John De Vries

 

WHEN some of my scientific friends learned a few years ago that I planned to come to Calvin College, they tried to point out to me that I was thereby committing academic suicide. They all felt that I was hanging a theological yoke around my neck and that whatever little research I was conducting would have to be terminated. Their contention was that one could not be a true, unhampered scientist in a Christian college. I must confess that the research has stopped for the present, but not because of the reasons my friends advanced. And I hope that in the not too distant future we shall have the planned adequate facilities at Calvin so that this work may be continued. But is this the main purpose of science? By neglecting laboratory research for a few years, am I marking time as a scientist? Is the preparation of micro-photographs of single crystals of zinc, the study of the mechanism of the Reimer-Tieman reaction or the measurement of the value of the atomic refractivity of the semi-polar bond as fundamentally important as is an attempt to help in a small way the building of a truly Christian philosophy of science? The more mature I become, the more convinced I also become that science today must become more conscious of the true purpose of science. Unless we clearly define that, our argumentation will be fruitless. The great difficulty with scientific thought in general is that it is fragmentary and that it regards the physical universe as existing apart from our appreciation of it. Scientific knowledge, as we usually conceive of this term, is relative and partial and the knowledge which we gain from modem science gives us only one aspect of reality as a whole.

The number of men who are concerned about the Christian interpretation of nature and who at the same time qualify as scientists is small indeed. We are a Gideon’s band, treated with contempt by both the scientist and the liberal theologian. Listen to Snowden as he writes in his book, Old Faith and New Knowledge: “They also have their list of authorities’ against evolution, but these are usually worthless not one of these authorities is a professor of science in a standard college or university . . . their most eminent authority is George McCready Price who is exploited in most of their articles and books as a great geologist and authority against evolution. No doubt he is an excellent gentleman and a sincere Christian, but he with his new Geology is simply a laughing-stock among geologists . . . He cannot get any recognition from geologists or get an article of his in any scientific journal, according to his own complaint.”1 It is a pity that some of the things which Snowden says are true, but I fear that men of his type would criticize any orthodox Christian scientist who attempts to uphold the authenticity of the Word of God. I am reminded in this connection of an incident which occurred a few years ago. I was teaching in a Presbyterian college at the time and the local minister, who was also vice-president of the college board, would visit me rather frequently to discuss trends in the field of science. One day he said to me in evident disgust, “De Vries, I can’t understand how a man like you who has a doctor’s degree in the field of science can be as ignorant as you are in believing everything that you find in the Bible.” And I was sarcastic enough to answer, “Rev. Blank, I can’t understand how a man like yourself, who supposedly has dedicated his life to the service of Jesus Christ can spend as much time as you do trying to prove that the truths you are supposed to teach are false.” And isn’t that just about the thing modernistic theologians are doing — they don’t want to believe the Bible and hence they grasp for any scientific straw out of which they can fashion some kind of a God. Their approach will never lead to the God of our religion for they substitute for the God of their youth the God of Natural Theology. They have done more to spread the unproven scientific theories than have many scientists.

On the other hand, a good many Christian ministers in the church of God have hampered science by their intolerant views. When Schepfer says, “In our opinion the influence of the natural sciences has been the greatest factor in the loss of faith in the orthodox doctrines of Christianity,”2 I wonder whether he is quite fair. If we really believe that God fills the universe, who, I should like to know, is going to turn him out of it? “A religion which does not touch science, and a science which does not touch religion, are mutilated and barren. I do not say that science can ever be a religion, or religion a science. The most we can hope for, and it is not beyond hope, is that the science of a religious man may be scientific, and the religion of a scientific man religious.”3 Does Schepfer not really mean that certain scientists have preached a materialistic gospel? Robert Millikan, an eminent scientist, expresses this thought beautifully when he says, “Science is just as often misrepresented as is religion, by men of little vision, of no appreciation of its limitations, and of imperfect comprehension of the real role it plays in human life — by men who lose sight of spiritual values and therefore exert an influence upon youth which is unsettling, irreligious and sometimes immoral.”4 Or as William James so bluntly states it, “Of all insufficient authorities as to the total nature of reality, give me the scientists. Their interests are most incomplete and their professional conceit and bigotry immense.”5 In fact, I must confess that it appears to me that during the last decade the leading minds in the religious world have appreciated the scientists’ point of view far more than the scientists have appreciated theirs. We must admit that there may exist as blind dogmatism in science as has ever existed in theology, and it is dogmatism when men claim as absolute certainty what is at most merely relative truth and then treat with superciliousness all who do not accept their authority as final.

