Science in Christian Perspective



Putting Things in Perspective

Wilbur Bullock
Durham NH

From: PSCF 40 (March 1988): 1

As we grapple with the issues of science and faith we often long for simple, black-and-white answers to questions that are really beyond the comprehension of our finite human minds. For some who think they have arrived at the true solution, these answers are in the realm of a "simple faith"; such people often resolve the issues by dogmatic, private interpretations of the Bible and other theological literature, and they ridicule any in science who disagree with them. For others, the answers are based on the current fads in scientific theory and supreme confidence in the human mind, so that faith is merely a crutch that is only needed by people with lesser minds. In this issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, several authors discuss some of the parameters of issues that are often ignored by those who "know" all the answers.

John Templeton and Robert Herrmann discuss the importance of faith in all cultures, past and present. They remind us that a careful study of history demonstrates that most of the pioneers in the early stages of science were people of faith. In the twentieth century, and especially in recent years, there has been a renewal of at least some personal faith commitment in even the most exact sciences. The rationalism that dominated the nineteenth century is no longer so satsifying for many of the scientists of our day.

Jack Haas examines one particular episode in this interplay of faith and science as he considers the early response to Albert Einstein's theory of relativity by theologians and scientists of diverse religious backgrounds. Much of this response provides an important background for more recent discussions of the relationship between theology and scientific theory.

On an even more specific note, Perry Phillips examines the historical and scientific components of a hypothesis that had only brief and limited acceptance in the scientific community. Unfortunately, this hypothesis was accepted all too eagerly by some of the recent-creationists to support their position. The story of the 15.7 light year universe should caution all of us that we must not be too quick to accept the latest scientific (or theological) fad as the proof or even a proof of the validity of our pet tbeory.

Robert Newman, by examining several mathematical models and by elaborating on his own computer program, concludes that the very complexity of the simplest, hypothetical life form argues for design rather than accident. Accidents do happen, but the amazing complexity of even the "self-reproducing automata" and the astronomically small probability of their occurrence by chance makes it easier to believe in design rather than chance.

But what do we do with controversy and disagreement when either doctrinal/spiritual purity or scientific competence is questioned? Gareth Jones discusses ways to cope with controversy from a standard of Christian principles. While concerned primarily with controversy within the Christian community, the emphasis (from Scripture) that Professor Jones places on humility, patience, kindness, and acceptance needs to govern all of our discussions of controversial issues.

In the Communications section of this issue, David Young examines Augustine's "literal" interpretation of Genesis. In contrast to the more rigid recent-creationists of the late twentieth century, Augustine saw no problem with physical death prior to Adam's fall, nor did he see any restrictive temporal character to the days of creation. And Augustine could hardly be accused of "compromising" with Darwinian evolution!

In the light of recent court decisions centering around the question of "what is religion?", Raymond Seeger discusses the question of  "what is science?" with particular reference to the thoughts of Langdon Gilkey.

You may notice a new addition to Perspectives this issue. Celebrating our 40th anniversary of the journal, we are introducing the "layperson's insert," SEARCH: Scientists Who Serve God, in this issue. As we have made this insert detachable (just pull gently at the middle staple), we hope that you will take advantage of this opportunity to pass SEARCH along to a pastor, a fellow scientist, or a friend who wishes to know more about the ASA and the relationship between science and Christian faith.