Skip to comments.Scientists and Their Gods: (Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?)
Posted on 11/19/2002 12:15:15 PM PST by LiteKeeper
Scientists and Their Gods (Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?) By Dr. Henry F. Schaefer, III Copyright © 1999 Dr. Henry F. Schaefer. All rights reserved.
Dr. "Fritz" Schaefer is the Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and the director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at the University of Georgia. He has been nominated for the Nobel Prize and was recently cited as the third most quoted chemist in the world. "The significance and joy in my science comes in the occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, 'So that's how God did it!' My goal is to understand a little corner of God's plan." ?U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 23, 1991.
The Genesis of This Lecture I first began teaching freshman chemistry at Berkeley in the spring of 1983. Typically we lectured in halls that held about 550. On the first day of class you could fit in 680, which we had that particular morning. It was a full auditorium. Those of you who have had freshman chemistry at a large university will know that many have mixed feelings about that course.
I had never addressed a group of 680 people before and was a bit concerned about it. But I had a fantastic demonstration prepared for them. At Berkeley in the physical science lecture hall, the stage is in three parts. It rotated around, so you could go to your part of the stage and work for several hours before your lecture, getting everything ready. My assistant, Lonny Martin who did all the chemistry demonstrations at Berkley, was in the process of setting up 10 moles of a large number of quantities?10 moles of benzene, iron, mercury, ethyl alcohol, water, etc. At just the right time, at the grand crescendo of this lecture, I was going to press the button and Lonny would come turning around and show them the ten moles of various items. The student would have great insight as they realized that all these had in common was about the same number of molecules of each one.
It was going to be wonderful. We got to that point in the lecture and I said, "Lonny, come around and show us the moles." I pressed the button to rotate the stage but nothing happened. I didn't realize that he was overriding my button press because he wasn't ready with the moles. This was very embarrassing. I went out in front of the 680 students and was really at a complete loss of what to say, so I made some unprepared remarks. I said, "While we're waiting for the moles, let me tell you what happened to me in church yesterday morning."
I was desperate. There was great silence among those 680 students. They had come with all manner of anticipations about freshman chemistry, but stories about church were not among them!
I continued, "Let me tell you what my Sunday School teacher said yesterday." That raised their interest even more. "I was hoping the group at church would give me some support, moral, spiritual, or whatever for dealing with this large class, but I received none. In fact, the Sunday School teacher asked the class, in honor of me:
What was the difference between a dead dog lying in the middle of the street and a dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the street?
The class was excited about this and I hadn't even gotten to the punch line. They roared with laughter. The very concept of a dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the street was hilarious to them. I'm sure some of them began to think, "If this guy were to become a dead chemistry professor very close to the final exam, we probably wouldn't have to take the final exam. They'd probably give us all passing grades and this would be wonderful."
I told them my Sunday school teacher had said that the difference between the dead dog lying in the middle of the road and the dead chemistry professor lying in the middle of the road is that there are skid marks in front of the dead dog.
The class thought this was wonderful! Just as they settled down, I pressed the button and around came Lonny with the moles. It was a wonderful beginning to my career as a freshman chemistry lecturer.
About 50 students came down at the end of class. About half had the usual questions like "Which dot do I punch out of this registration card?" There is always some of that. But about half of these students all had something like the same question. Basically they wanted to know "What were you doing in church yesterday?" One in particular said, "The person I most have admired in my life was my high school chemistry teacher last year. He told me with great certainty that it was impossible to be a practicing chemist and have any religious view whatever. What do you think about that?"
We didn't have a long discussion at that time, but the students asked me if I would speak further on this topic. That became the origin of this lecture.
I gave this talk in Berkeley and in the San Francisco area many times. When I moved to the University of Georgia several years ago, the interest increased. And some faculty members complained to the administration. It was an interesting chapter in my life. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the largest newspaper in the southeastern United States, came out with an editorial supporting my right to give this talk, saying, "Fanatics are demanding rigorous control over the dissemination of ideas."
A Perspective on the Relation of Science and Christianity Let's put this question of the relationship between science and Christianity with as broadest, most reasonable perspective we can. The relation between science and other intellectual pursuits has not always been easy. Therefore, many feel there has been a terrible warfare between science and Christianity. But I feel this is not the whole story.
For example, the recent literature text by Susan Gallagher and Roger Lundeen says,
Because in recent history, literature has often found itself in opposition to science, to understand modern views about literature the dominance of science in our culture. For several centuries, scientists have set the standards of truth for Western culture. And their undeniable usefulness in helping us organize, analyze, and manipulate facts has given them an unprecedented importance in modern society.
Not everybody has liked that. For example, John Keats, the great romantic poet, did not like Isaac Newton's view of reality. He said it threatened to destroy all the beauty in the universe. He feared that a world in which myths and poetic visions had vanished would become a barren and uninviting place. In his poem Lamia, he talks about this destructive power. In this poem, he calls "science" "philosophy", so I will try to replace the word "philosophy" with "science" because that is what he means.
Do not all charms fly At the mere touch of cold science? There was an awful rainbow once in heaven We knew her woof and texture. She is given in the dull catalog of common things. Science will clip an angels wings, Conquer all mysteries by rule and line, Empty the haunted air and gnome's mind, Unweave a rainbow.
My point is there has been some sparring between science and virtually every other intellectual endeavor. So it should not be entirely surprising if there weren't a bit of that between science and Christianity.
Has Science Disproved God? Nevertheless, the position is commonly stated that "science has disproved God." C. S. Lewis says, in his autobiography Surprised by Joy, that he believed that statement. He talks about the atheism of his early youth and credits it to science. He says,
You will understand that my atheism was inevitably based on what I believed to be the findings of the sciences and those findings, not being a scientist, I had to take on trust, in fact, on authority.
