The Scientist as a Christian

HEALTH EVANGELISM: The Scientist as a Christian

[This series by Dr. Macpherson represents a talk given to the medical students of the College of Med ical Evangelists during a recent Week of Prayer. EDITORS,]

President, College of Medical Evangelists


The average doctor of medicine, the average scientist, the average person who weighs evidence before he makes a conclusion, is apt to be refractory to the word religion. This in no way means that he has no appreciation of spiritual and moral concepts. Neither does it mean that he is not a person of acceptable character and one who incorporates high ideals into his manner of life. This average scientist is a very decent person honest, hardworking, and a good citizen. Probably he has many qualities that any of us would agree are acceptable as consistent with orthodox church doctrine, but "he refrains from becoming actively associated with a church organization. To him certain qualities which we identify as Christian are very worthwhile, and he is not only willing but anxious to incorporate them into his way of life. Nevertheless, he does not call himself a Christian, and he seems to be quite unwilling to accept the plan of salvation with Christ as his personal Saviour, and does not appreciate the full spiritual values of the Christian philosophy.

However, a deep understanding of spiritual concepts is found in a relatively large number of such men of science. Many highly appreciate the spiritual value of Christian doctrines, and not only are they church members, but they are actively engaged in the work of the church. Many are outstanding religious leaders. Nevertheless, the average scientist is refractory to the concept that the average religionist calls religion.

Let us consider some reasons for this attitude. For generations there have been those who have been opposed to the search for truth and thereby to the advancement of knowledge. Paradoxically, over long periods of time, the chief opposition has been from within the church, from among the recognized spiritual leaders within the church. There have been times in the past when a new idea was considered to be heresy and treason against the government of God, and therefore punishable by excommunication and death. Even in our own enlightened twentieth century this attitude has not entirely disappeared.

Frequently the scientist fails to correlate the truth he discovers with the truths contained in the Scripture, but Just as commonly the theologian fails to correlate the truths which he dis covers in the study of the Scriptures with those with which the scientist is well acquainted. The result frequently is a misunderstanding, which produces a barrier between the two groups, with a bilateral agreement that the other is lacking in reason and even in intelligence. This may be one reason why the average scientist is aloof to the church.

Fortunately there are outstanding exceptions to this rule. We are forced to concede that there are few men who are capable of understanding and correctly interpreting both the Scripture and natural science, but there surely are some. It has been my good fortune and pleasure to become acquainted with many doc tors of medicine and men of science, and I am impressed with the fact that it is rare to find one who is lacking in appreciation of high moral and spiritual values. I believe that all of you are potentially capable of so doing, but you will never reach this objective if you approach it with either prejudices or narrow vision. Renan said that "our opinions become fixed at the point where we stop thinking."

Another reason for this attitude of the average scientist is that frequently the evidence he has obtained from those who profess to know in no way attracts him to what he considers religion. No doubt he has been negligent in trying to find the evidence of spiritual truth through his own investigations, and therefore the major trouble lies in the fact that he has obtained incomplete or erroneous evidence. Because of this," he arrives at wrong conclusions.

The Scientific Method

The scientist is one whose avowed purpose is to increase his understanding of any given range of phenomena. He is a persistent seeker after truth. As far as possible, he makes every available effort to overcome the many barriers that stand in the way of finding the truth he is seeking. In performing his scientific investigations he follows a certain well-established method. He has learned that before it is possible for him to pursue successfully the evidence which he is seeking, he must develop a working understanding of scientific processes through which discoveries are made.

His first step, which is an important one, is to have a real desire to solve a problem or a real desire to find truth. He accepts the fact that scientific inquiry can never be understood if it is placed upon a pedestal and viewed as something remote and apart from man's every day activity. Scientific investigation is a practical thing that man can deal with. This is one of the reasons why it is attractive to the investigator.

The scientific method for the discovery of truth is to make careful and well-controlled observations. When these become evident and are adequately correlated, they make it possible for the investigator to interpret diem in the form of a tentative conclusion. As yet, this first tentative conclusion may not be entirely correct, and not until it is supported by similar, repeated experiments, and not until this evidence actually agrees with evidences of other experiments, is the scientist ready to accept it as truth. Once this is accomplished he has no further doubt concerning that particular phase of his investigation. Immediately he is ready to look for more truth. By this means scientific progress is made.

