Chapter 3: Scientific Research and the Pursuit of Truth

Christianity and the Scientist
by Ian Barbour

Chapter 3: Scientific Research and the Pursuit of Truth

An astronomer is investigating the spectrum of light from a galaxy a million light-years away. Of what value is work of this sort which seems to have no practical use? A biologist has devoted ten years to studying the life-history of a species of spider. For the Christian layman, what can be the motives of such fundamental research? “Pure science” is justified by the applications to which it may eventually lead in unexpected ways, but it is also valuable as part of man’s quest for knowledge. In a culture interested in utilitarian results, the importance of the search for understanding in itself must be reaffirmed. The Christian is called not only to serve human need but to seek truth.

A. Values in the Quest for Knowledge

The “will to know” is one of man’s most characteristic drives. The challenge of the unknown has always attracted men to the exciting adventure of investigation. Curiosity and the desire to understand the universe are the main motivations of many scientists. For every person who wins a Nobel prize for a major discovery, thousands of others find satisfaction in making small contributions to knowledge. Even a science course can convey this sense of intellectual adventure if it stresses the fascinating account of past exploration and encourages the student’s own developing insight rather than mere memorization of formulae.

Intellectual achievement is itself one of the finest fruits of human culture. Science represents both a method of understanding the universe and a form of the life of the mind. Newton’s three laws were an amazing accomplishment, describing all motions — whether of a tennis ball or of a distant planet. A system of concepts, such as the equations of thermodynamics, is a complex theoretical and experimental structure to which many individuals contributed. Out of apparently unrelated phenomena new patterns emerged; order appeared in what had looked like chaos. There is beauty and simplicity in the laws of nature, and an aesthetic element in the response of the scientist. Poincaré wrote:

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it . . . because it is beautiful. I mean that profounder beauty which comes from the harmonious order of the parts.1

Human creativity is prominent in all scientific discovery. Theories require the invention of mental “constructs” in terms of which the data can be understood and organized. Notable advances have usually required new “models” and conceptual schemes, fresh ways of looking at the data, or novel ideas for the design of apparatus. Here imagination and originality are required, and the work of the scientist has much in common with that of the artist. Subsequent appreciation of a scientific theory, like enjoyment of a work of art, requires what J. Bronowski 2 calls “a re-enactment of the original creative moment.” Science may well be called “one of the humanities,” a product of man’s creative spirit.

Truth, beauty, and goodness are all significant values in the life of man. Perhaps in any given enterprise all three should be kept in mind, but one of them is usually predominant. Scientific research is not to be condemned because its particular contribution to the total picture is primarily in the area of truth rather than beauty or goodness. The act of understanding, like artistic activity, is desirable as one part of “the good life,” and one aspect of what it means to be truly human. Science has been an emancipator, liberating men from ignorance, fear, and superstition. Furthering knowledge is thus in itself a form of serving human welfare, quite apart from any practical applications.

Moreover, scientific activity requires of its members a number of important ethical attitudes. These values are implicit presuppositions, which only after reflection become conscious ideals:

Rationality and honesty. Deductive and inductive reasoning in relation to experimentation are the essence of scientific thought. Reason enters all phases of work: patient inquiry, critical analysis, mathematical logic, inference and prediction, design of fruitful experiments. Intellectual integrity is necessitated by the character of science itself, for one cannot deceive nature. But this is also a requirement of research as a communal process. Violations of truthfulness are regarded with seriousness, for an individual takes responsibility for the validity of what he publishes and must in turn assume the integrity of the work of others.

Universality and co-operation. Science is international; each man builds on the work of men from many countries and ages. The International Geophysical Year only organized more effectively in a few fields the interaction which has always taken place between nations. Technical talent does not follow lines of race, color, or creed; work is judged by its inherent value, so that mutual respect and democratic relationships are encouraged. Collaboration and teamwork are often essential in research. All contributions to knowledge are common property; thus “private property rights” are minimized, and industrial or government secrecy is accepted only with great reluctance. As each man uses the previous knowledge which the community has lent him, so he is under obligation to publish new data for the use of those who follow him.