“Our little systems have their day; They have their day and cease to be; They are but broken lights of thee, And thou, O Lord, art more than they.”

And so, without apology, I come to you today first of all as a Christian, with a love for our Calvinistic interpretation of God’s creation in its entirety, and then also as a scientist, with a real interest in the researches of my chosen field of specialization.

The Purpose of Science

What, then, is the purpose of science? The way in which we answer this question will also indicate our approach to the problem of methodology in science, since these two problems are inseparable. If we believe that God created the universe, we must also accept the fact that he has incorporated into this universe certain laws. The purpose of true science is to discover the laws which God placed in this world and to interpret them for mankind in general. If that is our purpose, then we shall never come into conflict with the Bible. We begin with God and reason into his universe. If our Lord is the creator of all worlds, they must, of course, bear signs of him. But if we try to find the Creator only from his works we are like one who tries to find the center of a circle from its circumference. Possibly it would be better to say, considering the poverty of our knowledge concerning these works, from a very small part of the circumference. The probability of our striking the exact center by any straight line drawn from the circumference is small indeed. We must begin at the exact center and go to the circumference. Then we cannot miss, if we take care to go straight. We must go to the inspired Word of God for our point of departure. The Bible and the Bible alone is the primary source of our information.

This position is not the same as that of those who claim they see God in nature. Eddington, jeans, Millikan, and a host of others begin to feel that there must be some kind of soul, or call it what you will, but they arrive at their conclusions because they can explain their scientific metaphysical problems in no other way. We should be very hesitant in accepting these men into our fold. Permit me to quote Millikan’s own words, “Where do our ideas come from? I do not know. All that we know is that somehow we are here, and, most wonderful of all, that we know we are here, and that sometimes great new conceptions that lead us on to better things spring up in the minds of men.”6 Or “the scientific method by which Galileo got at his new idea began at about this time to change in a large way the whole mode of thought of the human race, to change the philosophic and the religious conceptions of mankind, because the foundations were here laid for a new advance in man’s conception of God, for a sublimer view of the world and of man’s place and destiny in it.”7 “The God of science is the Spirit of rational order, and of orderly development.”8

It becomes apparent to us after reading this type of authority that the philosophy of modern science has borrowed something from Hegel. These assertions relative to God manifest an egotistic character and reveal a search for God in the world and not above the world. The emphasis is on God’s immanence rather than on his transcendence. We cannot emphasize in too strong a voice the warning to beware of these religious friends who come to us in sheep’s clothing. The old proverb which states that “a stream cannot rise higher than its source” is applicable here also. Such scientists, to use Plato’s analogy as given in the eighth book of his Republic, are like persons endeavoring to guess from the shadows of unseen objects thrown on a wall what the shape and true nature of those objects are.

What a relief it is to turn from such babbling to the testimony of other men, equally as great scientifically as these philosophers of science; men like Faraday, Stokes, or Clerk-Maxwell. David Brewster’s last words were, “I shall see Jesus, who created all things — Jesus who made the world — I shall see him as he is.” His mortal form sleeps in Fair Melrose Abbey and how natural it seems to read on the base of his white marble tomb this legend: “The Lord is my light.”

If our position is warranted then it may logically be demanded of us that we give scriptural proof for our position. We have not far to seek. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended (comprehended) it not. . . . He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not.”9

If I read this gospel aright, it tells me that Christ is the basis of all revelation; not only special revelation but even general revelation. Here we have the starting point for not only science but for all of life. It is the light which shineth in the darkness which guides us on our way. Christ is in this world which he created. But the Bible also tells us that the world knows him not — the darkness cannot comprehend him. The Bible is simply telling us that we cannot go from science to God and that the only approach is from God to science. If we believe this then what other purpose can we have than to find God’s laws in his own universe?

The Proverbs also contribute to our point of view. Since childhood we have been taught that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” That is wonderful advice to give to a child. But what about the end, the aim of wisdom?