What he's saying is that somebody told him that science had disproved God and he believe it, even though he didn't know anything about science.
A more balanced view is this by one of my scientific heroes, Erwin Schrodinger. He was the founder of wave mechanics and the originator of what is the most important equation in science, Schrodinger's equation. He says,
I'm very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world is very deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight, knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.
People do tell good stories. Scientists do tell some interesting stories about religion. This one is from Chemistry in Britain, which is kind of like the Time Magazine of they chemical profession in England. Talking about the release of a new book on science policy, they explore an interesting idea.
If God applied to the government for a research grant for the development of a heaven and earth, he would be turned down on the following grounds:
His project is too ambitious. He has no previous track record. His only publication is only a book and not a paper in a refereed journal. He refuses to collaborate with his biggest competitor. His proposal for a heaven and earth is all up in the air. The Alternatives to Belief in the Sovereign God of the Universe Lev Landau I want to give examples of two atheists. The first is Lev Landau, the most brilliant Soviet physicist of this century. He was the author of many famous books with his coworker Lifchets. I actually used some of these books as a student at M.I.T. This is a story about Landau from his good friend and biographer Kolotnikov. This appeared in Physics Today. This is a story from the end of Landau's life. Kolotnikov says
The last time I saw Landau was in 1968 after he had an operation. His health had greatly deteriorated. Lifchets and I were summoned to the hospital. We were informed that there was practically no chance he could be saved. When I entered his ward, Landau was lying on his side with his face turned to the wall. He heard my steps, turned his head, and said, "Kollat, please save me." Those were the last words I heard from Landau. He died that night.
Shandrasekar Shandrasekar was a famous astrophysicist. He won the Nobel prize in physics in 1983. He was a faculty member at the University of Chicago for many years. At the back of his biography is an interview. Shandrasekar says,
In fact, I consider myself an atheist. But I have a feeling of disappointment because the hope for contentment and a peaceful outlook on life as the result of pursuing a goal has remained largely unfulfilled.
His biographer is astonished. He says:
What? I don't understand. You mean, single?minded pursuit of science, understanding parts of nature and comprehending nature with such enormous success still leaves you with a feeling of discontentment?
Shandresekar continues in a serious way, saying:
I don't really have a sense of fulfillment. All I have done seems to not be very much.
The biographer seeks to lighten up the discussion a little saying that everybody has the same sort of feelings. But Shandresekar will not let him do this, saying:
Well that may be, but the fact that other people experience it doesn't change the fact that one is experiencing it. It doesn't become less personal on that account.
And Shandrasekar's final statement:
What is true in my own personal case is that I simply don't have that sense of harmony which I'd hoped for when I was young. I've persevered in science for over fifty years. The time I've devoted to other things is miniscule.
Is it Possible to be a Scientist and a Christian? So the question I want to explore is the one that I was asked by that young man after my freshman chemistry class at Berkeley, "Is it possible to be a scientist and a Christian." The student and his high school chemistry teacher obviously thought it was not possible.
C. P. Snow Let me begin from pretty neutral ground by quoting two people with no particular theistic inclination. The first one is C. P. Snow. C. P. Snow used to be very famous as the author of a book called The Two Cultures. C. P. Snow was a physical chemist at Oxford University. He discovered about halfway through his career that he also was a gifted writer and he began writing novels. They are about university life in England. One in particular is called Masters, which I would recommend. C. P. Snow became quite wealthy doing this and then he was able to sit in an in?between position, between the world of the sciences and the world of literature.
He wrote this book, which in it's time was very famous, about the two cultures?the sciences and the humanities. He said statistically slightly more scientists are in religious terms, unbelievers, compared with the rest of the intellectual world, although there are plenty that are religious and that seems to be increasingly so among the young. So is it possible to be a scientist and a Christian? C. P. Snow, who was certainly not a Christian, said yes.
Richard Ferriman Richard Ferriman, Nobel prize in physics in 1965, was a very unusual person. He said some 9 years before receiving the Nobel prize, "Many scientists do believe in both science and God, the God of revelation, in a perfectly consistent way." So is it possible to be a scientist and a Christian? Yes according to Richard Ferriman.
A good summary statement in this regard is by Allen Lichtman, who has written a very well?received book called Origins. He's an M.I.T. professor who has published this book with Harvard University Press. He says,
References to God continued in the scientific literature until the middle to late 1800's. It seems likely that the lack of religious references after this time seem more from a change in social and professional conventions among scientists rather than from any change in underlying thought. Indeed, contrary to popular myth, scientists appear to have the same range of attitudes about religious matters as does the general public.
Now one could regard that statement as strictly anecdotal. Americans love statistics. Here's the result of a poll of the professional society Sigma Zi. Three thousand three hundred responded, so this is certainly beyond statistical uncertainty. The headline says, "Scientists are anchored in the U. S. mainstream." It says that half participate in religious activities regularly. Looking at the poll is that 43% of Ph.D. scientists are in church on a typical Sunday. In the American public, 44% are in church on a typical Sunday. So it's clear that whatever it is that causes people to have religious inclinations is unrelated to having an advanced degree in science.
Michael Polony Let go a little deeper with a statement from Michael Polony, professor of chemistry and then philosophy at the University of Manchester. His son, John Polony, won the Nobel prize in 1986. I think that it's probably true that when John Polony's scientific accomplishments, which have been magnificent, have been mostly forgotten, his father's work will continue.
