for our doing the same without invoking the authority of divine revelation, it is surely these that we should first urge. There is no merit, and grave risk of confusion, in urging fellow-Christians to give such nonsense the dignity of requiring specifically theological rebuttal.

8. "Fashioning the future"?

Some Christians express particular unhappiness with the idea that our scientific knowledge should be

The morally significant contrast that we must hold on to as Christians is not between open-loop and closed-loop efforts ... It is between efforts in obedient love, and efforts in rebellious defiance, towards the Master who has given us that stewardship.

applied to what they call "fashioning the future" as distinct from simply "acting together." This, they argue, would deny or take the place of faith in divine providence. Actions, they say, are all right. An action has a beginning and an end; and when one completes what one is doing, what happens to it is out of one's own control. To act well, then, requires faith in divine providence, because one must hope (without the possibility of calculative proof) that what one has done will be used for the service of others rather than their hurt. To "fashion the future," however, (they would say) is to refuse to let one's act go. It is to strive to extend one's control even to directing the stream of history. It is to assume a "totalistic" responsibility for what will happen.10

Now we must agree that a God-defying spirit like that of the builders of Babel, snatching at total responsibility for our future, would invert Christian priorities. But who in his right mind, one wonders, ever imagined that technology could give anyone such total control of the future? The radical incoherence of the very notion has been well demonstrated by people like Sir Karl Popper12 who have no religious axe to grind. Here again, utopian talk in these terms can be dismissed merely on technical grounds. To try to oppose it by contrasting "acting together" and "fashioning the future" is to fasten on the wrong distinction. Consider, for example, the actions of a Christian driver in steering a car-load of people to work. Is he morally or spiritually wrong to "refuse to let his act go" by applying continual feedback, so as to direct the stream of his local history in accordance with the norms of good stewardship and compassion for his passengers and other road users? If so, by what biblical criterion? As accident statistics show only too well, his control does not eliminate the need for faith in divine providence; but he would rightly reject as immoral and frivolous any suggestion that there would be merit in "letting go" his efforts to shape his future course as precisely as possible. The same applies to larger-scale operations in which the health, wealth and happiness of a whole community may depend upon continuous exercise of foresight and regulative power which it would be a mere dereliction of God-given duty to "let go," yet in the course of which faith in divine providence is even more necessary.

The danger in objections on the lines I have cited is that they fasten on the wrong distinction. They suggest that any attempt to change or control the shape of the future, however partially, must either be of the "act and let go" kind, or else fall into the "totalistic" category. This neglects a huge class of everyday actions of the sort that an engineer would term closed-loop.Only a special class (termed "open-loop") conforms to the "act and let go" description.

No, the morally significant contrast that we must hold on to as Christians is not between open-loop and closed-loop efforts, nor between efforts to exercise our stewardship on a small scale and on a large scale (whether in space or time). It is between efforts in obedient love, and efforts in rebellious defiance, towards the Master who has given us that stewardship.

It is arguments in the other spirit, I fear, that make a professed unbeliever like Sir Peter Medawar12 so angry with what he calls "postural anti-scientism." He cites an historic comment by The Times on Edwin Chadwick's (fortunately successful) efforts to promote the Public Health Act of 1848: "We prefer to take our chance of cholera and the rest than to be bullied into health. England wants to be clean, but not cleaned by Chadwick" (Medawar, p. 20); and he complains savagely of the "unquestioning, unthinking, almost reflexly contemptuous relegation to the devil of science and all its works and the attribution to it of all evils, especially those that are in reality due to political incompetence or commercial greed." Of course few Christian writers, however anti-scientific, would qualify for Medawar's description. What I would ask, however, given the solid biblical basis for both science and its uses for human benefit, is why Christian writers are not more unanimous and vocal in dismissing as unbiblical the irrational science-bashing of our day.

It can rightly be argued that if ever we had the technical means to reshape human society at large, we should still as fallen sinners have little or no assurance that our choice of ends would be for our good, or that of posterity. "Learning what to want," as Sir Geoffrey Vickers13 has pointed out, is even more difficult, most of the time, than learning how to achieve what we want. But the Christian who depends in humility on God for his standards of "the good" can still sympathize with Medawar when he observes that "to make the world a better place to live in is an ambition not falsified or diminished by the propensity of those who seek the reputation of finely critical minds to say knowingly, 'Ah, but what do you mean by better?'!"

9. How Things Can Go Wrong

As a would-be servant of his Creator, man suffers from two limitations that we must take care not to confuse. The first is his sinfulness. We are by fallen nature headstrong, rebellious, reluctant to accept wholeheartedly the "kingly rule of God." The second we may term simply his finiteness. At his best, and with the best will in the world, a man can take only a limited number of factors into account when planning to do what he believes to be God's normative will. Because both his knowledge and his foresight are limited, things can go painfully wrong in ways that it would be superficial and cruel to attribute simply to human sinfulness.

Because both his knowledge and his foresight are limited, things can go painfully wrong in ways that it would be superficial and cruel to attribute simply to human sinfulness.

This is not to deny that our sinfulness makes things worse, but to point out that the best of motives afford no automatic exemption from the unforeseeable risks of experimentation. It is both unnecessary and misleading, for example, to write down the development of the American Dust Bowls simply to human greed. The most selfless humanitarians, eager to increase the supply of food for the starving of the world, might have fallen into the same ecological trap as the hapless Mid-Western farmers. Again, the most conscientious steward of God's creation, totally devoid of any greed, might have been forgiven for thinking that DDT spraying was the responsible thing to do on a large scale in subduing the earth for the benefit of mankind. The temptation to ferret around for some ingredient of 11 sin" to blame when these things turn out disastrously must be resisted if Christians are to think biblically and realistically about their wider responsibilities. Selfish unheeding of foreseeable costs and risks is indeed inexcusable; but man at his best is only, as Pascal called him, a "thinking reed." What hindsight allows the rest of us to condemn as short-sightedness is sometimes an inescapable aspect of our being human. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (I Cor. 10:12).