The answer can be found in the second chapter of the Book of the Proverbs if we join verses two and five. If thou “incline thine ear unto wisdom and apply thy heart to understanding . . . then shalt thou understand the fear of Jehovah and find the knowledge of God.” Now what does this mean? If I read Solomon correctly he tells us that the seeking for wisdom has as its purpose not only to fear the Lord, but to understand the fear of the Lord and to find the knowledge of God. The end, (or aim), of wisdom then is to understand the fear of the Lord. We as adults have long since, I trust, passed beyond the elementary stage of merely fearing the Lord. Our task is to strive to understand the fear of Jehovah and to find the knowledge of God. And then the Bible, in a most beautiful way, adds for our comfort the promise, “For Jehovah giveth wisdom, out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding.” I trust that I am not encroaching upon the topic assigned to Professor Welmers if I say that the outstanding, inevitable effect of modern education is to educate away from God, and that this passage from Holy Writ forms one of the most cogent arguments for the establishment of our Christian day schools.

The purpose of science then is to study God’s general revelation in the light of his special revelation and to me this means that special revelation is far more important than is general. True, the one calls for the other and either one taken alone is robbed of its richness. But as has been pointed out above, one cannot get from nature to the God of our salvation, whereas the Bible alone is sufficient to reveal our covenant God unto us. It is true that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth his handiwork,” but where do I get that information? From nature? No, it is “through faith that we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Hebrews 11:3. Yet both should be considered together as the Word of God since he in his providence has given them both to us to proclaim the wisdom he has displayed in redemption and creation.

The Current Method of Science

This approach to science, namely from God’s special revelation to his general revelation, colors our concept of scientific methodology all the way through. Articles relative to this subject appear frequently in the various religious publications. Our science textbooks, even those used in the elementary courses, are devoting a good bit of space to a discussion of the scientific method. To hope for a unified approach is futile. Most of the difficulty, it seems to me, is that men fail to distinguish between the philosophy of science and the method of science. Our position is that the former determines the latter and that these two are inseparable, for what nature is to us is determined by what we think of God. And without God all things go wrong, both in our living and in our thinking.

Millikan summarized the prevailing scientist’s conception of the scientific method about a decade ago when he said, “I think there can be no shadow of doubt that the great, characteristic feature of our times, the one thing that does distinguish our civilization from all that have preceded, is this discovery of the scientific method and the results that have followed upon its application. . . . The method consisted in not starting with any a priori postulates about the nature of reality or with any complete philosophic systems, such as all of the philosophers of the ancient world, idealists and atomists alike, had started with, and indeed have quarreled interminably over, in discarding likewise all intuitive axioms on the one hand and authority on the other such as had been the foundation of the medieval scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas and his successors; and appealing by the experimental method to the tribunal of brute facts.”10 This is the tenor of nearly every discussion on scientific method in the modern textbook. Unless you take this approach, namely, that we must first ascertain the physical and chemical facts before we can discuss life, or indeed before we discuss philosophy, the average scientist will say that you are not scientific. We shall attempt to show, however, that this way leads nowhere since it is the physical and chemical facts themselves that are in question and that by following current scientific methodology we are trying to limit God’s science to ours.

As a scientist may I try to explain why so many workers in the field of science take the attitude that they do and why the conclusions of the metaphysicians relative to scientific philosophy have not impressed the average scientist very seriously. Scientists feel, rightly or wrongly, that the metaphysicians are too engrossed in the exact definitions of terms and in the niceties of verbal expression. Hence they believe that the philosopher thus misses or confuses the real issue of science, which to them is to discover the significance and influence of objective facts rather than of words. Another reason why the scientist believes that the scientific philosophers are ineffective is because they are not disciplined by labor in the laboratory or trained in the analysis and technique of scientific theory. Their reading is usually based on elementary treatises, which are rarely the work of masterminds, or they approach the great thinkers through the medium of popular expositions. The first leads to frequent errors and the second to sweeping conclusions.