Michael Polony was a great physical chemist at the University of Manchester. About halfway through his career, he switched over to philosophy. He was equally distinguished there. His books are not easy to ready. His most influential book is called Personal Knowledge. He was of Jewish physical descent. He was born in Hungary. About the same time he switched from chemistry to philosophy, he joined the Roman Catholic church. He said,
I shall reexamine the suppositions underlying our belief in science and propose to show that they are more extensive than is usually thought. They will appear to coextend with the entire spiritual foundations of man and to go to the very root of his social existence. Hence I will urge our belief in science should be regarded as a token of much wider convictions.
If you read the rest of the book, you will probably make the same conclusion that I make. I've concluded that Polony is pointing out that the observer is always there in the laboratory. He always makes conclusions. He is never neutral. Every scientist brings presuppositions to his or her work. A scientist, for example, never questions the basic soundness of the scientific method. This faith of the scientist arose historically from the Christian belief that God the father created a perfectly orderly universe.
Now I want to give you some evidence of that.
Science Developed in a Christian Environment I'd like to begin with an outrageous statement that always causes reaction. This is a statement from a British scientist, Robert Clark. It will make you think. He says,
However we may interpret the fact scientific development has only occurred in a Christian culture. The ancients had brains as good as ours. In all civilizations, Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, India, Rome, Persia, China and so on, science developed to a certain point and then stopped. It is easy to argue speculatively that science might have been able to develop in the absence of Christianity, but in fact, it never did. And no wonder. For the non?Christian world felt there was something ethically wrong about science. In Greece, this conviction was enshrined in the legend of Prometheus, the fire?bearer and prototype scientist who stole fire from heaven thus incurring the wrath of the Gods."
I'd prefer if he had said "sustained scientific development." I think he's gone a little too far here, but this will certainly give people something to think about.
Francis Bacon Let's explore the idea involved in the statements that Clark and Polony made, that is, that science grew up in a Christian environment. I was taught that Francis Bacon discovered thescientific method. The higher critics now claim he stole it from somebody else and just popularized it. We'll leave that to the science historians to settle.
One of Francis Bacon's statements is called the two?books statement. It's very famous. He said:
Let no one think or maintain that a person can search too far or be too well studied in either the book of God's word or the book of God's works.
He's talking about the Bible as the book of God's words and nature as the book of God's works. He is encouraging learning as much as possible about both. So right at the beginning of the scientific method, we have this statement.
Johannes Kepler Johannes Kepler posited the idea of elliptical orbits for planets. He's considered the discoverer of the laws of planetary motion. He was a devout Lutheran Christian. When he was asked the question "Why do you do science?", he answered that he desired in his scientific research to obtain a sample test of the delight of the Divine Creator in his work and to partake of his joy. This has been said in many ways by other people, to think God's thoughts after him, to know the mind of man. Kepler might be considered a Deist based on this first statement alone. But he later said:
I believe only and alone in the service of Jesus Christ. In him is all refuge and solace.
Blaise Pascal Blaise Pascal was a magnificent scientist. He is the father of the mathematical theory of probability and combinatorial analysis. He provided the essential link between the mechanics of fluids and the mechanics of rigid bodies. He is the only physical scientist to make profound contributions to Christian thinking. Many of these thoughts are found in the little book, The Pensees, which I had to read as a sophomore at M.I.T. (They were trying to civilize us geeks at M.I.T., but a few years later decided that it wasn't working, so we didn't have to take any more humanities courses.)
Pascal's theology is centered on the person of Jesus Christ as Savior and based on personal experience. He stated:
God makes people conscious of their inward wretchedness, which the Bible calls "sin" and his infinite mercy. Unites himself to their inmost soul, fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, renders them incapable of any other end than Himself. Jesus Christ is the end of all and the center to which all tends.
Pascal also said:
At the center of every human being is a God?shaped vacuum which can only be filled by Jesus Christ.
Robert Boyle was perhaps the first chemist. He developed the idea of atoms. Many of my freshman chemistry students know Boyle's law. Every once in a while I'll meet one of my former chemistry students. I ask them "What do you remember from the course?" Occasionally they will say: pv = nrt. Then I know I was successful. This is the ideal gas law of which Boyle's law is a part.
Boyle was a busy man. He wrote many books. One is The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of Creation. He personally endowed an annual lectureship promoted to the defense of Christianity against indifferentism and atheism. He was a good friend of Richard Baxter, one of the great Puritan theologians. He was governor of the Corporation for the Spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England.
Isaac Newton Although I disagree, a recent poll on who the most important person of history was gave that honor to Sir Isaac Newton. Newton was a mathematician, physicist, co?discoverer with Liebnitz of calculus, the founder of classical physics. He was the first of the three great theoretical physicists. He wrote about a lot of other things. He tried to do chemistry, but was a little bit before his time. He wrote more books on theology than on science. He wrote one about the return of Jesus Christ entitled Observations on the prophecy of Daniel and the Revelation of Saint John. He said:
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.
One might assume from this statement that Newton was a Deist (system of natural religion that affirms God's existence but denies revelation). However, quotes like this shows this is not true:
There are more sure marks of authenticity in the Bible than in any profane history.
One concludes that Newton was a Biblical literalist. It was not enough that an article of faith could be deduced from Scripture, he said:
It must be expressed in the very form of sound words in which it was delivered by the apostles. For men are apt to run into partings about deductions. All the old heresies lie in deductions. The true faith was in the Biblical texts.
