Science in Christian Perspective
Caring for Science under Friendly Fire
Thaddeus J. Trenn*
Box 639 RR 4
Colborne, Ontario CANADA
From: PSCF 48 (September 1996): 180-181.
"Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies" (2 Tim. 2:23-25), Paul admonished the youthful Timothy, cautioning vigilance, for there will ever be those "craving for controversies and for disputes about words" (1 Tim. 6:4). Yet if you must correct opponents, he added, then "do so in a spirit of gentleness." (2 Tim. 2:25).
For many people today, it would appear that science and religion are either in combat or incommensurable. Science purportedly has displaced any use for religion or God. One well-meaning corrective offered in a variety of forms is to replace the naturalistic metaphysics normally associated with natural science with an alternative metaphysic more in tune with theistic belief. Presumably this would save science from itself in some redemptive fashion. Many related issues have contentiously arisen of late that require attention, for misunderstanding abounds presenting a blockage to belief: a scandalous impasse to believers and unbelievers alike. Typically part of the difficulty is terminology. But there are also deeper sources of divisiveness that lurk beneath the surface, since we are dealing here with matters that involve the heart, will, and spirit of every person. It is precisely because this situation transcends mere academic concern that I have felt compelled to attempt to exercise the Pauline formula. Caring for science to me is an issue of deep pastoral care. Yet all I can offer are some insights gained over years of experience and academic learning ˇ perhaps "like a bridge over troubled waters" as Paul Simon would sing ˇ to reach the heart, the hub of this vexed matter.
Many, if not all, of the contending voices share concern for establishing claims for Divine authority in both creation and Scripture. I share these concerns. I also share concern for the facile dismissal of God as irrelevant, so prevalent in the world today. I did not always have this conviction, but learned the hard Pauline way. Of course, we need to help place God back into people's minds, hearts, and souls. But to do this requires far more in the way of prayer and patience and far, far less in the way of intellectual agility and altercation. While I strongly sympathize with those who see signs of intelligent design in the universe, it is simply not good enough to lord it over those who, for one reason or another, fail as yet to see things in this way. The head and the heart are very far apart. It has been said by sages of old, as well as today, that "The Fool has said in his heart that there is no God" (Ps. 14:1). In my own agnostic days, although I could not, of course, grasp the deep meaning of it all with my head, I too was never a proactive "heart-fool." So, although I share common cause with much of the general thrust and sentiment voiced in various quarters, I feel obliged gently to expose some points of confusion permeating this complex area of interaction. For the resulting contention, to Satan's glee, is quite counterproductive.
Let me highlight just a few of the points which are presented here in a generic way without designating names or schools of thought.
1. Science is inherently opposed to religion. It carries with it a presumption of agnosticism or even atheism. One implication of this would be that most scientists are closet atheists.
2. Science espouses a naturalistic metaphysic which only exacerbates the first point.
3. Science presumably could be corrected, improved (redeemed as it were) if it were to replace this naturalistic (allegedly atheistic) metaphysics with one more attuned to theism.
These three represent just a few of the minefields for contention. Even a cursory reading of the current literature reveals vying positions concerning intelligent design, creation and evolution, and many other issues that are directly related. The July 1995 ASA meeting confronted, once again, the vexed special issue of "missing" intermediate forms and other complaints about evolution. I urge us all to transcend these details and contentious alternatives, important as these may be in their own right, to regain a sense of perspective. There is infinitely more at stake here than being in the right about intelligent design and related matters.
This is a highly complex topic. Let me merely try to set out aphoristically what I see as some salient points requiring attention. Then let us hone in on why the entire matter is of such serious concern.
Evidence is not self-evident or faith-neutral, but it is subject to interpretation according to the belief patterns of the individual or group.
The issues are explicitly not to be construed in terms of science versus faith, but to be explained by assessing the underlying faith-type presuppositions operative in every case ˇ whether theistic or non-theistic.
Choosing between design and lack of design is a matter of belief, not of scientific knowledge or fact. Yet what we choose to believe may miss the mark.
Natural science and its methodology must be distinguished from what can be called "forensic science" which is more appropriate for the art of persuasion and judicial interpretation of evidence. Natural science, which deals with the general case, involves a style of thinking incompatible with concern for the particular instance and special cases as might typically be found in a court of law. Put succinctly, scientists and lawyers don't share a common mentality.
Science deals with high probabilities. and so it ought properly to abstain from conclusions involving accumulations or congeries of improbabilities.
"Grace" has been defined by Peck as a "pattern of highly improbable events with a beneficial outcome."
Some mysteries must remain forever beyond explanation.
