Chapter 6: The Scientist as a Person

Christianity and the Scientist
by Ian Barbour

Chapter 6: The Scientist as a Person

How does a scientist react to the temptations and successes of his job? Does technical training and activity tend to undermine religious faith? Although the roles of a man “as a scientist” and “as a person” are never really separable, it is illuminating to examine more closely an individual’s personal response to his professional life. It was suggested at the outset that in addition to the call to serve human need, to seek truth, and to work for a better society, every Christian is called to worship God. The influence of scientific work, first on his personal life, and then on his beliefs, will be considered as a final aspect of the meaning of vocation.

A. The Pressures of the job

Every job has its characteristic difficulties and frustrations. In scientific work, routines can be monotonous and uninspiring. There are also the disappointments of fruitless research, blind alleys followed, promising theories disproven, or apparatus abandoned. The co-ordinator of the federal cancer program refers to it as “the most challenging but the most frustrating area of research today.” How many physicists have spent hair-tearing hours trying to track down trouble in an electronic circuit! “Lab neurosis” from discouragement at getting nowhere can be a vicious circle in investigations dependent on new ideas and initiative, Occasionally there is the major blow of finding that a result, in which one invested much time and effort, has already been accomplished by someone else.

Competing claims for time always face the scientist. Technical projects can easily absorb all one’s time and energy. For limited periods this may be inevitable; many a graduate student has been “married to his apparatus” for several years, and when a man is hot on the trail of a promising lead he is rightly engrossed in his experiment. For some scientists, continuing absorption in the laboratory may be a sign of total dedication to their work; for others it may be in part an escape from impoverished human relationships or a drab and meaningless everyday life. For his total life pattern each individual must decide for himself how to apportion his time among the relative claims of job, community, and family. A teacher also has to reconcile the demands of the classroom with time for the research which contributes both to his own interest and status as a scientist and to his creativity as a teacher. In reading even within his own field it is all one can do to keep up on publications in the small area in which he is working — quite apart from reading on other subjects.

Personal relationships on the job may be another source of difficulty. In teaching, the boss is a high school principal, university dean, or department head. Interdepartmental rivalries, campus politics, professional jealousy, and personal friction can be serious. Every department is a power-structure easily subject to factionalism and individual ambitions. In industry, a scientist is part of the company, and co-operation and teamwork are essential. But the individual can be so subordinated to the group that he becomes the “organization man,” 1 especially when pressures to conformity extend to non-scientific areas. Trying to get a pay raise or promotion involves commending himself to his employer both personally and as a scientist.

Ambition to succeed and the desire for recognition and prestige take distinctive forms in the life of the scientist.

1. Cultural symbols of success. America evaluates achievement largely by a man’s income and what it procures (home, car, clothes, and style of life, such as that associated with “suburbia”). Another symbol of accomplishment is rank or title (e.g., Assistant Professor, Research Associate). Public prestige may take various forms. In the popular image the scientist may be thought of as somewhat odd, but he is highly respected; in a study of the public’s evaluation of 90 different occupations,2 4 out of the 12 top job ratings were forms of scientific work, including medicine. It is gratifying to see one’s name in print in a magazine or newspaper; the faces of half a dozen scientists have graced the cover of Time in the last year.

2. Scientific publication. Undoubtedly the factor that means most to a scientist is the opinion of his colleagues. In research, reputation depends largely on written reports. Advancement in most universities depends less on teaching ability than on what a man publishes.3 Writing for professional journals is of great value, of course, because only experts in the same field are able to judge a man’s contribution and benefit from it. But overemphasis on publication can lead to a stream of superficial articles and neglect of other criteria of evaluation; preoccupation with prestige in the wider professional community can displace concern for service in one’s local situation.