Disinterestedness and open-mindedness. The dispassionate requirements of the evidence, not personal preference, provide the criteria for evaluating theories. Private profit and self-interest are seldom the controlling motives of men of science. Tentativeness, suspended judgment, self-criticism, and tolerance of divergent ideas are among the desirable attitudes. To be sure, vehemence of conviction and pride of authorship are as common here as among other creative workers, but the norms of the scientific community minimize the effects of emotional attachment to one’s own viewpoint.

Freedom. Science develops most fruitfully when there is freedom of inquiry, thought, and discussion, and the liberty to follow the truth wherever it leads. Publications are subject to open scrutiny and evaluation, tested by criticism and discussion in which the right of dissent is maintained.

The further question arises as to whether these ethical attitudes which are necessary in scientific work can be extended from science to other areas of man’s life. A number of authors suggest that the scientist’s greatest contribution to civilization is to encourage the widespread adoption of such values. Bronowski urges that scientific attitudes become the ethics of modern man:

Science has humanized our values. Men have asked for freedom, justice, and respect precisely as the scientific spirit has spread among them. . . . It is the scientist’s duty to teach the implications and values in his work.3

Science has indeed been an influence against authoritarianism, dogmatism, and intolerance, and has encouraged freedom of inquiry in general. The scientist can continue to uphold the desirability of experimental attitudes and critical thought in any area of life. His belief in universality and in co-operation across national barriers is a significant example to a divided world; some writers believe this internationalism could be a major force for world peace.

But the proposal to derive ethics completely from science seems to this author to entail several difficulties. It appears to attribute desirable changes in social philosophy in the past too exclusively to the influence of science. Moreover, the scientific enterprise itself is not self-sufficient, but is to some extent dependent on society for the creation and defense of these values. A. D. Ritchie has written:

These moral qualities are preconditions for the pursuit of science, not products of science except incidentally. . . . Belief in free discussion, tolerance, and equal treatment of others, all spring from respect for persons and cannot exist without that respect. . . . Respect for truth and respect for persons as part of the general social tradition are needed for science to survive.4

To be sure, the scientific community always has considerable autonomy, determining its own criteria and the standards it believes to be essential for its work. Yet the traditions of science embody unconscious premises which over a period of time are in two-way interaction with the premises of cultural traditions and institutions. Michael Polanyi5 suggests, for example, that loyalty to truth presupposes that there is such a thing as truth and that there is an obligation to seek it. This has, in turn, other consequences: freedom, tolerance, and fairness are necessary if we recognize that there is a common truth to which both sides of a dispute are loyal. This dedication to truth cannot simply be taken for granted. The Nazi understanding that “truth is what benefits the nation,” or the Marxist view that “truth is what serves the proletariat,” has implications both for political freedom and for the vitality of science, as we shall see later.

Finally, the extent of influence of the ethical attitudes of science on individual behavior may be questioned. The scientist as an individual is not necessarily more virtuous than other men; we have seen how varied are his motives, and must disavow the claim that he is invariably “humble, honest, dedicated only to truth.” While working on a problem he is in fact completely absorbed in its technical details and gives little thought to anything else. The attitudes listed above operate less as personal motives than as presuppositions of the whole scientific enterprise and conditions of work embodied in its institutions and traditions.

“Disinterestedness,” for example, turns out on further analysis to be more a feature of the scientist’s occupational role than of his personal character. He is, in fact, likely to be in-tensely interested in his work, and to find in it both personal fulfillment and recognition. But “self-interest” does not fill the same overt function that it does in many jobs. The businessman is expected, according to laissez-faire ideology, to pursue his own profit, from which society will benefit indirectly. The scientist is not more altruistic than other men, but the rules of the game for achieving success are different.6 The common welfare, represented by the development of science, is the focus of attention. The patterns approved by his colleagues do not sanction self-interest in the same way that they do traditionally in business, and the symbols of recognition are not primarily monetary. Many scientists do give up personal convenience and worldly pleasures, but less from any deliberate unselfishness than from interest in their work.

