Science in Christian Perspective
Putting Things in Perspective
Wilbur L. Bullock
From: PSCF 40 (September 1990): 129-130.
To many people, Christian or non-Christian, science" and "religion" (and evangelical Christianity in particular) mean the truth or falsity of "creation" or "evolution." While this is certainly an area of conflict, there are rnany other areas-e.g., philosophical, intellectual, ethical, etc.-for which there is a need for an open discussion of evangelical "perspectives on science and Christian faith." In this issue we have papers dealing with creation/evolution, and some of these other areas in which there is a need for such open discussion; areas in which ASA is concerned.
In the first paper, physicist John Cramer examines David Hume's arguments against miracles. Cramer finds serious flaws in Hume's "proof" that there can be no such thing as a miracle. Cramer emphasizes that, if we took Hume seriously, we would have difficulty accepting any startling new discovery (such as high temperature superconductivity). Indeed, we do have some difficulty, but we are able to adjust because we trust competent scientists and we know that our present knowledge is tentative and incomplete. Cramer concludes that although miracles "are not absolute evidence" for our faith they "are evidence for the truth of Christianity." Moreover, Hume's "proof" is "as dead as its author.
As evidenced by the Imago Dei Symposium at Gordon College this past June, as well as numerous books and other publications, another critical area in need of Christian perspectives is the phenomenal advances in biomedical technology. Based in part on his own research with farm animals, Randall Prather examines some of the recent developments in reproductive biotechnology. Prather considers that the "cultural mandate" of Genesis One allows for the development of these technologies for laboratory and domestic animals. Such technologies can benefit humans by improving nutrition. Nevertheless, when applying such techniques to humans some caution is advised. We need to prayerfully consider when we are "playing God" and when we are faithfully carrying out the cultural mandate.
Recent-creationists, who interpret Genesis with extreme literalism, hypothesize a young earth and explain the fossil record through the flood at the time of Noah. To adherents of this interpretation, humans and dinosaurs must have co-existed before the flood. With such an interpretive bias it is not surprising that some of these "creationists" should eagerly and naively accept " evidence" of this coexistence. Hence, when presumed human footprints were found in the same rock strata as dinosaur footprints there was considerable excitement and rejoicing. Alas, in a few short years it was shown that the "human" footprints were partly dinosaur footprints and partly forgeries. Ronnie Hastings provides us with a first-hand report of the "rise and fall of the Paluxy mantracks." This episode is another sad example of how humans-Christians, scientists, et al.allow their preconceived ideas to blind them to reality. Hence, they discredit their faith and/or their science. We need to constantly and humbly reevaluate our interpretations of God's word and God's works. Hastings shows how uncritical acceptance of "evidence" can lead to embarrassment and disillusionment.
Reevaluation of evidence and theories is part of good scholarship. In our leading Communication in this issue, George Marsden gives us an evaluation of evangelical scholarship today. Marsden, after pointing out the dangers of secularization, emphasizes that "Protestant liberalism has flowered and seems to be dying on the vine." Furthermore, in evangelical circles there seems to be a growing awareness that the basic presuppositions of Christians are different from those who assume a chance universe. Thus, we cannot expect to win our case merely by rational arguments. He summarizes and discusses the major challenges to evangelical Christianity today as: 1) "the politicization of the scholarly enterprise," 2) "maintaining our momentum in defining the distinctives of evangelical Christian scholarship," and 3) keeping our internal pluralism from drifting into relativism on critical issues. Such challenges are important for interdisciplinary and interdenominational groups such as ASA. How do we avoid the narrow and ultimately sterile adherence to one pet theory while at the same time keep ourselves from drifting into the pitfalls of a shallow relativism?
As an example of a nonproductive rigidity, Clarence Menninga discusses one attempt of Christians to deal with a biblical interpretation that implies a young earth and a fossil record that seems to indicate otherwise. Menninga evaluates the view that the fossil record indicates only "apparent age" rather than reality. After emphasizing that "time" is a creature of God, he points out that "apparent age" is inconsistent with the reality and meaningfulness of all history as well as the fossil record. Such a view certainly opens up other areas of distrust in the evidence of both the universe and Scripture.
Continuing in our presentation of SEARCH: Scientists Who Serve God, our third issue of this "laypersons" science insert focusses on ASA Fellow and council member Stanley Lindquist and his continuing work in the field of psychology, especially with Link Care Foundation.
Most of our readers will be aware of at least some of the negative comments that have been published regarding ASA's Teaching Science in a Clinwte Of Controversy (TSCC). Some of these criticisms from professional biologists and geologists reflected an honest and reasonable concern that our booklet did not go into greater detail on the mechanisms of biological change, molecular genetics, and paleontology. These professionals were looking more for an exhaustive treatise on evolutionary theory. However, they overlooked the audience to which TSCC was directed-the public school/high school science teachers whose clientele are not scientists, whose parents are often without a college education, and who have to deal with the emotion elicited by words like "evolution," "creation," 11 religion," and "God." A publication to help them be honest and fair had to be simple and could only direct itself to the issues that concerned the general nonscientific, and often anti-scientific, public.
On the other hand, some criticisms of TSCC were from biologists and geologists with firm philosophical commitments to materialistic and atheistic explanations of the natural world. These professionals, though competent in their own specialties, often seem more interested in promoting their anti-religious biases than good science-at least when it comes to theories of origins. The mere hint of a "Creator" stirs up visions of and antagonism toward a 4004 B.C., six 24-hour day special creation. (In this they are very much like their Fundamentalist opposites who see atheism in even the slightest reference to an evolutionary process.) Such scientists, therefore, tend to read publications like TSCC as "creationist" plots, and they engage in much prejudiced reading between the lines.
John Wiester, one of the members of ASA's Committee for Integrity in Science Education and a key person in the writing and editing of TSCC, responds to some of the criticism. He addresses the objections to the handling of two of the four "open" questions covered in TSCC: Did the universe have a beginning, and where did the first animals come from? He refers to criticisms of Juliana Texley in The Science Teacher and The Scientist, to D.B. Wake in The Scientist, and to W.J. Bennetta et al. in The Science Teacher, as well as to W.J. Bennetta, N.A. Wells, and S.D. Schafersman in articles in the Creation/Evolution Newsletter. Wiester chides these critics for their expectation of a text on evolution and for their unwillingness.to see the lack of documentation in the fossil record for the origins and the earliest evolution of the invertebrate phyla.
One of the attacks on TSCC referred to by Wiester was published in The Science Teacher for May 1987. Edited by William Bennetta, "Scientists Decry a Slick New Packaging of Creationism" elicited a comment by your editor in my editorial in the September 1987 issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (p. 125). In that comment I referred to this criticism of TSCC as "distorted history, bad science, and misleading attempts to read between the lines," and the 11 preconceived and prejudiced philosophical biases" of the authors. In November Bennetta asked me to provide him with "a list of specifics in this context." Since he indicated he wanted this information for an article he hoped to publish in 1988, and since I think it is important to be as open as possible in discussing controversial issues, I am publishing my reply to Bennetta. I encourage readers, if they have thoughtful and charitable observations on this important issue, to write to us and/or other involved publications.