Science in Christian Perspective
Letter to the Editor
Science and Theology -Immiscible?
Richard H. Bube
Department of Materials Science and Engineering
From: JASA 38 (December 1986): 283
I have been interested in the exchange of theological arguments related to the creation /evolution discussion in the March and June 1986 issues of the Journal ASA between Van Dyke and Murphy. I would like to call attention to a curious dilemma that may not be sufficiently clearly realized:
Thesis: The careful construction of theological arguments against a scientific theory is likely to be self-defeating.
Corollary 1: A scientific theory that is suspected of being faulty should be challenged primarily by the pursuit of authentic science.
Corollary 2: A philosophical or ideological position, supposedly based on a particular scientific theory, should be challenged primarily by the pursuit of authentic philosophy or theology, rather than by an attack on the scientific theory.
The thesis is based on the paradoxical realization that the more complete, more convincing, and more effective theological arguments against a scientific theory are perceived to be, the more danger they hold for the future of that particular theology if the scientific theory is demonstrated to be adequate beyond reasonable doubt. If the theological arguments against a scientific theory are weak or ambiguous, the success of the scientific theory does no real damage to the theological perspective involved. But if the theological arguments against a scientific theory are perceived to be absolutely unanswerable, then the success of the scientific theory leaves the theological perspective totally unprotected. Since we can never be certain whether a particular scientific theory will ultimately be demonstrated acceptable beyond a reasonable doubt, it is always a dangerous pursuit to construct intricate and apparently convincing theological arguments as to why the theory cannot be accepted. It is far better to deal with possible faults in the theory by the pursuit of authentic science. Similarly if the scientific theory is being extrapolated by people to derive philosophical or ideological conclusions, it is far better to deal with the inauthenticity of such an extrapolation, than it is to attack the scientific theory itself.
The Galileo experience is, of course, a principal precedent for seeing these principles in action. Galileo's scientific hypotheses caused as much upheaval as they did because the apparent theological arguments against their validity were so "self-evident." One didn't have to be an intellectual to "know" that the Bible teaches that "the earth is the center of the universe." The establishment of the scientific view caused considerable temporary distress in Christian circles. If, instead of constructing theological arguments as to why Galileo could not possibly be correct, his antagonists had done some authentic science, they would have been spared the effort and would have done ultimately much less damage to the Christian cause. Likewise, people concerned about the nihilistic consequences of our realization that the earth is only a tiny speck in the interior of a vast and almost incomprehensibly large universe, should be confronted, not with an attack on Galilean astronomy, but with an attack on whether the nihilistic conclusions are a necessary result of the scientific findings.
I add only the caveat that I am talking here about tactics and risk minimization. Please do not read the Corollaries above as implying that theology cannot have something to say to science, or that science cannot have something to say to philosophy or ideology. In fact, it is evident that western science itself has sprung from largely JudaeoChristian roots, and that our understanding of biblical interpretation and revelation has been enriched by Galileo's telescope and Darwin's finches.