Wagging the Dog

    Dr. Ian Hutchinson passes M.I.T.'s fluted classical columns en route to his office at the institute's Plasma Science and Fusion Center -- columns inscribed with the names of revered physicists: Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Faraday, and others. Hutchinson told the American Scientific Affiliation on August 4, "All of those were people who -- despite denominational and doctrinal differences – were . . . not just nominal Christians, but deeply committed to Jesus Christ." They believed science could only exist if there were an objective reality -- certain laws that govern the universe that could only come from a Law-giver, God. Then where did people today get the impression that science makes belief in God difficult? Dr. Hutchinson assigns much of the blame to Andrew Dickson White, former president of Cornell University, who wrote a book in 1898 entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. White's preface stated that he intended the book to be a manifesto in support of his battle against denominational control of higher education. White seemed to realize that he could not make a strong case for authentic natural science contradicting Christianity, so he added chapters on "softer sciences" like economics and even the pseudo-science of comparative mythology. Professor Hutchinson says, "He refers to them all as science and implies that the intellectual methodologies of them are similar. This approach was important to him because it bolstered his case . . . " He was able to tie "all disciplines to the contention that for centuries orthodox Christianity had viciously opposed every new discovery . . . that threatened its traditional theological positions." White's book was not an attempt at objective analysis but, Hutchinson says, "a tactical maneuver to gain secular independence for universities." White contended that all true knowledge was scientific, thereby creating a wall -- an artificial one -- between scientific knowledge and religious faith. And his book marked a profound change in how we viewed science and Christianity. But is science really the only knowledge? Can we only know things by the scientific method of experiment and examination? Dr. Hutchinson answers: "Science studies the world insofar as it behaves in regular ways . . . using the . . . methods of science . . . " It deals with repeatable phenomena, based on the assumption that a certain cause invariably produces a particular effect. Release a rock in an environment that contains gravity, and you don't have to guess which direction it will move. But Hutchinson continues, " . . . theology finds its place, along with many other important disciplines, in understanding the human condition and history, . . . which are not describable in reductionist terms." Historical events aren't reproducible. You cannot throw a switch and expect to see a repetition of the Battle of Gettysburg. Science's inability to reproduce these events does not mean they did not occur. They are just perceived by different methods. As a Christian doing research at M.I.T., Dr. Hutchinson says, "The marvels of the scientific world are little revelations of God's creative thoughts. They are . . . part of a centuries-long heritage -- built by remarkable thinkers, many of whom were devout Christians -- and were based on a Christian understanding of the world as an intelligent, intelligible . . . creation." For further information: Eric Charles Barrett and David Fisher, Scientists Who Believe: Twenty-One Tell Their Own Stories (Moody Press, 1984). Read more about Ian Hutchinson on his personal page and on his MIT page. Read discussions from "The Faith of Great Scientists," a January 1998 MIT seminar and discussion series. "Following Christ 2002" is InterVarsity's conference for graduate students, faculty, and professionals coming up December 28 through January 2. Andrew Dickson White's book A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom is available online. Learn more about the American Scientific Affiliation. Roberto Rivera, "Gods and Peanuts: Reason and Revelation," BreakPoint Online, 22 May 2002. John Noble Wilford, "Skulls Found in Africa and in Europe Challenge Theories of Human Origins," New York Times, 6 August 2002.  


Chuck Colson


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