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Nature of the Subject
Interactions between science and Christianity are often mistakenly described under the heading “Science and the Bible.” Little progress can be made, however, until one realizes that such a comparison results from a confusion of categories. Science is the result of human interpretation of God’s original and continuing work in creation, i.e., the universe in which we live. The Bible is God’s revelation given to human beings through the words of the biblical writers. Thus the category comparable to “science” is “theology,” which is the result of human interpretation of God’s Word. The category comparable to “the Bible” is “the universe,” which is given to us by God’s creative activity.
If conflicts appear to arise, they can arise of necessity only between the two kinds of interpretation, between science and theology. We may take as a guiding principle that authentic science, i.e., science faithfully carried out in accordance with its guiding principles of interpretation, cannot be in ultimate conflict with authentic theology, i.e., theology faithfully carried out in accordance with its guiding principles of interpretation. Any apparent conflict must therefore be the result of an incorrect scientific interpretation, an incorrect theological interpretation, or conceivably incorrect interpretations of both. Such apparent conflicts should therefore drive us back to reexamine the interpretations we have made and to be as sure as we can that we have followed the guidelines of authentic science and theology. Within theology these guidelines have been called hermeneutics, and they comprise a variety of principles that we should follow in determining the content of the biblical revelation. Failure to follow these principles results in faulty interpretations, heresy, and apostasy. Within science the corresponding guidelines have been called the scientific method, and they likewise comprise a variety of principles that we should follow in determining the scientific nature of reality. Failure to follow these principles results in faulty interpretations, eccentric ideas, and pseudoscience.
Failure to recognize these distinctions, with the resulting effort to call for a choice between science (seen as fallible human speculation) and the Bible (seen as God’s infallible Word), has often caused confusion for Christians. Of course, no less confusing is the call often heard from non-Christians to choose between science (seen as the only rational approach to life) and the Bible (seen as the subjective speculations of an ancient people).
Limitations of Science
A world view has developed that is sometimes called “scientism.” It assumes that the scientific method is the only reliable guide to knowledge, that scientific truth is the only truth available. If accepted, such a world view would leave no room for a theological perspective on life. Several weaknesses in this world view prevent it from being effective.
(1) Scientism is based on the assumption that the scientific method is the only way to obtain knowledge or truth. But since this assumption cannot itself be derived scientifically, it cannot consistently be considered to be universally true. Philosophically this view cannot be internally consistent but must start with an act of faith.
(2) Scientism has an essentially impersonal orientation and hence is unable to deal with the intrinsically personal aspects of human life. If it attempts to deal with them on its own terms, it reduces them to impersonal mechanisms and thus deprives the human being of personhood.
(3) Scientism does not carry within itself the power to deliver human beings from their problems, but is at the mercy of the choices of those who must decide how to apply the findings of science. Even when the motives of scientists and appliers of science are relatively pure, the applications of technology in an imperfect and complex world generate new imperfections while removing others.
(4) Scientism is incapable of providing the basis for what ought to be done, but can only describe what is. Once again the motive for human living must be provided from a source outside science itself. Attempts to provide a scientific basis for ethics are always a case of unscientifically declaring what is to be the measure of what ought to be.
Importance of Science
Reactions against the excesses of scientism often lead to a wholly relativistic, subjective, and sometimes even irrational view of life. If scientism reduces the human being to a machine, irrationalism reduces the human being to an animal. This pitfall can be avoided if, while recognizing the limitations of science, we are also aware of its importance.
(1) The pursuit of science is generally based on the acceptance of the existence of an objective reality that is not ultimately dependent on human beings. To perceive such an objective reality is to be able to speak of truth and to be delivered from a wholly relativistic view of life and values. The Judeo-Christian world view sees this objective reality to be the created structure of the universe, extending not only throughout the physical realm but throughout the area of interpersonal relationships as well.
(2) The doing of science and the application of science are constant reminders of our need to conform our practice to the structure of the created universe. The truly creative imagination is not one that disregards the materials and principles of this world, but one that brings new insight, new life, and new understanding of reality through the materials and principles of this world.
