Meeting the Scientific Attitude

For many people, science has not simply disproved but also displaced God

By H. J. KLOOSTER, President, Emmanuel Missionary College

The keynote of a recent address by an educator frankly skeptical of God, given in one of America's church-related col­leges founded long ago in piety and faith for the furtherance of the gospel, was sounded in the words, "God is becoming progressively less essential in the operation of the universe." Sincere Christians, and especially Seventh-day Adventists, cannot but be deeply moved by this spectacle of this American college chapel rostrum, founded for the worship of God, but thus transformed into a platform for denying Him. The speaker, dwelling at length upon the achievements of science, made it clear that in his judgment modern science is making God increasingly unnecessary. This is obvi­ously a situation which we as gospel workers must sense and must be prepared to meet.

It is true, of course, that for multitudes religion has been and is a way of getting things that they as human beings want. From rain out of heaven to prosperity on earth, men have sought the desires of their hearts at the altars of their gods. In every realm of human want and craving, they have used re­ligious methods to achieve their aims. Whether good -crops, large families, relief from pestilence, or success in war has been desired, they have conceived themselves as de­pendent upon the favor of heaven. Even many so-called Christians have regarded God as a benevolent, charitable organization that would supply their needs upon suitable ap­plication.

I

And now comes science, which has provided astoundingly successful methods of getting what men want. This situation has created a crucial competition between science and re­ligion. In realm after realm in which religion has offered its methods for satisfying the de­sires of men, science now comes with new methods which work with prompt and re­markable success. Where formerly famine brought slow starvation to myriads while they engaged in rituals, sacrifices, and prayers, science now builds a dam and impounds the resources of nature, and the area blossoms as a rose. Many reason that the fear of famine disappears, and that there is obviously no longer need for prayers, incantations, and rituals. This sort of procedure, indefinitely repeated in areas in which man's most sen­sitive and clamorous needs lie, produces a detrimental effect on religion. It does not so much controvert religion as it crowds it out.

For centuries malaria sapped the energy and vitality of mankind, and drained large areas of the world of human resources. During these centuries of conflict with their mysterious enemy, men sacrificed to their gods, prayed for deliverance, and sought the protection of Heaven as they tried by religious means to stave off the stealthy foe. Today the angels of deliverance are declared to be white-robed nurses, physicians, and scientists, who, in spite of the apathy, ignorance, piety, and prejudice of the afflicted communities, clean up the countryside so that no one needs to be sub­ject to malaria. Here again man finds and makes science his benefactor and savior.

The consequence of an interminable repeti­tion of that sort of thing is clear. Men have come to rely more and more on scientific methods for getting what they want. With multitudes, science has not disproved God, but displaced Him. Quietly but inevitably, man's reliance for the supplying of his needs shifts over from religion to science. Not many men stop to argue against religion; they may even continue to believe it with con­siderable fervor, but they have less and less practical use for it. The things that they daily want are no longer obtained by religion. From light, locomotion, or eradication of dis­ease to the unsnarling of mental quirks by ap­plied psychology, men are turning increasingly to the "scientific method" for help, and in their minds "God becomes progressively less essential."

II

But is religion—particularly the Christian religion—merely a means of serving man's selfish purposes ? Has Christianity value only as a benign charity organization for supplying the cravings of mankind? Is it to be disre­garded or neglected because mankind has found scientific methods for satisfying his physical needs ? We know it is an utter mis­conception of Christianity that makes God a benevolent patriarch upon whom we may im­pose for dole.

This we must make clear to others in our public ministry. Christian leaders who have most clearly grasped the meaning and sig­nificance of Christianity, and whose names have gone echoing down the corridors of time, have found its deepest meaning not in getting gifts from it, but in making their lives in utter self-surrender a gift to it. They have not relied on their religion for dole, but have been called by their religion to devotion. They recognize that Christ has called them to a ministry greater than the ministry to self, in which it is their business to serve unselfishly.

The prayer of heathenism—and of a lam­entable amount of traditional and current Christianity—is, "My will be done." The sooner science and the church unite in purging Christianity from that type of selfish im­portunity, the better. Real Christian faith has a different prayer altogether: "Thy will, not mine, be done." This prayer, translated into human life in our morally loose and selfish day, is no less necessary now than it ever has been. The present generation is deathly sick for lack of it. The prevailing doctrine of moral anarchy—let yourself go, do what you please, indulge any passing passionate whim—is a sorrily ruinous sub­stitute for it.

Is God "less essential"? Forsooth ! He be­comes progressively more essential. And be­cause this generation in its blindness neglects Him and refuses to give unswerving allegiance to Him, our modern society, like that group of bedeviled swine, will yet plunge down a steep place into the sea of destruction.

III

Like science, religion is, in part, a way of satisfying human wants. But there are wants that science cannot satisfy. What appeal has a universe pictured as a purposeless physico­chemical mechanism which accidentally came from nowhere and is headed nowhere, which cannot be banked on for moral solvency, and in which human life is an incident without significance? The following picture of the universe drawn in blank skepticism has been given us by one of the devotees of science:

"In the visible world the Milky Way is a tiny fragment. Within this fragment the solar system is an infinitesimal speck, and of this speck our planet is a microscopic dot. On this dot, tiny lumps of impure carbon and water crawl about for a few years until they dissolve into the elements of which they are compounded."

By no scientific mastery of power alone can our deepest needs be met. Something that man deeply needs is left out of such a world view. This lack we workers must declare to men in a scientific age. A man may have his fields irrigated, his houses built, his cuisine supplied, his pestilences stopped, without re­ligion. But no one can look understandingly upon the confusion and turmoil of our troubled world and fail to realize that, like a raft on the high seas, it is aimlessly adrift, uncharted, and unguided.

He who knows in his own soul the faith and hope of a vital and sustaining religion, will regard with utter incredulity the idea that God has become less essential. Never in man's history has faith in God been more necessary to sane, wholesome, vigorous, and hopeful living than today amid the dissipating strain and paralyzing skepticism of modern life. We have a bounden responsibility to understand and meet the need of the hour.


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By H. J. KLOOSTER, President, Emmanuel Missionary College

November 1938

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