3. Recognition by other scientists. There are a number of additional honors which indicate respect by colleagues, such as election to offices in national societies and prizes for achievement, supreme among which is the Nobel prize. Certain universities and laboratories are highly esteemed, and from these a man considers it an honor to be offered a job. Invitation to give a paper or major address at a professional meeting is another tribute. People attend such meetings to hear papers and exchange ideas, and also to meet people and keep up personal contacts. In addition to a formal interview system, affectionately known as the “Slave Market,” there is a more informal process of inquiry, word-of-mouth recommendation, and “jockeying for position” among those seeking or offering jobs. Relationships between scientists may reveal a mixture of personal friendship, interest in one another’s work, and individual ambitions and insecurities. A man may spend most of the convention with a former crony with whom he feels secure, or station himself near the exit to say hello to anyone he knows, or seek out new acquaintances. What will he talk about, and at what points will his professional interests and ambitions enter? These meetings reflect many dimensions of the life of the scientist.

In addition to its distinctive frustrations and symbols of success, the job of the scientist also has its own peculiar temptations. “Professional ethics” are not as explicitly defined as in some occupations because they are for the most part inherent in the nature of the enterprise or are enforced by the operations of the scientific community itself. But eases of fraud dot the history of research. A Viennese zoologist proved that the acquired characters of the spotted salamander could be inherited, until it was discovered that the “spots” had been applied with ink. Piltdown man, discovered in 1911, was widely accepted by paleontologists; in 1953, fluorine tests and X-ray spectrographs showed that a modern ape’s jawbone had been skillfully disguised to match a human upper skull. Scores of papers describing the curious properties of N-rays appeared in French journals, and the French Academy awarded its prize to their discoverer; N-rays were later shown to be imaginary.4

Temptations to dishonesty experienced by most research specialists are more subtle and easier to rationalize. In the race for priority, results are sometimes published with inadequate data. It is usually legitimate to mention only experiments that worked and to neglect results that seem inconsistent, but occasionally one is tempted to report only the data that support a hypothesis. Failure to give due credit is another dubious way of enhancing one’s reputation. A serious violation would be the use, without acknowledgment, of someone else’s ideas or preliminary results given in conversation. There is also a delicate balance as to the relative credit to be given among members of a group responsible for a project. Some department chairmen and laboratory directors have a reputation for publishing papers with their own names appearing first, when all the ideas and all the work were those of other professors or graduate students.

Some of the rationalizations which might occur in applied science were mentioned in an earlier chapter. Unethical goals may be set by one’s employer; scientists have been party to production of useless “patent medicines” or even harmful drugs. Mild forms of deception or exploitation of the public are more common, as when spurious scientific claims are made for a product. Again, the experience of wielding power can be a heady one. In the last few years those in high positions in industrial laboratories and government agencies have had considerable control over the lives of other men. When scientists move in the company of senators, generals, and corporation executives, all the temptations to use power in the service of personal ambition are present, and can easily be disguised behind the pretext that decisions are “purely technical.”

In presenting the frustrations, ambitions, and temptations of work in science, we have not been trying to paint a pessimistic picture. The difficulties do not preclude finding great satisfaction in this work; 87 per cent of 4,000 scientists surveyed answered “Yes” to the question “If you had it to do over again, would you choose the same line of study?” 5 Nor do they succumb extensively to temptations, at least in their grosser forms. Yet any realistic account should recognize these problems of human frailty arising in the personal dimension of the job, rather than portray the common idealized version of the life of the scientist. The Christian faith has significant resources to contribute to a man’s reaction to such pressures.

Consider, for example, the question of professional ambition. It would be impossible to draw any sharp line between legitimate hope of recognition and undue preoccupation with personal prestige. “Careerism” and “getting ahead” in reputation are not as absent as one might think from high-sounding speeches about “the scientist’s single-minded dedication to truth.” One wonders how many papers would be published if all journal articles had to appear anonymously! Christianity has always been realistic about the subtlety of ambition, and sensitive to the dangers when it becomes a dominating motive. But there is also a legitimate place for satisfaction in a job well done, or for the pride of the craftsman in his work. Reacting against the doctrine that pride is always the essence of sin, and influenced by the findings of psychiatry concerning the opposite danger of excessive self-depreciation, a number of contemporary theologians have pointed to the need for self-respect. Here is the basis for a balanced view of the desire to succeed and acceptance of the fact that a superior piece of work should be acknowledged. A person’s reactions to the progress of his work will also be influenced by his religious outlook. Crushing defeat by frustrations and failures on the one hand, or arrogance in the experience of success on the other, will be less devastating if he does not see his scientific work as the only source of meaning and value in his life. He can be less preoccupied with his reputation if it is not the object of his ultimate concern.