(3) A scientific understanding also helps us to appreciate the meaning of true freedom. To be free does not mean to disregard with impunity any restrictions, but it means to live creatively and fully with due regard for the constraints and limitations given to us in the structure of the universe. All attempts to bring absolute freedom into practice result in self-destruction. Since irrationalism is a movement largely motivated by the desire for absolute freedom, it carries the seeds of its own failure.
Correlations Between Scientific Descriptions and a Christian Worldview
A scientific description and a theological description are not mutually exclusive alternatives, but necessary descriptions to be held, considered, and integrated at the same time. We view this assertion from five perspectives.
Purpose Science may be defined as a way of knowing based on the human interpretation in natural categories of sense contacts with the universe that can be reproduced and publicly tested. The primary purpose of science is to describe the world in which we live. Various models (e.g., approximations, pictures, projections) describe the real world in a simpler kind of framework. Such models are successful when they describe to a sufficient accuracy what we observe in the natural world and when they allow us to predict new results beyond the original model.
Scientific descriptions are sought to enable us to understand the world and to act creatively within the world. The Christian position provides a foundation that other positions must somehow assume. That it is good to understand, to have a theoretical knowledge of the world, and to be able to control the world in such a way that we can act creatively must be based ultimately, if on anything at all, on the biblical doctrines of creation and providence.
But scientific description does not consist of every possible kind of description, nor does it exclude all other kinds of description. A scientific description is one particular kind of description, made in one particular way, following one particular set of guidelines. Other kinds of description also exist for the same event, process, or being, some of which cannot be tested by the scientific method because they are not susceptible to analysis by sense contacts with the world in the way that scientific descriptions must be.
Every event that happens can properly be considered in at least two ways. One way is to say, “What is the description of this event in terms of natural cause and effect categories? What is the scientific description?” But we must also ask, “What is the meaning of this event? What is the purpose of this event? How does this event relate to God, to His purposes, to the flow of history, to ultimate reality? What is the theological description?”
It is essential to realize the possibility of—indeed the necessity of—parallel descriptions, different kinds of descriptions that are not mutually exclusive but which reinforce each other although they are derived from asking different kinds of questions. If this were done consistently, we would be able to overcome many of our own conflicts and those of the history of Christianity and science by leaving open the possibility that we need to look at things in more than one way in order to see them in their totality. Such problems as brain vs. mind, body vs. soul, physical vs. spiritual, determinism vs. free will, natural vs. supernatural, Calvinism v. Arminianism, nonliving vs. living, evolution vs. creation—all these supposed conflicts ought not to be thought to involve contradictory and exclusive descriptions so that either one or the other must be chosen. Rather they often represent situations in which one must ultimately choose both options, using them one at a time as one attempts to answer different kinds of questions.
Possibility The question “Why is science possible?” cannot be simply glossed over. Those who assume a non-Christian position do not hesitate to ask Christians, “Does God exist?” Then this question is followed with the inevitable, “Prove it.” But a ready response is to ask, “Is science possible?” The non-Christian would reply, “Oh yes, of course.” Then must follow the request, “Prove it.” Of course, it cannot be proved except by the doing. The doing gives evidence for its possibility, and the situation with respect to God’s existence is quite similar. The evidence that God exists can be known only through relationship with Him. Just as one cannot possibly do science while believing it to be impossible, one cannot possibly know whether God exists while believing that He does not.
The possibility of science in the Christian perspective once again depends upon the biblical doctrines of creation and providence.
Because God has created it is possible for us to investigate and to continue the pursuit of science. That there should be a structure of reality suitable for scientific investigation must be either a fantastic result of pure chance, or it must be based on the Christian position of creation and providence.
Many scientists and philosophers have reflected about the finely tuned nature of the universe upon which the very possibility of human life critically depends. If any of several fundamental aspects of the universe were slightly different than they are, life would never have arisen. One may propose two possible answers: (1) There are and have been an effectively infinite number of universes with all of the possible variations of fundamental properties. Just by pure chance our universe happened to come into being as one of this infinite variety, and since the properties just happened to all fit together properly, human life developed. (2) The finely tuned nature of this universe’s parameters testifies to the activity of One who called this particular universe into being for His own purposes (a modern form of the classical teleological argument for the existence of God).
