Science in Christian Perspective
Putting Things in Perspective
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Durham NH 03824
From: PSCF 41 (June 1989): 65-66.
In January 1989 the evangelical publication ETERNITY closed its doors after 40 years of providing the Christian public with both challenging and informative analysis of news and issues. In spite of the plethora of evangelical magazines-some general, some with a very selective agenda-ETERNITY will be missed. I think it is fitting, therefore, although not originally planned as an "obituary" to another publication, that we have as a guest editorial in this issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, R. C. Sproul's column from the November, 1988 issue of ETERNITY. Dr. Sproul writes: "As Christians assimulate new discoveries in natural sciences, it is important that they approach the problem with a sound concept of the providence of God." These are words that get at the heart of what ASA is all about. As we recognize that 11 nature is a book of revelation that is to be studied with no less care than is demanded by sacred Scriptures, , we need to be constantly reminded of our finite and often fallible interpretation of both nature and Scripture. We need to be hesitant about defending our pet ideas of nature and/or Scripture, and appreciate that in both areas our finite minds are wrestling with and trying t apply infinite truth. Thank you Dr. Sproul and ETERNITY.
Some of the subject areas with which ASA and this journal are concerned (philosophy of science and evolution, for example) are of tremendous importance in our sometimes feeble efforts to establish paradigms that are truly biblical. These deliberations are important as we seek to resolve differences between Christian and nonchristian and even among fellow members of the Christian community. However, to this editor, who has been a biologist for fifty years, the most alarming danger facing this earth and the human race is the rapidly increasing deterioration of our global environment. When I read the "pessimists" (the realists?) I am convinced that, even if they are only half correct, I as a Christian as well as a biologist must be concerned about what we sinful human beings are doing to God's creation, including our "neighbors" all over the world.
When I read the optimists-rarely, if ever, are these people biologists!-l get angry at their callous disregard for the obvious: pollution, overpopulation, and unjust use of God-given resources are increasing before our very eyes. The optimists just fail to read the clear handwriting on the wall. Human society has been weighed in the balances and found wanting. At a time when we should be Daniels or Josephs, we are all too often like Belzhazzar or Pharaoh before his dream.
Having expressed this deep personal concern about the future of our selfish, materialistic, and hedonistic culture it should not be surprising that I was pleased with the positive editorial reviews of the lead paper in this issue. Edwin Squiers, using the incident of Belshazzar s feast in the book of Daniel, reminds us of some of the apocalyptic possibilities of our greedy lifestyles. Even if the "greenhouse effect" is not an absolute certainty, there is enough evidence of global warming and awareness of the possible factors involved that we should at least be concerned. Deforestation and wholesale species extinctions should alarm us. The well documented depletion of the ozone layer and its almost certain relation to specific human activities should cause us to consider changing at least some of our profligate habits. The obvious dependence on Middle East oil should warn us, even if we are not pessimistic i)pemillenialists, that this is a dangerous and explosive situation. Dr. Squiers clearly compares the handwriting on the wall of Daniel's time with these signs of our time. I, for one, echo his cry: "Somebody go get Daniel."
The major theme for the ASA's Annual Meeting this year, scheduled for Indiana Wesleyan University in August, is bioethics. (That our technologically sophisticated society is faced with awe-inspiring ethical dilemmas is evidenced by, among other events, the ten-part series presented earlier this year on public television: "Ethics in America.") Lewis Bird of the Christian Medical and Dental Society discusses some of the basic principles of bioethics as they apply to the problem of genetic engineering. Noting that, "Like many twentieth-century technologies, genetic engineering can become yet another power struggle," he quotes C. S. Lewis' wise remark that "what we call Man's power over nature turns out to be power exercised by some men over others with Nature as its instrument. " It is certainly imperative that Christians realize the existence of these problems, familiarize ourselves with their complexities, seriously wrestle with how we should respond in an ethical and compassionate manner. Dr. Bird gives us some important guidelines for this task.
To many people, educated as well as uneducated, theology (or religion) and science are two opposing camps competing for our allegiance. Furthermore, science is often deified to the exclusion of religious faith, and biblical Christianity is often presented by its adherents with propositions that ridicule scientific endeavors. One of the leading figures who, on the basis of knowledge of both theology and physics, has written much on the integration of science and theology is Thomas Torrance. In this issue of Perspectives, Jim Neidhardt gives us a detailed analysis of the work of Professor Torrance with particular reference to a comparison of Torrance's approach to theology with the approach of James Clerk Maxwell to science.
Theologian and mathematician, Bruce Hedman concludes his discussion of "Mathematics, Cosmology, and the Contingent Universe" with the following:
Modern scientific models of the universe offer a more bospitable arena for the discussion of Christian theology than did their predecessors in the last century. When the universe was thought of as closed, necessitarian, and incontingent certain questions basic to Christian thought were dismissed out-of-hand as invalid. An incontingent universe precludes any revelation from outside itself. Today scientific thinking about the contingent universe allows a rapprochement with Christian thinking, that together they may work toward an interdisciplinary understanding of the created universe.
Hedman demonstrates that such a conclusion is based on the three cosmological indicators of contingence: time, the finite extent of the universe, and Godel's theorem.
John Armstrong, in a communication, relates his re-discovery" of John Ray, seventeenth-century scientist and philosopher, through his reading of Ray's Three Physico-Theological Discourses- "buried treasure."
Raymond J. Seeger continues his biographical series of scientists and their religious faith with an informative communication on Francis Bacon, "Iconoclastic Herald."
Definitions of words are basic to our understanding of all major concepts, and this is especially true in controversial areas. Hence the importance of Richard Bube's regular column in this journal: "Penetrating the Word Maze." In this issue, his key words are "natural" and "supernatural," an important distinction and a distinction touched on in R. C. Sproul's guest editorial when he defines and illustrates the dif ferences between the "mediate" and the "immediate" works of God. I trust that in ASA and in this journal, whether we are discussing evolution, creation, environment, ethics, or anything else, we will constantly strive to define our vocabulary carefully. Such a concern should be a major function of our reviewers and of our authors. And we can't be too careful! I recently received a letter in response to my comments on the criticisms of Teaching Science in a Climate of Controversy. The writer was justifiably concerned with my failure to define "special creation." I did not explain that I was using it in its original sense to refer to the creation of "species," and hence based on the no-longer defensible concept of the "fixity of species." And that goes back to a basic biological dilemma: "What is a species?" Modern quantitative, immunological, and genetic approaches to this problem have added an overwhelming amount of information to this question, but if anything, the answer is more elusive than ever. We can't define a "species" in a manner that satisfies all biologists, whether they work with viruses, worms, or birds. Therefore, the limitations of "speciation," "microevolution," or "macroevolution," cannot be spelled out to everyone's satisfaction. In ASA we need to recognize both the importance and the difficulty of defining key words, especially those that are so often used carelessly and even emotionally in the important controversies of our time.
PERSPECTIVES ON SCIENCE AND CHRISTIAN FAITH