Attitudes which are present in the context of scientific work may be desirable elsewhere, but are not transferable in any easy way. Extravagant claims are sometimes made for the place of science in character formation. Even one course, we are told, teaches intellectual and moral virtues, and will instill in students “the ability to think straight,” “absolute honesty of mind,” “humility, tolerance, and goodwill.” But the studies that have been made suggest that attitudes learned in one field have limited influence on new situations in other fields; and outside their own area scientists can be as dogmatic as anyone else.

Thus on both the social and the individual levels the proposal of a simple transfer of the ethical attitudes of science appears to underestimate the complexity of ethical issues, to idealize the purity of the scientist’s motives, and to provide no adequate dynamic for concern about the welfare of others. Scientific attitudes cannot be considered an adequate summary of religious ethics, in which justice and love surely transcend in both scope and power of motivation anything that science can provide. Nevertheless we shall see that all the attitudes implicit in research are indeed ideals which the Christian can affirm. He can try to practice and extend these values in all that he does, and yet be aware of their limitations as a total philosophy of life. He can be glad that the scientific enterprise does entail a moral structure, without claiming that these values are the research scientist’s main contribution to mankind.

B. Understanding God’s Creation

A number of historians have stressed the contribution of the Judaeo-Christian perspective to the rise of science. The biblical view of creation was one of the influences in the climate of thought out of which scientific investigation arose. To be sure, the Greek view of the rationality and orderliness of the universe was also a major root of science. But Greek science, though well developed in a few areas, never got very far in others, in part because of lack of concern for detailed observation of the world. Its approach was primarily deductive in trying to derive details from “first principles.” In the biblical perspective, God’s rationality is reflected in nature; but he did not have to form the precise sort of world he chose to create. Man can understand the actual world only by investigating it experimentally, not by thinking of a necessary rational structure which God would have had to follow. Nature is contingent on the divine will and can be known only by observing it humbly.8 These were presuppositions from which science could develop: the order, regularity, and intelligibility of nature, and the necessity of observation and experimentation.

Attitudes toward nature have always affected men’s interest in investigating it. In Platonic thought, matter represented a limitation, an imperfect embodiment of ideal forms; the material world was to be escaped in contemplation of pure ideas. In many religions, nature has been either worshiped as divine, divided among polytheistic forces, or seen as intrinsically evil. In Hinduism, for example, the doctrine of Maya holds that the natural world is essentially illusory; true reality is beyond multiplicity and change. The biblical view, by contrast, considers creation fundamentally good; it takes a positive view of the natural order and is concerned about events within history. There were, of course, many other factors that contributed to the rise of science, including trade, changing social patterns, and Renaissance interests. But the fact cannot be ignored that it was in the Hebrew-Christian West alone among world civilizations that science was extensively developed.

It should be pointed out, however, that various strands within historical Christianity had widely differing influences on scientific research. There has been an ascetic theme of world-denial, attributable in part to Hellenistic thought in the early church, and expressed in some aspects of monasticism. By contrast, Puritan encouragement of “this-worldly” activity gave impetus to the growth of science as well as to the rise of capitalism, for men were urged to glorify God through good works. Most of the founding fathers of modern science were men of profound religious faith. On the other hand, biblical literalism and, to even a larger extent, the authority of Aristotelian cosmology retarded the acceptance of the work of Copernicus and Galileo. Nor should it by any means be implied that Christianity is the only world-view which can stimulate scientific research. Naturalistic humanism, for example, gives deliberate encouragement to this enterprise. But science would find little support in certain other philosophies, such as an extreme existentialism which deprecates man’s reason and looks on the impersonal aspects of the universe as a meaningless stage for the drama of personal existence.