George Trevellian, a secular historian, summarized the contributions of these individuals as follows:
Boyle, Newton and the early members of the Royal Society were religious men who repudiated the skeptical doctrines of Thomas Hobbs. But they familiarized the minds of their countrymen with the idea of law in the universe and with scientific methods of inquiry to discover truth. It was believed that these methods would never lead to any conclusions inconsistent with Biblical history and miraculous religion. Newton lived and died in that faith.
Michael Faraday My very favorite?and probably the greatest experimental scientist of all?is Michael Farraday. The two hundredth birthday of Michael Faraday's birth was recently celebrated at the Royal Institution (multi?disciplinary research laboratory in London). There was an interesting article published by my friend Sir John Thomas, who said if Michael Faraday had been living in the era of the Nobel prize, he would have been worthy of at least eight Nobel prizes. Faraday discovered benzene and electromagnetic radiation, invented the generator and was the main architect of classical field theory.
Let me contrast the end of his life with the end of Lev Landau's life. Faraday was close to death. A friend and well?wisher came by and said, "Sir Michael, what speculations have you now?" This friend was trying to introduce some levity into the situation. Faraday's career had consisted of making speculations about science and then dash into the laboratory to either prove or disprove them. It was a reasonable thing to say.
Faraday took it very seriously. He replied:
Speculations, man, I have none. I have certainties. I thank God that I don't rest my dying head upon speculations for "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day."
John Clerk Maxwell The second of the three great theoretical physicist of all time would certainly have been James Clerk Maxwell. Someone has documented Maxwell's career this way:
Maxwell possessed all the gifts necessary for revolutionary advances in theoretical physics?a profound grasp of physical reality, great mathematical ability, total absence of preconceived notions, a creative imagination of the highest order. He possessed also the gift to recognize the right task for this genius?the mathematical interpretation of Faraday's concept of electromagnetic field. Maxwell's successful completion of this task resulting in the mathematical [field] equations bearing his name, constituted one of the great achievements of the human intellect.
I disagree with one statement made above. If Maxwell indeed had a total absence of preconceived notions, he would have accomplished a total absence of science. So this is obviously written by somebody who is not a scientist (a squishyhead). However, this statement is basically good.
Think what God has determined to do to all those who submit themselves to his righteousness and are willing to receive his gift [of eternal life in Jesus Christ]. They are to be conformed to the image of his Son and when that is fulfilled and God sees they are conformed to the image of Christ, there can be no more condemnation.
Maxwell and Charles Darwin were contemporaries. Many wonder what he thought of Darwin's theories. In fact, once he was to go to a meeting on the Italian Riviera in February to discuss new developments in science and the Bible. If you've ever spent time in Cambridge, England, you know it is very gloomy in the wintertime. If I had been a faculty there, I would have taken an opportunity to go to the Italian Riviera at this time of the year.
Maxwell turned down the invitation. He explained:
The rate of change of scientific hypotheses is naturally much more rapid than that of Biblical interpretation. So if an interpretation is founded on such a hypothesis it may help to keep the hypothesis above ground long after it ought to be buried and forgotten.
This is true. An example of this is the steady?state theory, which was popularized by Fred Hoyle and many others. It is one of the two competing theories of the origin of the universe. The steady?state hypothesis basically says that what you see is what was always there. It became less tenable in 1965 with the observation of the microwave background radiation by Arnold Pansias and Robert Wilson. There are not very many people left who believe in the steady?state hypothesis. It is interesting to go back to about 1960 and find commentaries on the book of Genesis and see how they explain how the steady?state hypothesis can be reconciled with the first chapter of Genesis. Any reasonable person can see that Genesis is talking about a beginning from nothing (ex nihilo), so it takes interesting explanations to reconcile a beginning with the steady?state hypothesis.
The steady?state hypothesis is going to be, within about 20 years, gone and forgotten. These commentaries will probably still be available in libraries and no one will be able to understand them.
Science is Inherently a Tentative Activity [Shaefer shows audience a well?known cartoon]. In checking with several mathematicians, I came to realize that the equation in this cartoon means absolutely nothing at all, but the punch line is appropriate. [One character] says, "What is most depressing is the realization that everything we believe will be disproved in a few years." I hope that is not true of my work in quantum chemistry. I don't think it will be true, but there is some truth to this in that science is inherently a tentative activity. We come to understandings that are subjected to, at least, some further refinement.
Somebody who obviously not an admirer of the Christian of Faraday and Maxwell said:
The religious decisions of Faraday and Maxwell were inelegant, but effective evasions of social problems that distracted and destroyed the qualities of the works of many of their ablest contemporaries.
What he is saying is that because they were Christians, Maxwell and Faraday did not become alcoholics nor womanizers nor social climbers as their able colleagues appeared to do.
Organic Chemists William Henry Perkins I need to put a little organic chemistry in here so that my colleagues on the organic side will know that I paid a little attention to them also. William Henry Perkins represents perhaps the first great synthetic organic chemist. Discoverer of the first synthetic dye and the person for whom the Perkins transactions of the Royal Society of London is named, Perkins sold his highly profitable business and retired to private research and church missionary ventures at the age of 35 in the year 1873.
George Stokes We can read about George Stokes in any issue of the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is the best journal in my field. In recent issues, Coherent Anti?Stokes Romin Spectroscopy (CARS) has been a subject of discussion. He is one of the great pioneers of spectroscopy, study of fluids and fluorescence. He held one of the most distinguished chairs in the academic world for more than fifty years, the Lucasian Professorship of Mathematics at Cambridge?a position held by Sir Isaac Newton and currently by Stephen Hawking. He was also president of the Royal Society of London.
