Christianity and the Scientist
by Ian Barbour


Recollection of the sometimes bitter struggles between science and religion during the past four or five centuries leads many people to suppose that the life and work of a scientist is a purely secular affair. To be sure, many scientists belong to Christian churches, but their relation to the church is kept in one compartment of their thinking and their relationship to their job is kept in another.

The day is past when natural scientists as a group are predominately opposed to religion, if indeed it ever existed at all. Nevertheless, many scientists are perplexed as to just how the vocation of a scientist has meaning as a Christian calling. Much has been written about science and religion in general, but little has appeared to help scientists find Christian meaning in their jobs as scientists. It is one thing to justify the intellectual validity of the scientific enterprise; it is another to understand that enterprise as a positive avenue of service to God.

The following discussion is an effort to point the ways along which the life of the scientist -- in research or teaching, in industrial, collegiate, or governmental service -- can be so understood and so conducted as to make it a worthy means of expressing Christian discipleship. There are no spectacular suggestions here, no formulae for putting God into the laboratory, no reliance upon patterns of behavior unacceptable to scientists or unrelated to the task of the scientist understood in its broadest sense. The vocation of the scientist is considered in its widest setting, its moral implications are seriously explored, and its responsibilities to truth and to society are acknowledged -- but the task itself is not overhauled.

This is as it should be. To introduce extraneous considerations into the technical work of the scientist would violate the integrity of the profession. To rely upon activities or patterns of behavior outside the daily work of the scientist as means for expressing a Christian response to God’s call would be to abandon the conviction of Reformed theology that any useful work done soberly and well can be a valid means of serving God.

The author brings to this inquiry training and experience as a physicist, as well as study in theology. He is listed in American Men of Science and has contributed to both scientific and religious journals. In this volume he gives concrete examples of some of the ethical dilemmas scientists have actually faced. He has wisely avoided the claim that there is only one way in which the life of the scientist can be a proper life of devotion to God. The positions he has taken with candor and defended with clarity do not bind the conscience of the reader, but they do challenge the reader to make his own equally clear and equally dedicated responses. It would be unfaithful to both the best in the world of scientific learning and the wisest kind of religious leadership to offer more than these broad clear strokes in the portrayal of what it means in our day to undertake the work of a scientist as a Christian calling.

Edward Leroy Long, Jr.

Series Editor