Moreover, religious faith which is central in an individual’s life affects his relationships to other persons. In interaction with colleagues, with the boss, or with other scientists, these interpersonal factors are always present. When we are insecure, we are self-centered and anxious about our own status and the impression we are making. But the person who knows the security of acceptance by God can be less apprehensive about his status in the eyes of others, less compelled to defend his own ego. He can be sensitive to the needs of those around him, concerned about the quality of human relationships, and alert for opportunities t0 encourage reconciliation where there is tension. Having known God’s love in his own life, he can perhaps in gratitude mediate something of that love to others.

Christianity is also relevant to the temptations of the job. It does not bring any simple moralistic “Christian answer” or an absolute set of rules to be followed. Christian ethics as we have presented it consists rather in the individual’s response to God and the neighbor in each concrete situation. Choices are usually not black and white, but ethically ambiguous; yet our understanding of the nature of God does influence our reactions, and gives us a basis for decision beyond personal gain or reputation. In response to God and man, each individual must decide how to divide his time, how to use his power, and how to channel his work toward constructive ends.

B. The Influence of Science on Beliefs

What effect does the scientist’s training and work have on his beliefs? One hazard which arises in any specialized field is the tendency to identify a partial perspective with the whole of existence. The biologist studies man as a biochemical mechanism, and it is easy for him to go on to say: man is just a biochemical mechanism. Reductionism is the interpretation of higher levels of organization exclusively in terms of lower levels, e.g., “Psychology is just biology, biology is essentially chemistry; atoms alone are real.” We have already noted Galileo’s distinction between “primary qualities” (mass and extension) and the “secondary qualities” which he believed to be subjective sensations produced by the particles constituting the actual world. Whitehead has called this “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” the tendency to attribute concrete existence only to one particular set of abstractions, or to use one type of analysis to the exclusion of other modes of description.

The reductionistic approach appears inadequate on several grounds. Laplace claimed that he could predict all future events from knowledge of the position and velocity of every particle. But the future behavior of atoms is unpredictable; and even if we did know their positions and velocities, it is dubious whether we would know everything about the events involved. Not all kinds of experience are describable in terms of such variables. The extreme view that a person is “just a collection of atoms” is less persuasive in the light of tracer studies showing that the atoms in our bodies are replaced every few years;6 the self that continues must be constituted by the relationships and patterns among atoms, rather than by the atoms in themselves. Today it is easier to uphold the validity of various levels of explanation, related to each other and yet each having distinctive concepts and categories. Behavior is analyzed in terms of a total pattern and not simply as an aggregate of parts. The concept of organism seems to be a more fundamental image of nature than the machine. There is thus a greater willingness to grant ontological status to factors occurring in higher levels of life and in human existence.

Somewhat broader than reductionism, and hence more alluring to many scientists, is the philosophy of naturalism, one variation of which holds: “Only that with which science deals is real.” This viewpoint is a live option today, but must be defended as a philosophical interpretation and not as a conclusion of science. For it was suggested earlier that the methods of the sciences are selective, deliberately concentrating on certain aspects of experience. If this is true, one cannot decide on the basis of science alone whether the scientific description of existence can be complete. The point is delightfully illustrated in Eddington’s parable about the zoologist studying deep-sea life by means of a net of ropes on a two-inch mesh. After repeatQd expeditions he concluded that there are no fish smaller than two inches in the sea! So also in scientific work certain types of variables are selected from the wide spectrum of experience. Von Weizsäcker puts it this way: “The physical view of the world is wrong, not in what it asserts, but in what it omits.” 7 If a naturalistic criterion is presupposed in the definition of “evidence,” all else is dismissed as illusory. The biology teacher who says, “I’ll believe in the soul when I see one in the laboratory” shows his presupposition that only the visible should be taken seriously. Conversation between adherents of naturalism and theism is basically an argument not between science and theology, but between two ultimate commitments, two metaphysical interpretations of the nature of the universe and the significance of human life.