Presuppositions A Christian sees science as possible because it is reasonable to step out in faith on the basis of the biblical doctrines of creation and providence.
Some of the presuppositions of science that are needed in order to step out in faith include the following: (1) the world is understandable through rational processes of the human mind; (2) the human mind can conceive analogies and models that adequately describe the natural world; (3) natural phenomena are reproducible in some general and universal sense; and (4) discernible patterns of order exist.
Why should these presuppositions be accepted? The Christian answer is that they are reasonable because there is a given structure, there is an objective reality, and there is subject matter for the pursuit of science. Furthermore, we are made in the image of God and thus have the possibility of understanding at least partially what this structure is like.
Posture The posture of science is defined by the fact that a structure of reality has been given to us, to which we must be open. In doing science, the universe is normative, not the scientist. Scientists must subject themselves to the world, not subject the world to themselves. Of course modern science in particular reminds us that when we interact with the world, the results that we see are often a consequence of that total interaction and not just a passive world on which we operate. But it remains true that the scientists’ endeavor is to find out not what should be, not what might be, nor what could be, but only what is; they must do their best to find out what is from the world, rather than trying to impose their ideas arbitrarily upon it.
If this posture is viable, the basis for it must once again be found in the biblical doctrines of creation and providence. A created structure is given to us; our pursuit of the knowledge of truth requires us not to fabricate or invent a structure but to determine to the best of our ability what that given structure is.
Once this posture of openness is adopted, we have freedom in our scientific activity, i.e., freedom from conflict between our preconceptions of what we must find in science and what we do find in science. If we attempt to force a scientific perspective upon theology, the effect is bad theology; if we attempt to force a theological or philosophical perspective upon science the effect is bad science. There is no need for either. Our scientific description cannot necessarily be expected to be identical to our theological description; if this were the case, we would not have the need for both. But we do need both kinds of description since they are complementary and not mutually exclusive.
Any attempts to dictate the results of scientific inquiry from convictions derived from philosophy, politics, metaphysics, religion, or any other ideology is a violation of the posture of science, which must be one of openness before the given structure of reality. Success in science demands this same posture of openness of both Christian and non-Christian alike.
Potential Since science is a human endeavor, it has no more intrinsic claim to universal helpfulness than any other human endeavor. A scientific investigation does not prescribe its own applications. Thus science is not a competitor with Christian faith but a helper; it enables us to exercise our moral and ethical directives intelligently rather than foolishly.
The potential of science is to be one means of service to the world. It is not the only means of service, but it can inform and guide many types of service. Just as science can serve as an ally and help to the living out of the Christian faith, the realistic faith required to carry on science in spite of the ambivalence of its consequences requires trust in God’s ultimate control over all things.
There are three basic ways of responding to the increase in human knowledge about the universe.
(1) The growth of human understanding has liberated human beings from superstitions and rituals. Human beings now no longer need the crutch of religion. In the future all things are possible for human beings as they take control of their own destiny.
(2) The growth of human knowledge is at least in part the consequence of the human desire to exalt oneself and to relive the drama of the tower of Babel. We are mistaken in attempting to answer as many questions as we can through science. It is inappropriate for us to continue with scientific investigation of some areas that are better left to God alone, and we should deliberately reject any responsibility for dealing with these areas. God took care of them in the past, and we should leave them alone rather than trying to “play God.”
(3) It is certainly true that the increase in human ability to do things does outstrip human moral responsibility. But just as we cannot plunge ahead with technological pursuit in the belief that it will eventually deliver us, neither can we forsake the responsibility and choices that our current technology places upon us. Rather we must assess present choices and seek to inform future decisions with all of the moral and practical wisdom available to us. For the Christian the basis for this moral wisdom must come from a personal relationship with God, which is then shared with the community.