In fairness to the scientific philosopher, it must be said that the training given in our graduate schools today is very much one-sided. The stress is laid on laboratory methods and the average scientist emerges as a skillful manipulator of apparatus but rarely does he know anything at all about the gradual development of the subject of his choice. He is quite ignorant of the work of the masterminds of the science of the past. His field of research is narrow; his examinations for the most part have been exercises in ingenuity in mathematics and logical expositions of the most modern and abstruse parts of science. Never does he realize that what we call modern thought is but a rebirth of the past, perhaps dressed up in new clothing. Is it any wonder that the student enters his life work innocent of, the limitations and powers of his science. And they call us Doctors of Philosophy, whereas most of us are high-brow electricians, manipulators of integrals, builders of compounds or menders of glassware. If the student of science is ever to attain the broad outlook which science deserves, the teachers of science must themselves first learn the historical and critical development of their science and establish its relation to other knowledge. The scientist needs some courses which will convince him that science is only a part, and a small part at that, of reality as a whole and that he has no right to assume the dogmatic attitude that he claims the church assumed for itself a few centuries ago.

What then are the implications of current scientific methodology? First of all it is based on fundamental assumptions. These are: (1) that certain ideas or concepts exist which are useful and apparently necessary tools in the understanding of nature. (2) All physical or material things are governed by definite laws, or principles, which can be stated in terms of fundamental concepts. This assumption is supposed to abolish superstition and mysticism. The astronomer will tell you that after it became generally known that the motions of the heavenly bodies were governed by Newton’s universal law of gravitation, belief in witchcraft and mysticism waned. It is true that the discovery of those laws gives mankind a saner view of the physical world, but is it Newton who guides the stars in their courses? (3) The third assumption is that the number of fundamental concepts and laws is small. This assumption is sometimes called the “law of parsimony.” This law explains our interest in the law of conservation of energy because by the acceptance of this law we can replace a number of laws of machines, heat, electricity and light. And yet we are unable to prove this law. We accept it because no exceptions to this rule have ever been found.

If we continue to add to this list we can readily build up a scientist’s creed of twelve articles to embody his confession of faith. Men of science must accept the existence of an objective universe, whose phenomena and laws are external to our intelligence and will. He must believe that the world can be known and that it corresponds in reality as his senses reveal it to him. The scientist believes in the reign of natural law, the law of cause and effect, and in the constancy of nature, the basic laws of continuity and conservation. Faith is the basis of all science as well as of religion and when a scientist tells me I may have no faiths, intuitions, beliefs or hunches, I smile at his inconsistency. He assumes for himself the rights he denies to others and takes his own position for granted instead of proving it.

The field of science abounds with illustrations which prove that ultimately the scientist must reach the end of his reasoning ability. We all know the fact that in general the application of heat to a body causes that body to expand. Scientists believe that this has always been true and will always remain thus. But ask them to explain it to you. Their answer will be that the fine structure of matter indicates that it is built up of small molecules; particles so minute that they are invisible even with the aid of the most powerful microscopes. These molecules are in constant rapid motion due to their kinetic energy. When a body is heated this molecular motion increases, hence the molecules move farther apart with a corresponding increase in volume of the body being manifested. And so we come to the definition that the measurement of the temperature of an object is a measurement of its kinetic energy. Increasing the temperature increases the kinetic energy. But you argue, increase in kinetic energy is a result of the increased motion and not the cause of it. We have not explained it nor can we do so. In fact, there does not seem to be anything inherent in matter which would force it to expand with an increase in temperature. And then there is always that troublesome water that insists on expanding when you cool it from 4°C down to 0°C. The Christian sees in this strange phenomena God’s design in the universe, to the scientist it is merely an unexplainable exception to a general rule.

The Christian Method of Science

It is true that my criticism of the scientific method has so far been purely destructive. I have done this because so many Christians are apologetic when they regard their own position in the light of the claims made for the impartiality of the scientific method. We must not lose sight of the fact that the conclusions of different scientists are influenced very often by the particular philosophy which consciously or unconsciously colors most of their thinking. If they deny God why may I not confess him and be just as scientific? In all of life one must either confess God or deny him. And that confession is bound to color one’s entire outlook. Reality is something else and something far more than a mere complex of quantitative relations between matter and space and time. As Fechner has so aptly stated it, “Not merely the detailed phenomena, but also that which holds them together, has reality: nay, to the latter belongs the highest reality.” Assuaging one’s thirst for facts without satisfying the hunger for causes will not produce a living science.