Stokes wrote on other topics besides organic chemistry, including the topic of natural theology. Concerning the issue of miracles, Stokes said:
Admit the existence of a personal God and the possibility of miracles follows at once. If the laws of nature are carried out in accordance with his will, he who willed them may will their suspension?.
William Thompson William Thompson was later known as Lord Kelvin. Thompson was a fantastic scientist. He is recognized as the leading physical scientist and the greatest science teacher of his time. His early papers on electromagnetism and heat provide enduring proof of his scientific genius. He was a Christian with a strong faith in God and the Bible. He said:
Do not be afraid to be free thinkers. If you think strongly enough, you will be forced by science to the belief in God.
J. J. Thompson In 1897, J. J. Thompson discovered the electron. He was the Cavendish professor of physics at Cambridge University.
The old Cavendish laboratory sits in the middle of Cambridge campus. So much was discovered there that it was turned into a museum. A total of fifteen Nobel Prizes resulted from work done there. Inscribed over its door is a Latin phrase "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." [A new] Cavendish laboratory was rebuilt out in the country. However, it also has this sentence from the book of Proverbs written over the door, but in English rather than Latin.
J. J. Thompson made this statement in Nature,
In the distance tower still higher [scientific] peaks which will yield to those who ascend them still wider prospects and deepen the feeling whose truth is emphasized by every advance in science, that great are the works of the Lord.
Theoretical Chemist Charles Coulson Charles Coulson is one of the three principal architects of the molecular orbital theory. He probably would have received the Nobel prize but he did not pass the first test. The first test to get the Nobel prize is to live to be 65 years old. The second test is to have done something very important when you were about 30 years old. Coulson did very significant work when he was in his thirties, but he died at 64, thus disqualifying himself from the Nobel prize.
Coulson, a professor of mathematics at Oxford University for many years was also a Methodist lay minister. He was a spokesman for Christians in academic science and the author of the term "God of the gaps" theology.
From the biographical memoir of the Royal Society after Charles Coulson's death, we read a description of his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ in 1930 as a 20?year?old student at Cambridge University. Coulson testified:
There were some ten of us and together we sought for God and together we found Him. I learned for the first time in my life that God was my friend. God became real to me, utterly real. I knew Him and could talk with Him as I never imagined it before and these prayers were the most glorious moment of the day. Life had a purpose and that purpose coloured everything.
Coulson's experience is fairly similar to my own at Berkeley. It would be nice if I could say there was a thunderclap from heaven and God spoke to me in audible terms and that is why I became a Christian. However, it did not happen that way, but I did have this same perception Coulson is talking about?this sense of purpose and more of a vividness to the colors of life.
The successor to Coulson as theoretical chemistry professor at Oxford, was Norman March, a good friend of mine. He as well is a Methodist lay minister.
Robert Griffith, a member of our U.S. Academy of Sciences, Otto Stern professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon University received one of the most coveted awards of the American Physical Society in 1984 on his work in physical mechanics and thermodynamics. Physics Today said he is an evangelical Christian who is an amateur theologian and who helps teach a course on Christianity and science.
He recently said:
If we need an atheist for a debate, I'd go to the philosophy department?the physics department isn't much use.
At Berkeley University, among 55 chemistry professors, we only had one who was willing to openly identify himself as an atheist, my good friend Bob, with whom I still have many discussions about spiritual things.
Richard Bube For many years, Bube was the chairman of the department of materials science at Stanford and carried out foundational work on solid state physics concerning semiconductors. He said:
There are proportionately as many atheistic truck drivers as there are atheistic scientists.
John Suppee Member of the U.S. Academy of Sciences and noted professor of geology at Princeton, expert in the are of tectonics, began a long search for God as a Christian faculty member. He began attending services in the Princeton Chapel, reading the Bible and other Christian books. He committed Himself to Christ and had his first real experience of Christian fellowship in Taiwan, where he is on a fellowship. He states:
Some non?scientist Christians, when they meet a Christian, will call on to debate evolution. That is definitely the wrong thing to do. If you know what problems scientists have in their lives?pride, selfish ambition, jealousy?that's exactly the kind of thing Jesus Christ said that He came to resolve by His death on the cross. Science is full of people with very strong egos who get into conflict with each other. The gospel is the same for scientists as it is for anyone. Evolution is basically a red herring; if scientists are looking for meaning in their lives, it won't be found in evolution. I have never met a non?Christian who brought up evolution with me.
Charles H. Townes My candidate for the scientist of the century is Charlie Townes. (Of course, he is a friend of mine and there could be some bias here.) He did something fairly significant when he discovered the laser. He almost got a second Nobel Prize for the first observation of an interstellar molecule. He has written his autobiography, entitled Making Waves (a pun referring to the wavelike phenomenon of lasers).
An excerpt from his life's story:
You may well ask, "Where does God come into this," to me, that's almost a pointless question. If you believe in God at all, there is no particular "where"?He is always there, everywhere?.To me, God is personal yet omnipresent. A great source of strength, He has made an enormous difference to me.
At eighty [years old], Charlie Townes still has a very active research program at Berkeley.
Arthur Schawlow Schawlow won a Nobel Prize in physics, 1981, serves as physics professor at Stanford and identifies himself as a Christian. He makes this unusual statement which I think could only be made by a scientist:
We are fortunate to have the Bible, and especially the New Testament, which tells so much about God in widely accessible, human terms.
Alan Sandage The world's greatest observational cosmologist, an astronomer at the Carnegie Institution, was called the Grand Old Man of cosmology by The New York Times when he won a $1 million prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. He said:
The nature of God is not to be found within any part of the findings of science. For that, one must turn to the Scriptures.
