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Salient: An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University of Wellington. Vol. 24, No. 5. 1961

Salient Supplememt — V.U.W.E.U. Mission 1961 — "Science Needs Christianity"

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Salient Supplememt

V.U.W.E.U. Mission 1961

"Science Needs Christianity"

In his first address on Christianity and Science", on Monday, April 10. Dr. Masumi Toyotome said:—

Why bother taking up the subject of the relationship between Christianity and Science? This may be the question raised by many people. Isn't that a dead issue? Hasn't Christianity always been on the retreating end of the conflict between the two, ever since the unsuccessful effort of Christianity to suppress scientific investigation in the days of Galileo and Copernicus? Hasn t Christianity always been on the retreating and defeated side of this? This is the way most people would react to the subject. Christianity and Science.

Science is all powerful, and science will solve all problems, and Christianity is purely secondary. This may be perhaps, the attitude of most university people toward this subject—if given enough time science will solve the problems even of human relationships. It is one of my purposes of this talk to challenge that position. We live in an age of science when science is made a god. This is the modern idolatory. In ancient days there was idolatory of physical form where actual images to be worshipped. Today we are threatened by idolatory of ideas. We bow down before science, and put our implicit faith in it. Not only do we believe it with our minds, but we entrust our lives to it. We make the basic decisions of our lives on the basis of scientific thinking, and scientific theories.

What is very dangerous about this position is that those who trust science and worship it are also those who have never asked a question—What is science and what are the limitations of science? Furthermore even the scientists themselves have usually not examined the pre-suppositions of science. Some scientists may even claim that science has no pre-suppostiions [sic].

The main point of what I am going to say in discussing the relationship between Christianity and science, is to point out that there are pre-suppositions in science, and that these pre-suppositions have been adopted from Christianity. Having adopted these pre-suppositions, science has divorced itself from Christianity, and consequently is in the danger of carrying these presuppositions to the extreme without having the corrective and counter checking influence of the basic doctrines of Christianity from which these presuppositions were taken. I will try to illustrate this thesis by taking up four presuppositions ol science as examples of the many presuppositions involved and showing that science is basically dependent on Christianity.

1. The first presupposition I would like to take up is the question of consistency in nature. Science assumes that nature will be the same today, tomorrow and in the future. If an experiment is performed today and the same experiment is performed a week from today, we expect the same results. We would also expect the same results to be observed in New Zealand as there would be in the United States, Japan, or Soviet Russia. Science would be totally undermined if nature were inconsistent. But how can science prove that nature is consistent? The sun may have risen from the east for thousands of years but how do we know that it will rise in the east again? Science goes on the faith that nature will be consistent. But from whence does this faith come? This faith in the consistency of nature comes from Christianity, from the doctrine of one God who created this universe according to a consistent plan. It is no accident that science arose in the west and not in the Orient. It grew on Christian soil, because this and other presuppositions were taken from Christianity.

But, having taken this presupposition from Christianity, science divorced itself from its Christian background, and is now in the danger of taking this presupposition to the extreme. Assuming that nature has been consistent, those who worship science and have not thought about the matter very deeply, believe that nothing can happen which has not happened before. One is unthinkingly tempted to say that there is nothing unique in nature. But the Bible-insists that each person is unique and distinctive and of great worth, that God is mindful of every last person. No two persons are exactly identical or meant to be. In one of His memorable parables, Jesus stated that God is aware of the one sheep that goes astray just as much as the ninety-nine in the fold. Every person is unique. It is this uniqueness that is just as important as the common denominator of all persons. Those who are semi scientists and pseudo scientists, those who worship science, are in danger of denying the uniqueness of individuals and treating them as objects of experiments. This is not necessarily the danger of science, but of taking science naively as absolute. Science needs Christianity to check this constant danger.

2. Another presupposition of science that I would like to take up is the presupposition that the selfishness and personal bias of individual persons can ne checked and kept out of scientific investigations. I believe science has benefited from the Christian doctrine of sin which shows how strong a person s selfish interests may be. In science the stress is upon objectivity. The subjective element, the personal bias and one's own desires must be suppressed in scientific investigation. No value judgements should enter into science for if they did the investigator may say "I like this result more than that".

Science constantly tries to make its measurements in quantitative rather than qualitative terms. This emphasis on the elimination of the personal factor I believe is the heritage from the Hebrew Christian teaching of the sinfulness of man. Objective truth must be pursued regardless of its benefit to us.