“Scientism” is a term sometimes used to refer to a dogmatic belief in the unlimited applicability of the methods of science. Others have called this “methodological imperialism,” because it attempts to impose on all fields the methods which have been found successful in the natural sciences. This view ignores the limitations of science, e.g., its selective and abstractive character and its inability to deal with a unique event (see Chapter 4). Scientific understanding aims at a particular type of knowledge, namely, reproducible relations expressible in general laws. It is interested in individual events or objects only as repeatable instances of general laws.

Consider by contrast what a history teacher means when he says he wants to help his students understand an event, say the French Revolution. His primary interest is not the formulation of universal laws, but the analysis of a unique pattern among various occurrences and personalities. We might call this goal “configurational understanding,” the attempt to see how the parts of an unrepeatable whole are related to each other. General theories, though they may emerge, are not the primary concern here. So also confrontation by a work of art, music, or literature is primarily a question of insight into the relations among its parts. Even the clinical psychologist, though interested in general laws, seeks to discern relationships between aspects of the particular client whom he is counseling. The theologian might add that for each person the basic religious questions deal with the significance of his individual life — the only one each of us experiences from the inside — and his relation to the singular God, who is never one of a general class of objects. In all of these areas understanding of a “configurational” rather than a scientific sort is called for.

There is one further limitation overlooked by those who preach the omnicompetence of science. The scientific enterprise is detached and objective, and cannot deal with personal involvement. To be sure, the scientist as a person is very much involved in his work. He has strong individual motivations; human qualities such as creative imagination and personal judgment are essential, as Polanyi has pointed out.8 But only limited aspects of the scientist’s personality are directly related to the work itself. Moreover, he deals with the public world as his object of investigation, and observational techniques are objectively standardized. Public verification is sought, which means results repeatable by other competent observers, or “intersubjective testability” within the scientific community. The so-called “involvement of the observer” in modern physics refers not to the observer as a person but to the effects of the measuring process on the results, which might even be recorded by an automatic camera. So the data reported in “public science” are strictly impersonal.

It is an amazing process of refinement by which the exceedingly human activity that goes on in the laboratory — broken test tubes, bright ideas, discussions with colleagues — ends up as a single sentence in a journal: “The reaction was found to be aided by the addition of 3% NaOH.” We try to impress this impersonality on our students in the very wording of reports. The English Department might be delighted to receive a theme reading: “I took the block, and though I had a headache, I put it on the scales. . . .” But for us it must be written impersonally: “The block weighed. . . .” H. D. Smyth puts it vividly: “We have a paradox in the method of science. The research man may often think and work like an artist, but he has to talk like a bookkeeper in terms of facts, figures, and logical sequences of thought.” 9 Thus the results of research are public, objective, and impersonal.

In contrast, personal involvement is necessary in many areas of life. In the social sciences the observer cannot stand entirely outside the social and historical process he is studying, and in the humanities the attitude of the detached spectator yields only limited understanding. Participation and response are the essence of art and literature. The deepest knowledge of another individual requires involvement in a relationship of trust and love. Again, though the sciences can investigate significantly many aspects of human behavior, the full meaning of human selfhood can never be discovered externally. Total participation rather than detached speculation is also a prerequisite of relationship to the biblical God who acts primarily in the sphere of personal existence. The inability of science to deal with personal involvement constitutes a limitation often overlooked by proponents of “scientism.”

We must then allow a place in our picture of the universe for categories not reducible to those of science, and must preserve a role among the functions of the mind for other methods than those of the scientist. The analysis and synthesis of the philosopher, the imagination and insight of the poet and artist, the experience of the prophet and the mystic — these involve distinctive categories, distinctive methods, and distinctive languages of communication. The thoughtful scientist will want to be aware of the influence of reductionism, naturalism, and “scientism” on his own thinking. A careful critique of philosophical views claiming to be scientific is also his responsibility as an interpreter of science.