In one book, Sandage was asked the classic question, "Can one be a scientist and a Christian?" and he replied, "Yes, I am." Ethnically Jewish, Sandage became a Christian at the age of fifty?if that doesn't prove that it's never too late, I don't know what does!
This is the man who is responsible for our best values for the age of the universe: something like 14 billion years. Yet, when this brilliant cosmologist is asked to explain how one can be a scientist and a Christian, he doesn't turn to astronomy, but rather to biology:
The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnections to be due to chance?I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order and each of its organisms is simply too well put together.
William Phillips Now in physics, you can be a lot younger and get the [Nobel] Prize. Phillips is not even 50 years old and he's got it already. His citation was for the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. At a press conference following the announcement of his winning the Nobel Prize, he said:
God has given us an incredibly fascinating world to live in and explore.
According to The New York Times, Phillips "formed and sings in the gospel choir at Fairhaven United Methodist Church, a multi?racial congregation of about 300 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He also teaches Sunday School and leads Bible studies." If you read further in that article, you find out that every Saturday afternoon, he drives with his wife into downtown Washington, D.C. to pick up a blind, 87?year?old African American lady to take her grocery shopping and then to dinner.
David Cole & Francis Collins Since my area of expertise is right between chemistry and physics, I cannot speak as well for the field of biological sciences. However, my longtime colleague, Berkeley biochemist David Cole and cystic fibrosis pioneer, Francis Collins?director of the Human Genome Project, the largest scientific project ever undertaken?are both well?known as outspoken Christians.
Why Are There So Few Atheists Among Physicists? Many scientists are considering the facts before them. They say things like:
The present arrangement of matter indicates a very special choice of initial conditions.
In fact, if one considers the possible constants and laws that could have emerged, the odds against a universe that produced life like ours are immense.
A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.
As the Apostle Paul said in his epistle to the Romans:
Since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities?His eternal power and divine nature?have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.
Why the Perception of Ongoing Battle? The last question I want to ask, then, is this, Why do so many people still think that there is an ongoing battle between science and Christianity? I don't deny that there is an ongoing discussion. But I think the facts are that, what you think about God doesn't depend on whether you have a Ph.D. in the sciences.
Why would some people like to think that this supposed battle rages on? At least in part, I honestly feel it is a misrepresentation. Let me give you just one example. Andrew Dickson White was the first president of Cornell University, the first university in the United States formed on strictly secular principles. (All others had been founded on a Christian basis.) He wrote a very famous book, The History of the Warfare of Science With Theology, in 1896. An excerpt:
[John] Calvin took the lead in his commentary on Genesis, by condemning all who asserted that the earth is not the center of the universe. He clinched the matter by the usual reference to the first verse of the 93rd Psalm and asked, "Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?"
(This is not making John Calvin look very good!) What's the real story behind this? Alistair McGrath, Brampton Lecturer at Oxford University and perhaps the greatest living scholar on Calvin, has recently written an authoritative biography of Calvin, in which he goes into question with great detail:
This assertion of Calvin is slavishly repeated by virtually every science writer on the theme of religion and science, such as Bertrand Russell in his History of Western Philosophy. Yet it may be stated categorically that Calvin wrote no such words in his Genesis commentary and expressed no such sentiments in any of his known writings. The assertion that he did is to be found characteristically unsubstantiated in the writings of the nineteenth century?.
It would be fair to ask what Calvin really thought of Copernicus' heliocentric theory of the solar system, and the answer is that we don't know. He probably didn't even know about him?Copernicus was not exactly a household name in France or Switzerland in 1520. But in his preface of his translation of the New Testament into French, Calvin wrote:
The whole point of Scripture is to bring us to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and, having come to know Him with all that this implies, we should come to a halt and not expect to learn more.
Conclusion I hope that I have given you a flavor of the history of science. Those of you who have taken a freshman chemistry or physics course will surely find many of these people familiar. In fact, the reason I have prepared this talk is that these represent the very people I have taught in such courses.
There is a tremendous tradition of distinguished scientists who were and are Christians. I hope that my work is considered sufficiently outstanding to fall into the distinguished among that category. I also hope I have given you enough evidence that you will never again believe that it is impossible to be a scientist and a Christian.
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White's book is one of the worst, most irresponsible books ever written.
It is frequently quoted by atheists against Christians.
The book is unrelievedly racist and contains literally hundreds of clear misstatements of historical fact, sometimes a dozen on a single page.
He made up many quotes out of whole cloth, correctly presuming that no one would pore through thousands of pages of Latin text to prove him wrong.
All in all, this book makes "Arming America" look like a milestone of scholarship.
If any Christian on this thread is ever confronted by quotes from Andrew Dickson White, feel comfortable in challenging them immediately.
Pinging (as usual, if you desire to be added to or removed from my Catholic ping list, please send me a FReepmail.)
How does one manipulate a fact?
It is incredibly better to read it as published.
Note also the number of non-Christian winners whose names he omitted. True, his premise is existential, and it suffices to show just one example to prove it.
However, you'd expect a scientist to dig a little deeper than this. He could, perhaps, put things in perspective to explain to us why, despite the Christian beliefs of all the quoted scientists, so many scientists where persectuted and burned at the stake. Why was it that, depsite all the enlightend scientists-Christians in its membership, it took the church almost two centuries to even acknowledge auto-da-fe of Giodano Bruno as "mistake."
Sometimes they need to be smashed, quite forcibly, into these shiny theory-boxes of fantastic and bizarre shapes, in order for them to have even the least bit of correlation to the actual titles imprinted on these same boxes.