Each of these three positions has implications about God and our relationship with Him. The first supposes that God, if He ever existed, is no longer necessary; very likely the concept of “God” was born of fear and ignorance in primitive human beings as an explanation for the unknown and as a palliative for insecurity. The second supposes that God is constantly striving with human beings to prevent their increase in knowledge, but that human beings nevertheless do continue to learn more and more. This knowledge is seen as a threat against belief in God, which is ultimately based on the fact that we are and must remain ignorant in areas of our experience that are reserved for God’s activity. Both the first and the second positions agree in an important perspective—they regard God as the explanation for unexplainable phenomena in the world. The first dispenses with God as these phenomena become explainable, while the second tries to prevent the explanation of these phenomena in natural terms so as to reserve some place for God.
The third position recognizes that all increase in human knowledge is obtained through either the active or the passive activity of God. God has brought us to our present technological stage, and God is able to bring us through our difficulties in making responsible choices in an increasingly complex world. Future choices must neither be rejected completely nor taken lightly without due consideraton of God’s purpose in the world and of the nature of humanity made in the image of God. Only this third position recognizes that God is Lord of the natural and the supernatural, that a natural description of a natural event does not eliminate God as the sustainer of that event, and that God must be Lord in all of life, not just in small recesses of ignorance reserved for Him.
The attitude toward God illustrated in the first and second positions, i.e., that our evidence for the existence and activity of God is found primarily in those events for which human explanations are lacking, has been called the “God-of-the-gaps.” It is one of the classical errors of Christian theology through the years in dealing with a scientific understanding of the universe. The argument states that we may now know much about physics, chemistry, biology, etc., but certain key physical, chemical, or biological mechanisms must forever elude us because such mechanisms do not in fact exist. These gaps in natural description are filled only by the recognition that God acts directly in these gaps above and beyond any physical, chemical, or biological mechanism. In this interpretation God remains the “Great Mechanician,” and the possibility of a complete physical, chemical, or biological description—even in principle—is forever ruled out by the very existence and activity of God.
The continuous chain of evidence in the physical and biological sciences is so compelling that most knowledgeable Christians today recognize the fallacy of the God-of-the-gaps approach. They see that such an advocacy results in the paradox of less and less evidence for the existence and activity of God resulting from more and more knowledge of His creation. They emphasize the importance of seeing God in all phenomena, the natural as much as the supernatural, and of recognizing that the very existence of the material universe depends continuously upon the sustaining activity of God. Today many Christians are willing to admit that a complete description in physical and biological categories may well be possible, at least in principle, without calling upon God as being the missing mechanism in these categories, but they do not conclude that this invalidates descriptions in other categories as well.
Many modes of common speech add to the confusion in this area. Well-meaning Christians speak of God as intervening in the natural order, overruling natural law, or using natural law to achieve His purposes. The inappropriateness of such phrases is made clear when we understand the biblical picture of God as the continuing source of the existence of the entire space-time universe, so that any event that takes place in that universe must be ultimately viewed as dependent upon the activity of God. What are often referred to as “natural laws” do not have some kind of independent existence of their own; indeed, scientific laws are human descriptions of God’s normal mode of free activity. Thus scientific laws are descriptive, not prescriptive. Scientific laws do not cause things to happen; rather such laws describe the regular ways that we observe things happening. To speak of God as “intervening” into the natural order supposes that a natural order exists independent of God; but no such natural order exists since the only order there is depends moment by moment upon the continuing free activity of God for its very existence. Likewise God has no need to “overrule” natural law, since natural law is our human description of the way that God normally acts; nor can God “use” natural law as if it were a hammer or a shovel, since once again such laws are our descriptions of God’s free activity. In this perspective an understanding of miracles follows directly: miracles are the result of God’s free activity expressing itself according to His purpose in ways not normally observed by us. See Miracle.
Meaning of “Human”
Nowhere is the issue of integration between science and Christian faith more critical than in those areas where scientific knowledge affects and influences human values. In each such case the Christian must recognize the data from science and the data from biblical theology and arrive at an integration that is faithful to both disciplines. The identity of the human being will come increasingly under challenge as scientific advances show more ways in which the attributes and personality of human beings can be influenced by chemical, psychological, and sociological influences. The push to deliver human beings from the effects of sin without recognizing the full relational dimensions of the reality of sin threatens to be successful, but only at the expense of the ultimate dehumanization of human beings.