C. The Religious Faith of the Scientist

The scientist’s attitudes may also have a more direct impact on his religious faith. Some men have reported a strong negative influence, occasionally even the loss of appreciation of all areas outside their field of specialization. Charles Darwin wrote: “Disbelief crept over me until at last it was so complete… that higher tastes were gradually atrophied in the process. . . . I could not endure to read a line of poetry, and could derive little pleasure from a fine landscape.” 10 Such extremes are rare; enjoyment of art and music is in fact rather common among scientists. Earlier a survey was cited indicating that 70 per cent of scientists say they believe in the existence of God. E. L. Long has made a study of the writings of American scientists on the subject of religion 11 and finds that they have much the same spectrum of religious beliefs as the populace at large, ranging from nontheistic outlooks (P. W. Bridgman, P. Frank) and views of God as cosmic structure or first cause (A. Einstein, A. H. Compton, R. A. Millikan) to Christian theism (K. F. Mather, W. L. Poteat, H. S. Taylor) and biblical conservatism (American Scientific Affiliation). Long concludes that science alone cannot determine a life philosophy, and that many of these authors overestimated the extent of its influence on their beliefs.

Science may not be the determinative factor in religious faith, either pro or con, but it has some valuable contributions to make. The critical study of religion has been largely the product of the scientific spirit in the West. Archeological evidence and literary analysis have helped us understand what biblical authors were saying in the context of their times, giving us a clearer picture of their developing religious insights. In the study of world religions the ideas of other faiths have been encountered. Science also helped liberate man from superstitious and magical views of religion. Again, arguments from order and design in nature may be an inadequate basis for a living relationship to God, but they still have a significant role. Modern knowledge of the universe is a warning against an anthropomorphic image of God; any conception we have must be worthy of the atom and the galaxy. Theology, like science, grows and changes; it must not isolate itself from the new understanding of the world and of man.

Moreover, similarities in method between science and religion should be noted, as well as the differences to which we have been pointing. Both areas involve two basic factors: experience and interpretation. In science these are called observation and theory. We have seen that scientific concepts are interpretive constructs, products of man’s mind as it seeks to organize and correlate experience. Experience in the case of religion includes man’s response of reverence, his sense of dependence and finitude, his moral experience and prayer. The writers of the Bible were not speculating in the abstract; they were trying to understand and interpret what had happened in their lives. Note also the central role of the community in both cases — the scientific community on the one hand, and the religious community or church on the other. Each community has its own symbolic language in terms of which it interprets experience, and these symbols have little meaning for the outsider in either case. In practical operation, both use language as if it were a literal description of reality, and only in more reflective moments is this symbolic and interpretive character recognized.

Furthermore, the ethical attitudes implicit in science are valuable in religion. As we outlined these, they included rationality, honesty, universalism, co-operation, freedom, and open-mindedness. The last of these requires further analysis. How is open-mindedness to be reconciled with the personal involvement and commitment necessary in religion? Suspended judgment is preferable to naive credulity, and openness toward new ideas should never be lost. But the scientist may be unduly tentative if he seeks a degree of certainty that is not possible in deciding one’s philosophy of life. The degree of conclusiveness of theistic belief should be compared, not with that of science, but with that of naturalism, for no philosophy can be “proved.” Because of his training, the scientist may be very hesitant to commit himself. Trying to pin some people down to a definite position on any subject is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. But the decisions of life force us to take positions and to act and live in terms of some faith, whether we like it or not. What passes for suspended judgment is often in effect a decision for agnosticism or naturalism. The choice is not whether to have faith or not to have it; the only choice is: faith in what? What is a man’s ultimate allegiance; on what does he actually rely?