Not only is our Christian position, namely that we start with God, as logical and justifiable as the contention of the man who wishes to begin without God, but our position is far more beautiful and meaningful. In fact, we shall endeavor to show that if one carries his logic all the way through, that the theistic approach is the only justifiable one. And yet we must not conclude that a Christian scientist and a non-Christian scientist cannot perform the same experiments. No doubt this may appear to some of you as being inconsistent.

Here I manifest again the evidence of the present-day training given in graduate schools. I cannot, for some reason or other, get too excited about the verbal barrage which insists that there is not a single fact which can be known without God and that anyone who avers that even one single fact can be known without God is an antitheist. It all depends on what one means by facts. If one means that in order to completely understand what is meant by the fact that one plus one makes two, he has long since left the domain of natural science and is busily engaging in what the laboratory scientist cynically calls “armchair research.” All of us must beware of becoming the victims of abstractions and formulas and words. We talk so glibly about matter, force, progress, humanity, mind, and yea, even facts and powers of astounding character are ascribed to them. The only service they perform, although it is a great one, is that they enable one to think and speak somewhat intelligently of the phenomena confronting us. I believe it is Eddington who has pointed out that if we allow these abstractions to dominate our thinking we end in conclusions which may be logically irrefutable, but are so patently absurd that nobody in his senses can possibly believe them. A mathematician can prove to you that nothing exists but mathematical equations, a chemist who deals with the abstractions of matter and force will lead you to believe that nothing exists but molecules in motion, and if you work with the abstractions of mind and spirit you conclude that nothing exists but your own ideas. And I suppose if any of us would ever follow Freud’s psychological abstractions far enough we would have to conclude that we are nothing but a sublimated product of questionable lusts. It strikes me that all such methods end up in a preposterous statement that the universe is nothing but this or that, which sounds like rank nonsense, and these statements are the results of submitting to the stranglehold of words and abstractions. The God whom we want, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is not to be found at the end of a syllogism.

Why is our position then more logical than the other? Simply because the agnostics and vague-thinkers concerning God should be taught that they can make their position reasonable only by showing that God does not exist. This many of them would refuse to do. They will object, of course, and tell the Christian that he must prove that God does exist. The Christian does this by faith, not reason. But the non-theistic scientist should be taught that his position presupposes the non-existence of God. For if God does exist and has revealed himself, then this revelation is a part of reality and all knowledge must be dependent on him since his power is above that of mortal man, unless, of course, man makes himself equal to God. Hence God cannot be left out of our thinking. If the non-Christian scientist really wishes to gather all the facts before he makes his pronouncements he must also reckon with the greatest of all facts, God. Failing to do this means that he must also end with the belief that God does not exist. These people who always prate about their open-mindedness in attacking their problems are really very closed-minded in their approach. The problem is not whether we wish to say something or nothing at all about ultimate reality, but rather it is a question of saying one thing or another about it.

I am, however, by no means prepared to say that the non-Christian scientist cannot engage in research as the Christian scientist does. The Christian and the non-Christian in performing experiments do the same mechanical things and frequently the non-Christian is far more skillful than the Christian. I am ready to grant that the facts with which both groups work are of course interpreted by God, and only truly interpreted by God. But we in our sinful state, even though we are saved by grace, do not truly know the mind of God — to understand him is the aim of wisdom and is one of the glories of heaven. Even the Christian sees “through a glass darkly” and the question arises as to the dividing line between true knowledge and partial knowledge. Since God created all facts, there are no objective facts as far as he is concerned, but for mortal man there are countless objective facts, facts whose interpretation we do not know. And we believe of course that to completely understand a fact one must be a Christian. And yet, we daily take the laws which have been formulated by the non-Christian scientist and apply them ourselves. The important point to note is that we part company with the non-Christian the minute he begins to philosophize about his discoveries. It is at this point that I find difficulty in following Dr. C. Van Til in the Preface to his Christian Theistic Evidences when he states, “Consequently we hold that without the presupposition of the God of Christianity we cannot even look at a fact. Facts without God would be brute facts, and brute facts are meaningless.”11