Quite awkward at times, as well.
Second, the Church has had it's own problem through the centuries, not the least of which was a long period of time when it was unduely influnenced by Aristotelian philosophy, more than by good Bible exegesis. There are many abberations in the positions of the church, particulary through the MIddle Ages. None the less, many of the scientists that he refers to found it inportant to view the world through theistic eyes, recognizing the place of man and the universe.
I find it curious that some materialists are already considering how they will deal with intelligent design if it holds up to scrutiny: At the Intersection of "Metaphysical Naturalism" and "Intelligent Design"
Thank you for your reply. I did acknowedge that his scope was narrow albweit important: in the present-dat, anti-religion climate it's good to remind people of the many scientists that saw in their viewpoint no fundamental contradictions.
I still retain the view expressed in the previous posts: it would be significantly more helpful to address at least some of the aforementioned questions. Note that limitations of space are not present: instead of just piling up more examples, he could have easily broadened the scope.
This whole lecture boils down to this: "Is it possible to be a Christian and a scientis? Yes, look at me. Here is a list of people like me."
Too simplistic, especially for a scientist.
Here's an example:
Beinedict XIV. saw that the best thing for lihu-iiaty, the only thing-was a surrender unlder forini of a compromise. In a brief hle decdared( s)stanti,ally that the law of the Church ISce rItationI f'roi Coocina in Lecky; also, acquiescence in this intc,l)rctati-'l,y Jfr. Dickinson, in Speech in Senate of Nw YIrk, al)ov-e quotel. 131
It's practically unintelligible.
But let's look at it, anyway.
What it appears to say is that Pope Benedict XIV somehow repealed the moral law of the Church concerning usury.
In order to substantiate his claim, White references not the Pope himself - whose writings on these matters are quite public - but two other sources. The first is Lecky, a Protestant historian who was a polemical opponent of the Church and not a dispassionate source. The second is apparently a speech given by a Dickinson in the New York State Senate - no date or even year given, as far as we can tell.
The obvious reference would be to Vix Pervenit - the letter to the Italian bishops which outlined Benedict XIV's policy on usury.
It's telling that White does not reference the primary source, because the primary source does not bear out his assertions.
The fact that the letter was addressed to the Italian bishops and not to the Church as a whole means that the letter is not a statement of Church law, but a statement of the recommended policy to be followed in Italy. So this is an outright fabrication on White's part.
The letter itself reiterates the Church's opposition to usury in forceful terms and does not contain a "compromise" or a "surrender." It reiterates that repayment of a loan is to be made in exchange for the value provided and also reiterates that Church law recognizes and has always recognized that legal contracts can be more complex than simple loan contracts. This was acknowledged by the Church for centuries.
If White had done his research he would have been aware of the existence of the mons pietatis of the XIIth century. He would also have been aware of the Salamanca School of economists of the XVth and XVIth century and the great advances they made in economics and finance.
So essentially, in the space of one paragraph White is dishonest in three ways:
(1) He makes a claim about Benedict XIV's teaching but fails to substantiate it from primary sources. Instead he cites one polemical secondary source and another secondary source almost impossible to substantiate.
(2) He mischaracterizes a letter as a statement of Church law. It is nothing of the kind. No consultative letter sent to a small number of local bishops can be considered legislative. In fact, as to the matter of the loan contracts under discussion, the Pope specifically states in paragraph 7: "We decide nothing for the present; We also shall not decide now about the other contracts in which the theologians and canonists lack agreement."
(3) He makes a misleading statement about the historical significance of the letter: it is in perfect harmony with the statements of his predecessors. There is no "surrender" or "compromise" - it states absolutely nothing new.
All this deliberate misleading is meant to buttress his larger argument which is also deceptive - that the Church was unalterably opposed to all forms of interest until matters came to a head in the late XVIIIth century and Benedict finally caved in and allowed Catholics to take and pay interest. This would come as a great surprise to all the bankers who operated with the Church's blessing throughout the Middle Ages.
This complete fabrication - that the Church opposed all forms of credit financing - ties in to the gneral pattern of deception in his book. He maintains that the Church acted to suppress developments in economic and financial theory. In point of fact the Church encouraged it, many Dominican philosophers made it their life's work, the school of Salamanca in Spain was the first group of free trade theorists in history, and the first great modern economist was the Irish Catholic, Jesuit-educated Richard Cantillon who was a student of the Salamanca school and was a financier in France.
White wants to pretend that the Church was at war with economic scholarship when it actually fostered it. To keep up the pretense he misrepresents, misquotes and misleads.
That's just one sentence in this execrable book.
This is not a fair comment. You may not agree with the conclusions of medieval exegesis, but the commentators of the Middle Ages read Aristotle through a Biblical lens, not the reverse.
Which scientists were burned at the stake by the Church?
And of course you realize that Bruno was not a scientist - he was an occultist.
2Ti 1:12 For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
I don't disagree with your observations, but I am only reporting what he chose to do at the time of this lecture. It is easy to be a "Monday morning quarterback." What he had to say was good, and in my mind right on target, given the audience.
P.S. John A. Wheeler wrote once, "No one doubts today that the Shroedinger qeuation containts in principle all chemistry." I wonder what the esteemed professor thinks of that.
I don't expect Dr. Koop to apologize for Dr. Mengele. So you need to call up those who took responsibility for it. By the way you sound like some of those retributions folk.
I understand that you approve of the scope of the lecture, and I respect your opinion. I personally think that that the standards he chose are a bit low. Why do you presume that my opinion is devoid of experience?
Did I say something to make you think that? If so, it was done inadvertently. That was never my intent. Forgive me if I led you to believe otherwise.