The religious life of the scientist should thus include a balance, and perhaps an alternation, between personal involvement and reflective detachment. Personal involvement, we have said, is needed to understand many areas of life: art, literature, knowledge of another person, and experience of God. Such commitment does not turn probabilities into certainties, but it does take one beyond a purely theoretical view of life. In Protestant thought, faith does not mean acceptance of certain infallible propositions on the authority of the church, but refers to an attitude of personal trust, self-giving, and willingness to act. If one is too detached, he may cut himself off from the very sorts of experience that are most crucial in understanding religion; but on the other hand if one becomes too uncritically involved, he may lose the capacity for reflection and evaluation. Commitment alone without inquiry can become narrow dogmatism; whereas inquiry alone without commitment ends in skepticism and detachment from real life.

There are also particular sorts of religious commitment which encourage freedom of inquiry. The prophets of all ages have denied that religion is automatically a good thing, and have usually reserved their keenest criticism for the practices of their own religious community. The Protestant Principle, as Tillich conceives it, stresses self-criticism, and rejects any human institution, creed, or theology as final. The interpretation of religious experience must be continually re-evaluated and tested in the process of living. Paul wrote: “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). This process of experiential testing is not altogether unlike the empirical component of science, though here the laboratory is the individual’s life. Our beliefs must reflect the most adequate, consistent, and comprehensive interpretation of all human experience.

Such an over-all perspective on life is always organized around a few crucial events, ideas, and categories of interpretation. A nation, for example, interprets its present experience in terms of key events in its past; the United States sees the meaning of its life today in the light of the Declaration of Independence. For the Christian community, the life of Christ is such a key event which illuminates the rest of life and helps us to understand ourselves and what has happened to us. This is Richard Niebuhr’s definition of revelation:

Revelation means for us that part of our inner history which illuminates the rest of it and which is itself intelligible. Sometimes when we read a difficult book, seeking to follow a complicated argument, we come across a luminous sentence from which we can go forward and backward and so attain some understanding of the whole. Revelation is like that. . . . The special occasion to which we appeal in the Christian church is called Jesus Christ. . . . Revelation means this intelligible event which makes all other events intelligible.12

The person of Christ is not something we could have deduced from general rational principles; he is a given event in history. But we can know the power of that event to help us understand moral choice, personal relationships, and our corporate experience as a church. Men and women through the ages have also spoken of a reorientation of one’s life in which, at least partially, anxiety and internal conflict can be replaced by an inner unity and sense of direction; self-defensiveness and pretense by the ability to look at oneself honestly; self-centeredness and alienation from other people by a new capacity for genuine concern; and guilt and insecurity by a sense of God’s forgiveness and acceptance.

Critical evaluation of one’s religious beliefs requires theological literacy. It is no easy task for the scientist, whose education may have been narrowly specialized and whose hours are crowded, to achieve some familiarity with the best current religious thought. Excellent paperbacks and new books in religion,33 scholarships at summer seminars, and discussion groups in churches and on campuses make this essential task easier. Responsibility with respect to one’s own religious life is also crucial. If beliefs and experience interact, the impoverishment of the latter inevitably harms the former. And despite the continuing emphasis in this volume on the necessity of serving God in daily work, worship and prayer remain central expressions of the Christian’s response to God. These must be the basis of continued growth in understanding the meaning of the Christian faith, in finding God’s power in one’s life, and in that self-commitment in action from which intellectual debates can be an escape. For the scientist, as for anyone else, the place to begin is with himself.

Finally, the man with two loyalties — to science and to religion — should have thought about the interrelations between these areas at the theoretical as well as at the practical level. One word for describing their relationship is “complementary.” The aspects of reality which the sciences select for study are, in general, those about whose detailed structures religion has nothing to say. In this view the historical “conflicts” have been due to failure to observe this distinction, when the church attempted to prescribe technical conclusions, or when scientists made unwarranted interpretive statements. In scientific research one type of variable is abstracted from the rich variety of human experience, which includes the holy, the beautiful, and the moral. The same flower or sunset may be described within diverse frames of reference by the poet or artist and the botanist or meteorologist. Even within physics, alternative categories of explanation for the same phenomenon are sometimes needed. Niels Bohr used the word “complementarity” to refer to the description of light as both wave and particle. Though these are unified in the mathematical formalism of quantum theory, varying modes of representation are still useful in varying situations.