Reasons for Serious Concern
To give a sense of overall direction, let me remind you of what I mentioned about the road from the head to the heart. At the center of it all is the difference between the God of creation and God as Redeemer. As Christians, we might espouse the distinction primarily in terms of understanding and awareness. Everyone, however, is not a Christian; many are not believers in any god. Yet as Christians we believe that God created every person in his own image and likeness. This has profound implications, it seems to me, for how one is to discover from where he or she came. Whatever conclusions one may draw with the aid of the intellect and reason, these will ultimately pale into insignificance in the face of redemptive love. The fundamental level which ultimately counts concerns potential encounters between each created person and his or her Creator.
The crucial point is succinctly and most poignantly stated by Simone Weil with her characteristic simplicity:
Until God has taken possession of him, no human being can have faith, but only simple belief; and it hardly matters whether or not he has such a belief, because he will arrive at faith equally well through disbelief.
Encounters with the Creator God as God the Redeemer are available to each person whether a scientist or not, whether religiously inclined or not. Yet it is here that we discover just why we ought to care so deeply about science, just as it is. The sense of awe which the findings of genuine science proclaim clearly lends itself to the deeper encounter, whatever formal belief state may be operative in a person at some particular time. We are all groping for God, and science happens to be for some a handy and effective way to grope! It is this view of science, as stepping stones along the path to God that is so crucial, by which persons using their God-given reason and intelligence may seek to enhance the innate sense of belief that they have in their heart of hearts whatever they may profess outwardly.
The ranks of science are filled, I'd wager, with closet Christians and believers of diverse sorts. Many a scientist has had his or her own "foxhole" experience. Sadly, professional norms may exact a price for those who forthrightly state their own heart position as a matter of true witnessing. This, of course, in no way means that such a one should turn around and encumber their science either methodologically or metaphysically with what they have come to understand. A scientist who is a Christian is a scientist with a wider perspective about the findings of science, as British Charles Coulson pointed out. Such a one does not engage in a different kind of science from his colleagues.
Instead of attempting to introduce an alternative metaphysic into scienceˇas if one first had to be converted even to do proper scienceˇit would be more beneficial to reflect again upon the model of Coulson. It is the scientist as a person who gains the wider perspective in virtue of his conversion. It is not science as a discipline that requires some sort of redemption. To elevate, as it were, science to some ethereal realm would ipso facto deprive sincere individuals of science as their principal means by which to grope for God. If such a strategy were effective, many who are as yet unable to switch over into such a belief mode would be disenfranchised from even getting started on the quest. Again, it is the scientist as believer who can see more and deeper into the very same phenomena available to all scientists. It is this heightened sense of awareness made possible by the personal response of the individual to God the Creator now experienced as the God of Redemption that brings this about.
On a related point, it would not be helpful to pursue a sort of hierarchy of science, as if the "regular" naturalistic science were somehow inferior to a theistic science. This would do injustice to the discipline and jeopardize its essential communal character. It is entirely understandable that one theistically inclined would wish to share these insights with nonbelievers. But the effort to be helpful is fraught with danger, for again it removes from the unbeliever the very means available for groping. This is a variation of the problem of conversion. Once a person has "arrived" and has begun truly to believe, his highest wish is that his friends should benefit and learn to share this perspective. One wishes to be helpful so that others may see in this new and better way. However, it is not helpful to try and force things. What is required is a great deal of patience and humility to realize that God calls all persons to himself according to his ways and timing.
There is yet another aspect of construing science, with its inherent methodological naturalism, as somehow inferior or opprobrious. Things are not always what they seem. The conclusions drawn by science on one level common for all to understand do not necessarily rule out a deeper sense of reality. By this I do not mean simply a game of hidden variables. Rather, it is simply that God has created and is creating in his own time and in his own ways. We are not privy to his ways. It is presumptuous and a non sequitur of science to claim that God is not present and creating. But it would be equally presumptuous to assert that by some source of insight or special information, including Scripture, that we could know the real answers. Either way it would be the height of prideful arrogance to claim to know the mind of God the Creator. Even if we could somehow fathom the mystery of creation and decipher the manifest intelligent design behind it all, what good would it bring us on our pilgrimage? The pinnacle of such an adventure could at best yield a variant of Deism, for we would still know only about creation ˇ the God of Creation would allegedly be patent for the privileged ones. Well, yes and no ˇ and more to the point, so what! The distance between the head and the heart can be measured in megamiles and parsecs.
On our long journey home, all the head knowledge about the God of creation simply pales in the light of the God of redemptive love. Humility is essential, so too a heart open with responsive love. Neither scientists nor religionists have the inside track on either of these virtues. Every person is sought out in God's unique way. I wish everyone a profoundly spiritual bon voyage. Please help take care of science, for it is the very best "head start" that many of us could ever have along the way.