One of the difficulties in speaking about such issues is the common lack of an in-depth understanding of what it means to be human. We frequently take this understanding for granted, but such an attitude is quickly shown to be superficial, and the gaining of this understanding represents a basic problem in the integration of Christian thought into the real world.
Careful consideration and integration of data from both scientific and biblical sources support the view that a human being is a pneumopsychosomatic unity, i.e., a human being is a whole person with attributes that can be described in a variety of more detailed ways, most common among which are bodily (Gk. sṓma, “body”), soulful (psychḗ, “soul”) and spiritual (pneúma, “breath” “spirit”) descriptions. Human beings are bodily creatures because their existence as human beings in this world depends upon their biological structure and constitution. Human beings are soulful creatures because they are alive, self-conscious, and personal. Human beings are spiritual creatures because they have the ability and responsibility for personal relationship with one another and with God. These words express respectively the normal criteria for humanity: the biological criterion of genotype, the social criterion of behavior, and the spiritual criterion of relationship with God.
Again much traditional terminology in this area needs to be carefully rethought. In many cases traditional ways of speaking lead almost unconsciously to ways of thinking that cannot be supported by consideration of either biblical or scientific data. Most common is reference to “life,” “soul,” or “spirit” as things that we as human beings have; reflection indicates that a more consistent manner of speech leads us to refer to “being alive,” “being soulful,” and “being spiritual” as expressions of what human beings are.
The human being does not have life; the human being is alive. The human being does not have a body, a soul, a spirit; the human being is a body-soul-spirit, that unique living creature made in the image of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ, and destined in Christ (for those who receive Him in faith) to be raised again to living experience as a whole person.
Immortality as an intrinsic property of humanity is a heritage from Greek Platonism; in biblical thought immortality is a future gift of God to be bestowed upon those whom He will raise in Christ at the resurrection.
To be human is to be involved in a process. The possession of a human genotype assures that an individual is wholly human; but to become fully human in the sense of achieving the intention of creation requires the process of bodily development, social maturation, and divine sanctification. All life involving the human genotype is human life, but critical value decisions are still needed when one form of human life comes into conflict with other forms of human life.
The biblical doctrine of creation is far more than an historical option; it is a fundamental necessity that drives a sharp wedge between competing world views and perspectives on the nature of the human being. It stands in unique opposition to naturalism’s denial of meaning and purpose in the universe, to dualism’s acceptance of other elements in the universe as coeternal with God, and to pantheism’s denial of the metaphysical differences between God and the universe. Out of the many possible models for the human being, the biblical model presents one in which human beings are creatures like other creatures, and yet are creatures made in the image of God and hence unlike other creatures. It establishes both the transcendence and immanence of God, and reveals that evil is not intrinsic to the created universe but is a moral aberration upon that good creation.
Unfortunately, contemporary debates frequently obscure the issue by posing creation and evolution as two mutually exclusive options, as though one must choose between a biblically sound faith that supports creation and an atheistic, Bible-contradicting position that supports evolution. Once again we encounter a fundamental case of category confusion. Two major world views are in possible conflict: Creation and Evolutionism; and two mechanisms of creation are in possible conflict: fiat creation and evolution. The world view of Evolutionism explicitly rejects God, meaning, and purpose in the universe, and certainly must be rejected by a Christian. There is, however, no a priori reason why a world view based on creation, as biblically described above, cannot be consistent with either the mechanism of instantaneous creation (usually called fiat creation), or of creation by process in time (usually called evolution), or of any other presently unknown phenomena that may express the actual activity of God in creation.
Ample scientific evidence suggests that living creatures undergo changes in physical and biological structures, particularly in response to changes in environmental conditions. This is the basic scientific foundation for evolutionary theory; it is supplemented by a growing body of understanding at the biochemical level as relationships between details of genetic expression are clarified. The general theory of evolution, which supposes that all living forms developed from less complex forms that in turn developed from nonliving matter, is a reasonable hypothesis that attempts to integrate the type of observable changes mentioned above with the fossil record and other evidences of age and change in earth’s history. It remains true, however, that no complete quantitative theory of evolution has been formulated. Any attempt to calculate quantitatively the probability of evolutionary developments leading to the present state of affairs, on the basis of our present knowledge of evolutionary mechanisms, leads to the inevitable conclusion that something very improbable has happened.