Our position leads us into the field of common grace, which I discover is still a tender sore among some of our friends. It cannot be denied that most of the data of science are discovered by non-Christians. Does this not mean that they with their sin-darkened minds are able to discover something of God’s revelation? The argument will be made that this is not grace since it will contribute to their damnation, but it strikes me as inevitable that anyone who lives in this world is going to be surrounded by an infinite number of truths which will contribute to his damnation, if we understand it thus. There is a light which shines in the darkness, and although the darkness cannot comprehend it, that does not mean that a photon or two cannot penetrate the mind of an unsaved sinner. Permit me to quote a passage from Scripture which bears some light on this point. Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-23, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse; because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”

Does Paul not tell us here that God has revealed himself to unregenerate man that they may be without excuse? And if they discover some of these revelations, can I as a Christian not make use of them? The fact that this may testify against them in the day of judgment is not denied, but that point should not enter here. Doesn’t the non-Christian actually do the things which God commanded us to do, namely, subdue the earth?

The perfect man according to the New Testament is humble, simple, true and believing. The perfect man of science should be likewise. I cannot but believe that the appearance of clashing between science and religion would be wholly avoided, if the teachers both of God’s unwritten and of his written word would pay more regard to the necessary limitations of scientific and religious thought. Are the two systems independent of one another, or do they belong to one system with one head. The Bible here in Romans offers the explanation of the coincidence. The whole scheme in heaven and earth is one. Nature and grace are in some humble but real sense complementary. Truth is Christ’s whether in the realm of matter or of spirit. He who does good work in any realm really does work for Christ. It is thus that even his enemies must work for him so far as their work is good. Only the true spiritual members can really build the Church, yet we do have non-Christians who can contribute their skilled workmanship in its construction. We accept it and make use of it, even though we refuse him membership, and frequently it is a far superior type of workmanship than that produced by the Christian. I like to think of this as one aspect of common grace. Oliver Wendell Holmes, although not a Christian in our sense of the term, expressed a somewhat similar thought beautifully when he said, “There are one-story intellects; two-story intellects, and three-story intellects with skylights. All fact collectors, who have no aim beyond their facts, are one-story men. Two-story men compare, reason, generalize, using the labors of fact collectors as well as their own. Three-story men idealize, imagine, predict; their best illumination coming from above, through their skylight.”

The conclusion which we must arrive at then is that the main job for schools such as Calvin College and other similar institutions is one of teaching or interpreting the facts which the non-Christian discovers by common grace. The Bible has predetermined the whole structure of reality, but not the details, and it is our task to fit these details, discovered by others, into one unified plan. And only the Christian philosophic thinker can do that. When I go into the laboratory, I do not go there instead of to my Bible, but I go with my Bible. The Christian sings as he goes about his work, “This is my father’s world,” and he sees more in this world than the non-Christian because he relates the facts that the non-Christian discovers to his God who created them. Truly our commission is part of the general commission to go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature. Any physical science which thinks through its own conceptions and fathoms its own nature enters the scope of metaphysics and rises straight to God. The Christian believes that unless science does this it does not reach its mark; the materialist is content to walk on his lower plane. It strikes me that much of this material is applicable to the field of social science as well and what a challenge this must be to the minister of the Word of God to labor diligently in the propagation of the whole gospel.

Theological Implications of Modern Theories

Some of my patient audience may be wondering when, if ever at all, I shall get to the point of talking about Einstein, the Quantum theory or Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty. I hesitate doing so since I should soon get out of my depth, and possibly even yours. Permit me to mention a bit about a few of these.

Many men criticize Robert Mayer, the discoverer of the law of conservation of energy, for completely excluding from this law the entire domain of psychical life and for insisting that things physical and psychical cannot be identified. But the scientist admits he cannot prove this law, he accepts it because he knows of no exceptions to the rule. It is one of the most basic of all laws. The conclusion which is justifiable is that the contemplation of such effects as the dissipation of energy, the increase of entropy, the transfer of matter into radiation and the spontaneous change of radioactive matter into non-radioactive matter all support the truth of the conception that the physical universe had a beginning in the acts of creation and that the universe is not self produced nor infinite in past duration. Also, that if left to itself it will have an end.

The Quantum theory with its idea of discontinuity in nature can be used as an argument against the dominant idea of evolution. Evolution insists on perfectly continuous changes by infinitely small steps. But modern physics finds evidence for discontinuity and not continuity in nature. Natural changes take place by jumps, energy is released in discreet minute bundles which are called quanta and added to this there is evidence that the order in nature is at times interrupted by sudden catastrophes. All of this is antagonistic to the idea of evolution. But the idea of the evolutionist that living matter was spontaneously evolved from inorganic matter is a pure assumption and seems to be too silly to take time to refute.