So when we turn to consider the possibilities for good in the large-scale application of scientific discoveries, it is important not to imagine that the Bible's one prerequisite for success is the elimination of sinful motives and the adoption of worthy goals. We are feeling our way to the controls of a world whose mechanism is more complex and delicately balanced than we are ever likely to comprehend. What the proverbial bull could do in a china shop is as nothing compared with the havoc we could wreak by a single well intentioned error. The biblical moral is not that we should leave well alone. All is far from well, and it may be our responsibility in God's sight to do something about it. The moral is that if we are not to make matters disastrously worse by our meddling, we shall need a wisdom infinitely greater than our own. If our Creator is willing to give this wisdom to those who ask in humility and sincerity, desiring only to be used by Him for good, then nothing could be more realistic than to beg it from Him "who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not" (Jas. 1:5). We are likely to need the reassurance of those last three words!

10. Compassion-Individual and Communal

We have noted several times the Christian priority of compassion;" but as we all know, judging what is the compassionate thing to do, especially in face of competing claims and much confusion between real "needs" and mere "wants," can involve layer upon layer of value-judgments with few if any simple biblical maxims to short-circuit the process. As shown by the example of David's action in feeding his hungry men on the sacred bread, 14 which had Christ's apparent approval,15 not even general divine prohibitions can always be used safely to exclude options in an emergency.

I have actually seen Christians recommend in print that all we need do is to "feed the hungry"' and trust God for the rest. This may sound pious; but it is hard to defend as responsible stewardship.

While all this is well-trodden ground, there is one aspect of the problem of compassion that may particularly trouble the scientist and those he advises, which I feel needs urgent attention from Christians. This is the conflict that can arise between compassionate assessments in terms of the interests of the individual, and of those of a whole population. To begin with a simple example, if a child catches a dangerously contagious disease, it may seem cruelly lacking in compassion to prohibit its mother from nursing it among the family at home; but at the community level the reverse may be true. The claims of "individual" and "communal" compassion here pull in opposite directions. Again, most Christians regard it as something of a scandal that more people die annually of starvation around the world today than a century ago; yet in demographic terms this fact can be traced directly to the success of last century's efforts (largely motivated by Christian compassion) to reduce global infant mortality, without any corresponding efforts towards control of population growth.

As anyone who knows the difference between arithmetic and geometric progression can see, attempts to deflect this point by recommending agricultural improvements are hopelessly shortsighted. Food supplies ought, of course, to be augmented as a short-term remedy; but as long as vast tribes of fertile people continue to double the world's population every few decades as a matter of family or national pride and principle, it is far from obvious what is the most compassionate way to divide scarce resources among the competing demands for the preservation of infant life, the development of food supplies and the control of fertility. I have actually seen Christians recommend in print that all we need do is to "feed the hungry" and trust God for the rest. This may sound pious; but it is hard to defend as responsible stewardship. It is precisely in such situations that the confusion pointed out in section eight above can be disastrous, and the distinction between rebellious and biblically-responsible efforts to "shape the future" needs to be recognized. It is vital that when Christian stewards are trying to find the biblically and communally compassionate course in such situations, they are not discouraged by bogus theological objections from working out and steering by the foreseeable implications of their alternatives. Now that more and more policies are settled at the global level, there is an urgent need for theologians to work out the actually relevant biblical principles that should govern and inspire attempts to integrate individual and communal compassion.

11. Retrospect

We have uncovered no startling novel priorities for the Christian in science or technology, though I have tried at one or two points to give our well known priorities a new thrust where it might be easy to neglect them. Think of what it means biblically to be a loving son in his Father's house, a compassionate steward with specific talents, a rescued sinner in a fallen world, still plagued by the misperceptions natural to a fallen race, yet vassal to the one great God of truth and love. [Take time to consider prayerfully the workings-out of these images in each of the twelve headings we reviewed at the beginning (listed in section 2), and you should discover the difference it ought to make for a scientist to have Christian priorities.] It is obvious that to most of our practical questions, even of the evaluative kind, the Bible contains no ready-made answers; but it does, I believe, enunciate principles sufficiently clear to allow us-indeed to encourage us-to go on enthusiastically with our scientific map-making, in that biblical "fear and trembling" which does nothing to abate the joy of it.


1D. M. MacKay. "'Value-Free Knowledge'-Myth or Norm?," Faith and Thought, 107, 202-209, 1980.
2Jas. 4:17; Eccles. 9:10.
3l Tim. 6:17.
4Ps. 111:2.
5R. Hooykaas. Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, Scottish Academic Press, 1972.
6D. M. MacKay. "The Sovereignty of God in the Natural World," Scottish Journal of Theology, 21, 13-26, 1968.
7 D. M. MacKay. Science and the Quest for Meaning, Eerdmans, Grand
Rapids, 1982.
8D. M. MacKay. The Clockwork Image: A Christian Perspective on Science. InterVarsity Press, 1974.
9Ps. 2:4.
10Oliver O'Donovan. Begotten or Made? Oxford University Press, 1984.
11K. R. Popper. The Open Universe, Hutchinson, 1982.
12Peter Medawar. The Limits of Science, Oxford, 1984.
13Geoffrey Vickers. The Art of judgment, Chapman & Hall, 1965; Freedom in a Rocking Boat, Allen Lane, 1970.
14I. Sam. 21:6.