Letter to the editor


On Snoke's "Unified View of Science and Theology"

From: Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 44 (June 1992): 148.

I generally like Dr. Snoke's approach in his "Toward a Unified View of Science and Theology" (September 1991 Perspectives). But I feel he confuses the overthrow of theology with the abandonment of a scientific theory. Paul said that evidence that Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead would destroy orthodox Christianity (I Corinthians 15:14-19). Because Christianity has a historical fact as its necessary foundation, this would destroy the basis for evangelical theology. This does not parallel a recalcitrant observation upsetting a scientific theory. The cosmos, the basis of science, cannot be destroyed or rendered irrelevant by any observation of it.

When Snoke writes, "Experimental results, archeological digs, historical documents, my inner feelings, and the words of scripture all function as 'sense experience' data" ( p. 169), I fear that he is striving too hard to parallel science and theology. Perhaps he is misled by Wissenschaft, which, like scientia, even includes theology. He may also be following Roger Bacon, who held that all knowledge comes from divine revelation. This revelation was given to the Hebrews, the Babylonians the Egyptians, the Greeks. The divinely given information has been passed down to us correctly in Scripture and corruptly in secular writings. Hence these latter require testing by means of experience. For Bacon, experience includes several levels of mystical illumination. I put little stock in mysticism as a source for theology, let alone science. The phenomena of "illumination" occur as much among Kabbalistic Jews, Muslim Sufis, Zen monks, Hindu adepts, pagan shamans, etc., as with Christians of various degrees of orthodoxy. I hold that the theologian had better hold to Scripture rather than accepting non-biblical traditions and "revelations." The reformers' sola scriptura is a proper standard.

I note also that Snoke's quotation from Roger Bacon (p. 173) expresses Bacon's view that Scripture gives the truth about creation better than philosophy does. The term "philosophy" must be understood broadly as encompassing all human investigations. Centuries later, "natural philosophy" was still the term for empirical science.

Although science, theology, and other areas of study deal with one total universe, we must not push this fact too far. What do I mean? Let me pose a couple of questions. First, is an excited neutral atom angry, happy, harried, joyous, frustrated? What is its emotional state? Second, what is the mass of a white-knuckled clenched-jaw anger? Nonsense questions, you say? Do you mean that emotional terms are nonscientific? That "mass" does not belong in a scientist's vocabulary? In truth, both "mass," "angry," and the other terms are essential to science, but not to all disciplines. "Excited," though important to both physics and psychology, means very different things in the two disciplines. If language may be vital to one scientific discipline and nonsensical within another, why may we not find a similar non-overlap among theology, science, history, philosophy, mathematics, etc.? The methodologies of these various studies are more radically different than those of any two empirical sciences. Consequently, there is some relevance to the "two world" approach that Snoke totally rejects. But it must not be carried too far.

With this we come up against some of the basic problems of being human. These include, first, the tendency to go to extremes rather than to find a balance; second, the tendency to find some parallels and to equate or identify the entities or areas where they appear. The swing of a pendulum rather than an approach to equilibrium marks so many aspects of human history. How often has someone spotted a relevant factor and pushed it much too far, even to the point that MacKay called "nothing-buttery"? The second tendency has long been recognized as false generalization, one of many fallacies. Since we are all human, we need to help each other as much as possible to avoid these and other pitfalls. Even after we have done our united best, though, our fallibility will render our results imperfect. We are neither God incarnate nor divinely inspired prophets and apostles. So humility--more humility than commonly manifested--is appropriate.

David F. Siemens, Jr., Ph.D.

Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
Los Angeles Pierce College