But having divorced itself from Christianity, science is now in danger of once again becoming the captive of selfish interests. Science is dependent on the scientist being selfless and self denying, but in this age when science has become popular and respectable and very profitable, there is the danger of many persons entering into science for personal gain, or for prestige, or for status I have heard of scientific investigators who prefer to tackle small problems rather than difficult, time-consuming investigations because he would rather produce research papers quickly and gain academic advancement on the basis of the number of papers he has published. Science can very easily be prostituted by people who are looking for personal gain through it. Can science itself produce people with pure motives. I submit that it cannot. It is dependent upon religion and especially upon Christianity. to check this human selfishness page 14 and to keep the motivation of the scientist pure. Christianity reminds us that scientists are human beings and are captives of selfishness and sinfulness. Science may perhaps check selfishness—it cannot eliminate it. It must look elsewhere for the accomplishment of this task. The doctrine of sin in Christianity is an important reminder of the danger which constantly faces science.

3. The third presupposition of science I would like to take up is the progress principle. Very often people are bothered by the apparent conflict between the theory of evolution and the creation story in the Bible. I merely want to point out at this point that the theory of evolution assumes the idea of progress. Does it not speak about the evolving of life from the lower to the higher forms? Does science not assume that the search for truth is good and will lead man to higher life? But how can we know that nature is good instead of evil. In this atomic age how can we be sure that the discoveries of science will benefit man? The time may come when because of the threat of scientific discovery towards the destruction of man, popular feeling may turn against science. Who will then defend the validity of the search for truth?

I submit that it is the Christian idea of history which has undergirded science. God has created this universe for a purpose, and history is heading in the direction of a goal that God has set up. In Greek philosophy history was a circular affair. History will repeat itself and come back again to the same point. In this way of thinking if there is progress, eventually there must also be regress, for history comes back to its original point sooner or later. In Oriental thinking history is a downhill affair. The great period of the gods was at the beginning of history and the world is gradually running down. These two philosophies of history could not under-gird science. The assumption that there is bound to be progress is an inheritance from our Christian background. But this assumption, taken apart from Christianity, is dangerous. The concept of progress is pre-scientific. That is to say, it existed before the dawn of science, and it came from the doctrine of the purpose for creation of the world by God. But separated from God and this basic teaching of the meaning of history in Christianity, science is in the danger of assuming that all things necessarily will work out for the good of all mankind. Science alone cannot help us to understand the purpose for which all of the laws of nature exist. It cannot help us to utilise the resource of science for the benefit of mankind.

4. I will take up one more example of the presupositions of science which has come from Chrisitanity. This is the presupposition of the causality of nature. That there is an absolute rule of cause and effect. Everything must have a cause, and if we know all of the causes existing in the world today, we will be able to predict the future. Science uses this principle of cause and effect to test its hypotheses and its theories. If a theory is correct, then we should be able to predict the future on the basis of this cause and effect principle. If we run a controlled experiment and we change one factor, we expect a certain result. If we drive this principle of cause and effect to the extreme it eliminates all chance, it eliminates ill freedom especially with regard to people. If we were to say that every person is determined by certain causes to act a certain wav, then it eliminates all freedom and responsibility in individuals. We are already determined by the genes in us. We are determined by the circumstances around us, we are determined by our background. If this is absolutely true, then we cannot be anything other than the result of all the causes that have gone into us, and there is no freedom in man.

Man is purely a victim of his circumstances. There is a great determination of fate which controls man, from which man cannot escape. Science is in the danger of driving our way of thinking on human personality to this extreme. At this point science needs the counter-check of the Christian doctrine of human personality. Man was created by God, and he is given freedom. God desires to have man with a relationship of love; but love presupposes freedom, therefore God made man free—free to do good or evil. Without freedom there could not have been love, and man abused that freedom, and has turned against God. But still Christianity insists that man is able to have a relationship with God, to choose reconciliation over against rebellion: man is not the captive of circumstances, there is something still novel and great in him. Science-needs the corrective influence of this doctrine of man created in the image of God, to counteract the tendency toward extremism of determination.

Thus in all these ways, Science and Christianity are inter-related, and Science took its beginning from the presuppositions borrowed from Christianity; Science still needs Christianity for its existence and for the correction of some extremes to which it may go if unchecked.