Throughout history there have been men who looked on their research as studying God’s handiwork to his glory. Kepler spoke of his astronomical theories as “thinking God’s thoughts after him.” In the same spirit, William Pollard conceives the ultimate purpose of science as neither progress nor knowledge but the deepening of “the awed and appreciative wonder with which we respond to the work of God.” He writes:

Knowing that God’s purpose in producing us within His creation is that this creation might have the means for responding to Him, for praising and glorifying Him, we need only ask could it possibly be God’s desire for us ‘that we remain ignorant of all this deeper apprehension of His creation? . . . Science will piece together from it a far deeper and vastly wider apprehension of the wonder of God’s creation than men two centuries ago could ever in their wildest fancies have guessed would be possible.9

This attitude of appreciation of the created order is in keeping with the biblical emphasis. The Hebrew people enjoyed nature in gratitude and wonder. The psalmist exults: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Man is given dominion over all things on the earth (Genesis 1:28) and science may be thought of as one form of such dominion.

Reverence for fact is required by this understanding of nature. The scientist must approach his material with humility, to learn and not to prescribe, with respect for the “givenness” of things and the integrity of the created order. He must be willing to be corrected in the light of the evidence regardless of his private convenience. Science is thus one form of self-transcendence, in which man is drawn out of himself in fidelity to the created order and finds his relationship to reality. Theory and observation are the two basic methodological components of science; whereas theory stresses the creative role of man’s mind in constructing hypotheses, observation stresses the objective, “realistic” side of science, the given structures in terms of which hypotheses must be experimentally tested.

This appreciation of God’s creation should be clearly distinguished from alternative views of the relation of religion to the work of the research scientist. Some Christians believe that God operates primarily by miraculous intervention in nature rather than in its regularities. This leads to the attempt to use God as an explanation for gaps in present knowledge. This “God of the gaps” is deprived of territory with each advance of science. In contrast, other scientists experience a sense of awe and mystery in relation to the known as much as to the unknown. Still others try to use the regularities of nature as proof of the existence of God, and argue that the evidence of purpose and design in the universe has been increased by modern knowledge. The Moody Bible Institute produces scientific films whose major theme is the evidence of design, a topic stressed also by the American Scientific Affiliation, most of whose members are conservative Christians with science Ph.D.’s. Men of more liberal theological viewpoints have also spoken of new discoveries as revealing God. C. A. Coulson, the Oxford mathematician, says that science is “helping to put a face on God”; it is “a definite religious activity, a revelation of God,” and “one aspect of God’s presence.” 10

These are significant affirmations, provided it is remembered that in the biblical perspective God is only partially revealed in the created order. Nature is an inadequate medium for the full disclosure of his purposes, which occurs in historical events and the lives of persons. The question “What does God have to do with me?” comes before the question “What does God have to do with nature?” “I-Thou” relationships are a more profound revelation of the divine than “I-It” relationships could be. Even when a man says that science led him to God, it was probably less a reasoned conclusion from the abstract symbols of technical knowledge than a total response to an experience of beauty, order, and reverence. It is in terms of such personal involvement, of which their work provided the context, that men in the laboratory have felt themselves to be in the presence of God.

The attempt to derive God from science leads at most to an impersonal Cosmic Force or a Great Designer. Sometimes God is equated with cosmic structure. Other thinkers (e.g., Schrödinger) 11 arrive at a pantheistic conception of God. Einstein goes further:

A conviction, akin to religious feeling, of the rationality or intelligibility of the world, lies behind all scientific work of a high order. This firm belief in a superior mind that reveals itself in the world of experience represents my conception of God.12

The Hebrew-Christian conception of a personal God goes even beyond this. What we have been suggesting is that the individual who has come to know God in personal experience and in historic revelation can then view science as understanding God’s creation, in which he has partially revealed himself.