And finally a word about Heisenberg’s principle of uncertainty. This tells us that the new atom is indifferent to mechanical causation. If we consider a large number of electrons we find that they behave quite regularly and predictably, which raises the old suspicion that, if we knew all about them, we should find them absolutely predetermined by antecedent causes to be what they are and to do what they do. But if we examine these electrons more closely we find that individual electrons behave in strange and irregular fashions. The conclusion which has been accepted from these discoveries is that physical laws are not mechanical after all but are statistical laws. By the latter we mean the kind of laws the insurance actuary uses in computing the death rates for a given age. He can say nothing absolute about any given individual, although he makes his prediction on the basis of the life expectancies of thousands of individuals. According to this principle it is impossible to measure the position and the velocity of an atomic particle at one and the same time. If you talk about its position it cannot be moving, if it is moving you cannot define its position. This principle seems not to prove that electrons behave erratically, but only that our ability to observe their behavior has absolute limits. But to jump from this to an affirmation of free-will in the human sphere as some religious thinkers have hastily done is a leap into the dark. All it does for us is to show that the concept of mechanical causation which reigned undisputed from Galileo to Darwin and after, represents an idea imposed upon nature rather than discovered in nature. The use to which the principle of indeterminacy has been put is largely due to an ambiguity in the word “determined.” In one sense an event is determined when it is measured, in another sense when it is caused. And throughout it all the Calvinist has every right to hold fast to his doctrine of predestination as is found in the Bible, Eddington to the contrary notwithstanding. I still believe that indeterminism is not scientifically defensible and that science proceeds on a deterministic basis. Just because we cannot ascribe determinism to individual electrons is no reason for saying that determinism is not applicable to their motion. It merely means that the law of the group is not the same as the law of the individual. The determinism which we find everywhere in nature is but evidence of the unfolding purpose of the providence of God.

Our Confession

May I summarize my position then by saying that I believe in an intelligent Author of Nature, infinite in wisdom, absolute in power, a personal being who upholds and governs this universe according to his own sovereign good pleasure. I am persuaded that science confirms and illustrates the priceless truth which Christ came on earth to reveal; but I do not believe that the unaided intellect of man could ever have been assured of even the least of those truths independently of special revelation — the Word of God. The best service which science can render to religion is in the way of confirmation and illustration, rather than in that of absolute proof, and for this reason I have preferred to discuss my subject chiefly from that point of view. Nature seems to manifest God’s wrath no less than his love, and it is a false and sickly philosophy which attempts to keep the awful fact out of sight. And yet this God who created all the earth — though it be a huge stellar body or a minute electron, is the same God who planned my salvation and gave his only begotten Son for my redemption.


Notes

  1. p. 216.
  2. The Bible and Science, p. 9.
  3. Dean Inge in Science and Religion, p. 144.
  4. Science and Life, p. 42.
  5. Life and Letters, Vol. II, p. 270.
  6. Evolution in Science and Religion, p. 70.
  7. Ibid, p. 78.
  8. Ibid, p. 88.
  9. John I.
  10. The Phi Beta Kappa Key, Vol 7, p. 650 (1931).
  11. Since our conference was held, I have had the pleasure and privilege of listening to Dr. Van Til’s lecture on “Common Grace.” Here he stated that metaphysically we have all facts, in common but epistemologically we have no facts in common. If I understand him correctly he means, for example, that the fact that the sun shines is true for all men, but epistemologically only the Christian knows the whole truth. This is not my definition of the word “metaphysical,” but then, my experience with the classical languages has been a very brief one and the memories none too pleasant. To me metaphysics always connoted “beyond physics,” but this obviously is not Dr. Van Til’s interpretation of the term. Yet he also insists in his evidences that “facts and interpretation of facts cannot be separated. It is impossible even to discuss any particular fact except in relation to some universal.”

Author

JOHN DE VRIES, Ph.D. was Associate Professor in Chemistry at Calvin College when he gave this address at the Second American Calvinistic Conference, held at Calvin College and Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, June 3-5, 1942.


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