Obviously, a scientist is not limited in the acquisition of knowledge by what he discovers through his own individual efforts. His search for truth is greatly enhanced by what he learns from the experience of others. If he carefully selects the evidence that other investigators have produced, he becomes a much better educated man and even a much more capable scientist than if he were to accept as truth only what he has discovered for himself.

Can this scientific procedure be applied to the acquisition of spiritual truth? If so, should it be so applied? Is it possible for one to experiment with religion, with its published doc trines, its philosophies, its theological considerations, and if so, is it wrong to do so? If such a plan is followed, where is one going to arrive? What conclusions will he make? What might be the hurdles and the dangers of such a method? In other words, can religion stand the test of a critical investigation? And can such an investigation be profitable to the investigator?

God's Double Revelation

God has furnished us with two sources of truth. One is within the structure we call nature, and the other is within the revelation we call the Holy Scriptures. Placing oneself in the position of the scientist, one immediately dis covers that God does not reveal Himself any less admirably in nature than the religionist believes He is revealed in the Scriptures. To the religionist I would say that God is not revealed more admirably in the Scriptures than in nature.

Because the Author of the two sources of truth is identical, the one may readily be used as an aid to the true exposition of the other and without fear of conflict. The truths of Scripture must stand up to investigation and experimentation as successfully as do the so-called scientific truths of natural phenomena. If such an investigation is carried out by following a procedure parallel to that of the scientist, and if the evidence is honestly recorded, one need not fear the results. He will be in the process of finding spiritual truth. Like scientific inquiry, investigation into spiritual things can never be understood if by one means or another they are placed on a pedestal and are viewed as something remote and apart from man's everyday activity. If one has a sincere desire and makes an honest effort to find truth, to find God, to find security and salvation through Christ, he will not be disappointed, but will be well satisfied with his findings.

A Necessary Quality

As with the scientist, one of the required moral qualities of a spiritual investigator must be strict honesty. Without it he may find error rather than truth. Even though he does his work well, he does not find all the truth at one time. Nevertheless, he discovers some of it. The longer he can continue with such investigation, the more truth he finds. By so doing he makes spiritual progress, and even though he never expects to discover all truth within his lifetime,, he is on the right road and will be confidently looking forward to an eternity during which he can learn more. The trouble with so many of us is that we either do not make the start or do not continue our investigations. Another fault with some is that they have accepted as evidence of truth, erroneous philosophies and opinions. As a scientist goes along his way, frequently he may find it necessary to discard certain theories and certain opinions which previously he had thought to be correct, but which time and additional knowledge prove to be erroneous. Because of this experience, he does not take the position that there is no such thing as truth; instead, he becomes more firmly established in the truth with which he is acquainted.

In this connection it is of interest to note recent observations in the fields of physics and astronomy by some leading modern scientists. In separate laboratories two different groups of men arrived almost simultaneously at identical conclusions that "the universe was born in a matter of minutes in a single tremendous act of creation."

Even though these conclusions are in opposition to the concept presented by the evolutionary theory, the men who have made these observations are the first to note the backing which these observations give to the creation story of Genesis and are the first to publicize their findings.

Similarly, as one goes along his spiritual way, he may find it necessary to discard some of his theological hypotheses and to replace with new- found truth, erroneous opinions that he had held. If he does this, he will be making real spiritual advancement, and rather than become discouraged because of the fact that he has had to change some of his views, he should be happy because of the progress he is making. Furthermore, unless the conclusion he makes is appealing and satisfactory to him, he will be unwilling to incorporate his findings as a fundamental part of his thinking and his character as a code by which to live.

My real purpose in presenting these viewpoints to you is to help you to keep established in the faith. I am not telling you any secret when I inform you that many professed Christians and church members, including altogether too many students and alumni from the College of Medical Evangelists, have lost their interest in spiritual things. This assumes that, at some time in the past, they have had such an interest. I am sure that I know some of the reasons for such sad experiences. One is that they have not made a real effort to learn truth, and by so doing to establish themselves in the faith. The other is that they have accepted as truth certain opinions and interpretations that have been handed over to them by others, but concerning which they have had no experience, or they may have discovered some errors in their beliefs.

Rather than to discard certain of these views as inadequate, incomplete, or erroneous evidence, they have chosen to conclude the whole matter with the completely illogical and impractical assumption that if this specific opinion or interpretation is not true, then there is no truth. Because I have seen this happen so often, I strongly urge against ever taking any such position. Be assured that an honest investigation of things spiritual will not lead you to disappointment.

(Concluded next month)


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President, College of Medical Evangelists

September 1951

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