A man’s view of creation will, however, have an indirect rather than a direct influence on technical aspects of his work in the laboratory. Religious faith has nothing to say about the melting point of copper or the atomic weight of carbon. While working on a problem in biology one is completely absorbed in the immediate situation, and for the moment oblivious to its wider implications. The legitimate autonomy of science may be upheld from a biblical viewpoint, since the created order has its own relative independence. Respect for the given structure of reality means humility before the evidence. Moreover, freedom of inquiry, far from being limited by religious commitment, should be required by it. Radical honesty and dedication to truth are religious imperatives. We are free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. When the church has tried to dictate specific conclusions to scientists, it has misunderstood the nature of religious faith — and has often turned out to be factually mistaken. The intellectual criteria of science are largely intrinsic to the discipline itself. Again, value-judgments are less directly involved in the details of work in the natural sciences than in many other fields; in the social sciences, for example, a scholar’s work is more strongly affected by his views of the nature of man, his values and goals, and his perspective on society.

Although a man can carry out detailed investigations without asking philosophical and theological questions, religious faith is indirectly relevant to research. The prevailing world-view of a society does in the long run influence the presuppositions and values of scientific endeavor, as has been noted in the examples of dedication to truth and attitudes toward nature. In a day when practical results are extolled, and education becomes technical training, a Christian perspective may help undergird a profounder dedication to the pursuit of understanding in itself. Moreover, ethical decisions do arise even in connection with research. Selection of problems to investigate, and of questions that are considered valuable to ask, are indirectly influenced by the outlook of both the individual and the culture. Sometimes the probable consequences of a discovery can be foreseen sufficiently to involve the scientist in some degree of responsibility for the results of his work. A man’s motivation and his view of the meaning and significance of his work are determined by his philosophy of life. Here Christianity is concerned less about the particular details of individual facts than about their relation to man’s life and his goals.

C. The Use and Misuse of Reason

The two central elements in scientific activity are observation and reason. The former is more characteristic of the experimental side of research, the latter of its theoretical side. The biblical understanding of creation supports the empirical, observational aspect of science, but the Christian evaluation of the rational component seems more ambiguous. Whereas the Greeks exalted reason and considered the contemplation of truth the highest goal of man, biblical thought tended to value righteousness above truth or beauty. The truth in which it was interested was primarily the personal knowledge of God, persons, values and meanings, rather than the objective knowledge of the scientist. The Fourth Gospel asserts, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32); but it goes on to refer to “doing the truth” and “the truth that is in Christ,” stressing active participation rather than abstract contemplation or intellectual assent alone. Medieval scholasticism combined Greek and Hebrew emphases. Rationality, Aquinas maintained, is the distinctive characteristic of man, but is to be used to God’s glory. Historians find the rise of science indebted to the legacy of the Middle Ages for belief in the intelligibility of the universe and faith in man’s ability to understand.

Today Roman Catholic philosophy and Protestant Modernism affirm rationality as a high value in human life. Thus E. F. Caldin,13 a British chemist with a Thomistic viewpoint, describes science as one version of the rational life, which is an essential part of the “good life.” He upholds equally the role of reason in other areas, such as metaphysics and ethics, and suggests that use of intelligence in science develops self-discipline and understanding of rational procedures in general. Catholicism emphasizes reason in all fields, including philosophy of religion, while depending on revelation for the central truths of theology. Protestant Modernism, on the other hand, extols the power of reason throughout both science and theology.

Christian Existentialism and Fundamentalism, at the opposite extreme, tend to minimize the role of reason. Existentialists in general have little use for the detached impersonal analysis of objective inquiry, and reduce nature to the stage of man’s personal life. Both Sartre and Kierkegaard disparage science. Fundamentalists have in the past sometimes considered both education and science to be works of the devil; this attitude, largely engendered by the controversy over evolution, is less common today. Milder forms of anti-intellectualism appear in defensiveness toward science among some Christians, and encouragement of piety in place of scholarship by some church colleges.