Some Christians display their antipathy to evolution in the form of an attack on the scientific merits of the general theory. The motive for this attack has not primarily been scientific concern, however; two other issues are of more concern to these Christians. The first motive is the Christian opposition to philosophical systems based on the extrascientific supposition that evolution is a universal principle guiding all meaningful considerations and generally leading to some form of humanism or to aberrations with more destructive import—what we have called Evolutionism. Christian antievolutionists have properly opposed these philosophical extrapolations, but they have done so by attacking the scientific basis for the biological theory. If anti-Christian evolutionists have been mistaken in extrapolating from a biological theory to philosophical conclusions, Christian antievolutionists have been equally mistaken in attacking a scientific theory for philosophical reasons.
The second motive for the attack of Christian antievolutionists is perhaps even more basic. They have concluded that the general theory of evolution and the Genesis Creation account are mutually exclusive. They have seen advocacy of the general theory as a direct assault on the reliability, authority, and integrity of the Bible. Here they have uncritically accepted specific traditional interpretations of these biblical passages without thoroughly evaluating the revelational purpose behind their writing. They have been so concerned to demonstrate that evolution contradicts their interpretation of Genesis that they have not paid attention to the possibility that their interpretation of Genesis might contradict the biblical nature of this very revelation. If anti-Christian evolutionists have been at fault in concluding that acceptance of the general theory precludes acceptance of the biblical revelation, so also Christian antievolutionists have been at fault in concluding that acceptance of the biblical revelation precludes acceptance of the general theory.
Evolution is ultimately a scientific question on the biological level, and on this level the reliability of the general theory must be estabished. While maintaining the truth and the significance of the biblical teaching on creation, Christians can also remain open to a variety of possibilities in which God manifested His creative activity. We need not reconstruct our theology around evolution; neither must we reject evolution to protect our theology. Evolution can be considered without denying creation; creation can be accepted without excluding evolution. Since an evolutionary description need not be ruled out a priori by biblical considerations, the Christian has the freedom to pursue wherever biblical and scientific integrity lead in the future.
The choices in a scientific description are of only two types: in terms of exact mathematical relations with the possibility of exact prediction of the future from knowledge of the present (a deterministic description), or in terms of a probabilistic approach (often called “chance” in science), in which the future predictions of the description can deal only with the probability of events occurring, not with their certainty. To say that a scientific description is a chance description implies only that our present abilities lead us to describe it in a statistical rather than a deterministic manner. Many examples can be cited to show the danger in assigning ultimate philosophical or metaphysical meaning to the terms “determinism” and “chance” used in scientific descriptions. Determinism can be the instrument of design, but so can chance; the creativity expressed in the creation of the multiplicity of human beings is expressed scientifically through the chance assignment of genetic configurations.
The form of the paradox in which determinism is pitted against free will has both a secular and a theological content. In a secular sense the issue is whether human beings are so controlled by their genetic and environmental factors that their choices flow inevitably from these factors, with any indication of actual choice being nothing more than an internalized illusion, or whether human beings can indeed make responsible choices above and beyond the aspects of life that form their living context. In a theological sense the paradox is well-known as the historical Calvinist/Arminian controversy: whether a person’s coming to saving faith is the inevitable consequence of God’s determining election, or whether a person’s coming to faith is an act of free human choice among equally possible alternatives. As usual some attention to the definition and meaning of these two terms is helpful. It is quickly realized that both determinism and free will taken in an absolute sense are idealizations rather than faithful descriptions of reality. On the one hand, no event can be said to be absolutely determined; on the other hand, no will can be said to be absolutely free. If it is true that the Christian responds to the paradox (not the contradiction) of God’s sovereignty vs. human responsibility by holding both facets in tension, recognizing that they address different questions in different contexts, then perhaps a clue can be obtained from the theological to guide a response to the secular dilemma.