Oh, my: your moral relativism has propagated so deeply...
It is very sad that you see no difference between the two. Someone has to point out that Mengele's actions were never sanction by the medical profession, which expressly admonishes the opposite from what he did; whereas Bruno, and hyndreds of thousands of other "heretics" have been burned at the stake not by a rogue monk but by the official representatives of the Church, by the office created expressly for that purpose.
You should acqaint yourself also with the notion of fiduciary duty before you turn table on others.
Finally, it is interesting that you can infer what I think about the world and my opinions on the issue solely from a question I posed. Someone has to tell you that you have no chance of being correct doing that.
Your accusation is not neutral, however: you put me in company with not-so-nice people, without a shread of evidence. Have you heard of Commandments, Andrew?
All I have learned from your post that you are moral relativist, not suffciently familar with commandments, who probably goes to church on Sundays and got offended at the possibility that the Church may have done something wrong in the past. Thank you.
(1) Christ was not divine, but a skillful magician
(2) the the Holy Spirit is actually the soul of the world and not part of a Trinity
(3) The devil and all the fallen angels will be saved?
That's what I understand him to have been executed for.
I hope this gentleman continues to give his lectures on the subject: he is a rarity in the the rabid anti-religious campus atmosphere of today. Thank you also for posting it: we too needed to see it.
Again, a claim that needs substantiation. Remember that the Spanish Inquisition, at the height of its activity in the period 1486 - 1650 executed approximately 4,000 people, and not all of them for heresy.
The Spanish Inquisition, of course, dwarfed the Roman Inquisition in the Albigensian Inquisition in scope and severity.
Come on now, TQ. You can do better than that. There has actually been new historical research done on these events in the past 113 years
This alleged execution of 2,000 is unfootnoted and is given no primary source.
It's a bald assertion. Where did Fiske get this number? The same place he fabricated his 75,000 Dutchmen - a number which even he agrees is exaggerated?
The fact is, the population of the Spanish Netherlands was probably not even 2 million people in the XVIth century. Are we to believe that one out of every 25 adults was burned at the stake?
The numbers casually thrown about for religious executions in medieval Europe are almost always grossly exaggerated.
As for the proportion you mention, it is by a lot smaller than the killings of the XX century (in Russia and China, for instance).
Anything can be dismissed as anti-Catholic propaganda. At the same time, I found the ending of the Catholic ENcyclopedia article rather interesting: the Albigensian "herecy was finally suppressed by ..." (I do not recall the year). No regrets even 800 years later. Thank G-d; it was menace; it was hard to get rid of; we finally did it.
The Albigensians believed that intentionally starving oneself to death and starving one's infant children to death were good things. They also believed that killing another person was an act of mercy, since physical reality reality was evil - that the world was created by the Devil instead of God. They were a death cult similar to the Solar Temple or Aum Shinryko.
The fact that Albigensianism stopped spreading was a very positive development for the human race.
You won't find the Catholic Encyclopedia saying that the Spanish Inquisition was a good thing just because it kept Spain Catholic. The Catholic Encyclopedia realizes that the Spanish Inquisition was an egregious example of the abuse of power, while the Albigensian example was a matter of civilization fighting for its life.
As for the factor of ten, try a factor of a thousand. There are people who will claim with a straight face that 100,000,000 people instead of 6,000 were executed by the Spanish Inquisition. That's right - people who claim that four times as many people as live in all of 21st century Spain were executed in Southern Spain in the 1500s.
The fact is that in the XVIth century the Dutch were engaged in a civil war against the Spanish throne. I'm sure that something like 50,000 people died over the course of this conflict. But separating purely religiously motivated executions from political assassinations and executions for treason is pretty much impossible. There was a Calvinist army fighting Catholic troops - every encounter would have some religious aspect to it.
If Fiske is going to chalk up the deaths of Protestants in Holland to pure religious bigotry, then he'll have to add all the Irish and Northern Scottish deaths and land clearances to England's and Protestantism's balance sheet. But he's already ruled that out - since he feels that the tender mercies of Cromwell in Ireland can't be compared to the brutality of the Spanish Throne in Holland.
From little that I know, I understand that Albigenses were rather extreme in their beliefs. I also understand that, when looking back this many centuries, one has to view that world through the standards of that time. Yet, I do not find it normal to write about a mass slaughter matter-of-factly. The human sacrifice of the Incas was not up to our standards of civility, and yet I cannot imagine that someone would write today, "They have been finally wiped out by ..." And if someone did, I would consider that an abomination.
As for the insane people who claim that millions and millions were killed by inquisition, thank you for letting me know; this is new for me; the claim is clearly ridiculous. However, Fiske is one of the majot historians of the XIX century, he knows the difference between "slaughtered for herecy" and "killed in fighting." I suspect that you have read something by him, and can attest yourself that, while his interpretations may be in question, his motivations are not.
I certainly hope that you do not question my motivations either: it is not my intention to show the Church in a bad light (in fact, I wish it was more proactive in claiming its rightful place in history of Europe, as Pope only recently asserted). Yet, the ending of the article on Albigenses did leave a bad feeling in my mouth. Despite your very informative reply, which I read with great interest, that feeling has not dissipated, I am sorry to say.
I don't know; I stopped upon reading the sentence ...
For several centuries, scientists have set the standards of truth for Western culture. And their undeniable usefulness in helping us organize, analyze, and manipulate facts has given them an unprecedented importance in modern society.
... and realized that the author thought he could "manipulate" facts.
I hold that words mean things, and that "facts" are facts until proven otherwise.