The main stream of Protestantism lies between the two extremes above. Here reason has an important but not an exclusive role within theology; historic revelation and personal experience must be interpreted, analyzed, and communicated by human reason. Attitudes toward rationality in theology and in science are not necessarily identical, and some authors make a sharp distinction by limiting the range of applicability of reason. More commonly the evaluation of reason in one area is reflected in a similar evaluation of its role in other areas. Respect for the scholar is characteristic of Judaism and Christianity. From the founding of the university in the Middle Ages to the establishment of colleges throughout America, the church has been a major sponsor of education.

God has given men minds to be used. “Whatever is true… whatever is just . . . think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mark 12:30). Jesus was obviously not referring specifically to science; but he was indicating that all aspects of man’s life can express love of God. Serving God with the heart is important, as pietism reminds us; but serving God with the mind is the particular function of the intellectual life. Disciplined thought, responsible scholarship, and respect for truth are aspects of reverence for God, “the author of all truth.”

The scientist’s devotion to truth is an ultimate concern which he rightly feels as a sacred obligation. We can be thankful for this dedication even on the part of agnostic colleagues who do not see it as a form of worshiping God with the mind. Perhaps we can say of them what Paul said in the university town of Athens: “For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man. . . . Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:23-28).

The Christian can join forces with the scientist in looking on research as a form of rationality and fidelity to reality. Among philosophers of science the “idealists” emphasize the role of man’s mind and the structure of ideas, while the “realists” emphasize the objective structure of the physical world. But only a few interpreters (e.g., the extreme “conventionalists”) see scientific theories as arbitrary inventions of man’s fancy. Even the person who wants to avoid the word truth and to speak only of “more adequate description and prediction” is acknowledging obligation to demands not of his own making. This represents a self-transcendence, and a loyalty to values, which contrast with contemporary moods of skepticism, cynicism, and meaninglessness.

Finally, Christianity has not only an affirmative word concerning rationality; it has also a word of caution about the temptations to which human reason is subject, and the ways in which man can misuse any of his powers:

1. Intellectual pride. The exhilarating experience of the mind’s power can lead to an intellectual arrogance in which one sets oneself over against God and man. The optimism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and its belief in inevitable progress can be traced in part to an exaggerated faith in man’s intellect. More recent centuries have undermined this overconfidence. Freud showed how man’s reason could be the servant of his unconscious desires — the very word “rationalize” reflects this ambivalence of rationality. Marx pointed to the role of cultural and class ideologies in many of our ideas. Man’s inability to solve the problem of war has been a reminder of the strength of social irrationality. In the Christian tradition it has always been held that the central problems of man lie in his will and orientation, not in his intellect alone. Humility is high on the list of virtues, and nowhere is it more necessary than in the life of the mind.

2. Intellectual narrowness. There is a tendency for the specialist in any field to reduce all reality to the dimensions of his own field, and to elevate a partial view of reality into a total philosophy of life. The scientist needs to avoid too narrow a view of truth. Reason is often equated with technical analysis, and its role in other areas repudiated. In subsequent chapters we will look at the expressions of these dangers in particular situations: the limitations of scientific methodology as the teacher confronts them; the idolatry of science in contemporary society; and the temptation to identify science with the whole of reality in the scientist’s own perspective.