Attempts to resolve the determinism vs. free will controversy in terms of some neat dichotomy are an illusion. These two aspects of reality are interwoven so that they form more the two aspects of one reality than two competing absolute world views.
Attempts to relate the forms of scientific description to the realities of personal life are equally nonproductive. A deterministic scientific description appears most compatible with a responsible human choice but is commonly believed to make such responsible choices impossible. Relief from determinism through an appeal to chance appears to make other options possible, but a responsible choice is not one of them, since it is hardly compatible with random noncaused activity.
People dealing with determinism and free will must abandon the search for a general answer and must ask instead: “To what extent am I determined, and at the same time to what extent am I free?” Appropriate areas and interactions for both exist within the context of a meaningful human life.
Christian Responsibilities in Science and Engineering
Great cultural patterns and convictions stand in the way of the responsible care of planet earth, patterns and convictions that commonly aspire to the status of religious categories in the lives of those who hold them. Materialism is usually accepted without reflection as the guiding principle for success in life, but materialism values things above all else and will sacrifice all for the possession of more things. Profit making as the sole motivating spirit of economics and production in a competitive system cannot afford to be consciously responsible if profits are threatened, and automatic responsibility as a natural consequence of the system appears to be a discredited illusion. All economic systems founder on the basic self-centeredness of the human heart, and Christian realism demands acknowledgement of this reality in any attempts to improve the system. Nationalism, racism, and ethnicism are all ways in which individual self-centeredness is generalized to a larger group and made a virtue rather than a vice.
A special responsibility falls upon Christians in charge of scientific research and technological development. They must be responsible both to use resources wisely in the pursuit of basic understanding and practical applications, and to choose projects that appear to maximize benefits for the human race. A scientist or engineer cannot simply sell his talents to any legal bidder without becoming responsible for the outcome of his investigations. Thus to be a practicing scientist or engineer in certain situations may indeed not be possible for a Christian.
A Christian view of human responsibility with respect to the environment is based on the biblical doctrine of Creation. The natural world has value in itself because it was made by God Himself. Human beings are not the owners of the natural world, nor is the only purpose of the natural world to serve them. God has provided the resources of the world for the benefit of people and has entrusted them with the responsibility of caring for these resources so that they may be used in the best way for all people. We must not forget that we are part of the natural world and hence are direct participants in the ecology, and that we are responsible for the natural world in a way assigned to no other creature. But such human awareness cannot be evoked by only an intellectual enumeration of the things that must be done in order to save the earth from further pollution and exploitation; a knowledge of what must be done must be coupled with a personal will to do it, a motivation that has no ultimate source except a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Scientific and theological descriptions may be related in five fundamental patterns. The first two approaches are based on the assumption that there is only one primary method of description and that other descriptions must be derived from it. (1) In the theology-first approach a scientific description derived from a theological source takes precedence over a scientific description derived from scientific investigations. (2) In the symmetric science-first approach theological descriptions must be derived from scientific descriptions in order to be relevant and meaningful.
The other three approaches are based on the assumption that both scientific and theological descriptions can be constructed from activities within the two disciplines. (3) Scientific descriptions and theological descriptions give the same kind of information about the same kinds of categories. This leads to a conflict approach in which apparent disagreement between the two descriptions must be settled by determining which is right and which is wrong. (4) Scientific descriptions and theological descriptions give different kinds of information about different kinds of categories. This compartmentalization approach allows no interaction between the two types of description. (5) Scientific descriptions and theological descriptions give different kinds of information about the same kinds of categories. This complementarity approach allows one to integrate insights from the different scientific and theological disciplines.
When applied to the observed hierarchical structure of the scientific description of the universe, theology-first leads to a God-of-the-gaps, science-first leads to a scientific pseudo-theology, conflict leads to a rejection of either scientific or theological descriptions, and compartmentalization allows both types of descriptions to exist but removes their fundamental meaning and significance; only complementarity provides a framework within which one can arrive at an integration of scientific and theological elements to describe God’s activity in creating and sustaining the universe.
R. H. Bube
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