In comparing dissimilar aspects of man’s life, it may be even more desirable to use several frames of reference or modes of description if one is to avoid reductionism. Asking distinctive sets of questions, one will use distinctive types of explanatory scheme, none of which is all-inclusive. The man who says, “Love is not real because I cannot weigh it” is mixing two frames of reference; “love” is not a useful concept in the same contexts in which weighing is a useful operation. If one asks, “Why did that man climb the mountain?” the physiologist’s mechanical explanation in terms of metabolic and muscular factors does not preclude the psychologist’s teleological analysis of the lure of the peak. We need various types of language to express various areas of experience, for each field abstracts from the total situation those aspects in which it is interested. According to such a view, science and religion ask differing types of questions, refer to differing aspects of experience, and serve differing functions in man’s life, and thus provide complementary modes of description.

The scientist with an intelligent and vital religious faith has many significant opportunities to give expression to his beliefs. As a layman he has a central role in the life of the church and of society. Too often the church’s witness has been delegated to a professional leadership that was to some extent cut off from the daily life of the world. People expect a minister to speak about moral and religious values, and find it easy to discount his words; the same statement by a layman often commands respect. The prestige of the scientist in our culture gives considerable influence to whatever he does. He can use this influence responsibly, in writing or speaking outside his area of specialization, only if he takes care to inform himself about the social and theological issues involved. Some scientists have gone overseas as medical, agricultural, or scientific missionaries and teachers; are there not in America most of the same opportunities for service to mankind and for witness by word and work to one’s religious faith? A person’s contribution is the whole of his life, which includes his acceptance of civic responsibility, his participation in the life of the church, and his personal relationships in the community and on the job. Von Weizsäcker has asserted:

The scientist is never only a scientist. He is at the same time a living human being, a member of mankind. And so his responsibility for the particular is counter-balanced by his share of responsibility for the whole. He has to ask himself: what is the meaning of my inquiry for the lives of my fellows? 14

It was suggested initially that every Christian is called to serve human need, to seek truth, to work for a better society, and to worship God. There are many jobs through which this fourfold calling can be expressed, in widely varying forms. Our concern has been to examine some of the ways in which these may be embodied in the life of the man who has particular talents, interests, and training in the natural sciences. It would be disastrous if every scientist with religious concern deserted his field to enter the ministry; for these may be precisely the persons who can be most influential in redirecting a technological civilization to serve human values. The world needs scientists who both do their job well and do it with social vision. And the church needs laymen who carry the gospel into the life of the world in both deed and word.


1. “The Organization Scientist,” part V in W. W. Whyte, The Organization Man.

2. B. Barber, Science and the Social Order, p. 102.

3. T. Caplow and R. McGee, The Academic Marketplace (Basic Books, 1958).

4. M. Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (Dover Publications, 1957).

5. “The Scientists,” Fortune, October, 1948, p. 106.

6. S. Glasstone, Sourcebook of Atomic Energy (Van Nostrand, 1958), pp. 529 ff.

7. C. F. von Weizsäcker, The World View of Physics (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1952), p. 28.

8. M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1958).

9. H. D. Smyth, quoted in G. Holton, Introduction to Concepts and Theories in Physical Science, p. 236.

10. F. Darwin, Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Vol. 1, pp. 100, 304.

11. E. Long, Religious Beliefs of American Scientists (Westminster Press, 1952).

12. H. R. Niebuhr, The Meaning of Revelation (Macmillan, 1941), p. 93. Used by permission.

13. W. Spurrier, Guide to the Christian Faith (Scribner, 1953); L. H. DeWolf, A Theology of the Living Church (Harper, 1953). See also the “Layman’s Theological Library” series (Westminster Press); the “Christian Faith” series (Doubleday); and the “Reflection Books” series (Association Press).

14. C. F. von Weizsäcker, History of Nature (Univ. of Chicago Press), p. 2. Copyright 1949 by University of Chicago, and used by permission.