3. Intellectual irresponsibility. Research is a fascinating pursuit and can easily lead to an ivory-tower existence, unconcerned with the relation of knowledge to the rest of the world. Involvement can be escaped by viewing problem-solving as an ultimate goal, as intriguing as a game of chess. The legitimate role of objectivity does not require neutrality on all issues. Even a university, whose primary service is to the truth, must not in the process neglect other values. The German universities expressed less opposition to the growth of Nazism in the 1930’s than did the churches and labor unions; their failure at this point has been attributed in large part to their neutral pursuit of truth without concern for the life of the nation.14 By contrast, an example of intellectual responsibility occurred a few years ago when the University of Chicago was building a new cancer research hospital. It was believed that more patients would consent to undergo treatment if the wards were segregated racially. Some of the scientists said: “The only academic goal is the search for truth; we should have segregated wards if this will facilitate research.” But the majority voted, in effect: “No, the university is committed to other values beside the pursuit of truth, and in this case the principle of racial equality is at stake.” For a university as for an individual, the search for knowledge must never become an exclusive goal.

What can we conclude, then, concerning the Christian motivation for scientific research? Clearly one justification is that it leads to useful applications. It has often been pointed out that the United States has in the past been stronger in applied than in fundamental science, for which it has often been dependent on Europe. Radar, television, atomic energy, and antibiotics are a few of the many instances in which the U.S. has benefited from basic research done elsewhere. Moreover, pure science often issues in totally unexpected applications. Roentgen did not have in mind the healing of broken bones when he was investigating the properties of X-rays. A few years ago the New England fishing fleets were in despair because the fish were nowhere to be found; a biologist, who had been making a laboratory study of the temperature of fishes’ stomachs, combined his data with some ocean temperature data and correctly suggested where the missing creatures might be found. Again, astronomy appears to be a “useless” subject, but has yielded a number of practical results, from the discovery of helium to the theories of the properties of gas plasma currently important in hydrogen fusion projects.

Yet most astronomers are not primarily interested in practical uses. Their motives include sheer enjoyment of and interest in astronomical problems, as well as curiosity and the desire to know. Even if no applications resulted, astronomy is an important enterprise for its contribution to our understanding of the universe in which we live. In an age dominated by Bacon’s dictum that “knowledge is power,” science is usually judged only in utilitarian terms. In this chapter we have tried to show that scientific research is a valid expression of the vocation to seek truth. It has been suggested that the Christian can affirm the ethical attitudes implicit in science; he can view his work as appreciation of God’s handiwork; and he can prize rationality and the pursuit of knowledge. It is frequently said that the scientist should be interested in “science for science’ sake.” Taken literally, “for science’ sake” appears to be meaningless, unless a cyclotron enjoys accelerating electrons or a law of physics is happy to be discovered. Taken as a caution against too great an emphasis on practical results, and a call to the values inherent in the search for truth, “science for science’ sake” reflects an emphasis in which the Christian can join. But he might then prefer to say: science for the sake of God and man, for it is only in relation to God and man that these values are significant.


1. Quoted in J. H. Hildebrand, Science in the Making (Columbia Univ. Press, 1957), p. 89.

2. J. Bronowski, Science and Human Values (Messner, 1956), chap. 1.

3. Ibid., p. 90.

4. A. D. Ritchie, Civilization, Science, and Religion (Penguin Books, 1945), pp. 167-168. Used by permission.

5. M. Polanyi, Science, Faith, and Society (Oxford Univ. Press, 1946).

6. T. Parsons, Essays in Sociological Theory (The Free Press, 1949), chap. 8.

7. See A. Standen, Science Is a Sacred Cow (Dutton, 1950).

8. See A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (Mentor Books, 1948), chap. 1; J. Baillie, Natural Science and the Spiritual Life (Oxford Univ. Press, 1951).

9. W. G. Pollard, “The Place of Science in Religion,” The Christian Scholar, June, 1953, p. 117. Used by permission.

10. C. A. Coulson, Science and Christian Belief (Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1955), p. 101.

11. E. Schrödinger, What is Life? (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1944).

12. A. Einstein, The World as I See it (Covici Friede, 1934).

13. E. F. Caldin, The Power and Limits of Science (Chapman & Hall, 1949).

14. F. Ligle, The Abuse of Learning (Macmillan, 1948).