Beyond Science, by Denis Alexander (Holman, 1972, 222 pp., $4.95), is reviewed by Richard H. Bube, professor of materials science and electrical engineering, Stanford University, Stanford, California.
It has been almost twenty years since Bernard Ramm’s The Christian View of Science and Scripture marked the first major breakthrough in the treatment of scientific problems with integrity by evangelical Christians. In recent years a number of significant contributions have been made to this category, including David Dye’s Faith and the Physical World, Aldert van der Ziel’s The Natural Sciences and the Christian Message, Malcolm Jeeves’s The Scientific Enterprise and Christian Faith, and this reviewer’s own The Encounter Between Christianity and Science and The Human Quest: A New Look at Science and Christian Faith. To these books in which adequate attention is paid both to scientific accuracy and Christian commitment Denis Alexander has now added Beyond Science. The book should be considered essential reading for every Christian concerned with the relation of science and the Christian faith.
Rather than starting with an abstract and philosophical attempt to define science and the Christian position, Alexander jumps head first into the many challenging matters that call for an integration of scientific and Christian understanding: the H-bomb, military usurpation of scientific research, public engineering, maturation of human oocytes, re-implanting human embryos, sex determination of the embryo, cloning, repair of genetic defects, formation of man-animal chimaerae, tinkering with human intelligence, drugs affecting the mind, sedatives or hypnotics, stimulants, tranquilizers, antidepressives, hallucinogens, implanted electrodes in the brain (not only for possibly evil effects but also as a possible computer radio link to control epileptic fits or to help blind people to see), brain-computer links, experiments on memory and memory storage.
At the same time Alexander points out the common experience of a disenchantment with science per se because (1) evil is still as present in our society as ever before, (2) the concept of scientific research as coldly rational and objective is a myth, and (3) science leaves us after all with a basic sense of incompleteness.
One of the paradoxes of modern science is that while on the one hand it appears to give man god-like powers, on the other hand it appears to reduce man to another rather puzzling animal in a very puzzling universe [p. 44].
The author then tackles the age-old problem of mechanism and meaning. He emphasizes that there is no such thing as purely objective knowledge, that the goal of science is to minimize interference between observer and observed (but never really to eliminate it), that scientific proof can never be strictly obtained, that many different kinds of descriptions are needed to describe reality and not just one, that no consistent claim to complete determination can be logically upheld. He challenges the body-soul duality and insists that man is a soul rather than has a soul. “The soul is therefore a ‘meaning word’ dealing with the over-all ‘life’ of a man, and not primarily with his mechanics.” He thinks the biblical doctrine of creation indicates that God is constantly in action creating and maintaining the universe today:
According to this view, which is derived from the Bible, he has not only created everything in the past, but is actively creating everything now and will continue to do so in the future. Everything is held together and consists by his power [p. 64].
Now when we use the word “supernatural,” it does not mean that what we call supernatural is any more or less an activity of God than any other aspect of nature [p. 138].
Alexander makes clear that science as god has failed on every account. Biological evolution, for example, has been extrapolated to justify two mutually exclusive economic systems, communism and capitalism. Another absurd extrapolation is that evolution can give rise to an ethical system. The common assumption that “what is” can define “what ought to be” is the “naturalistic fallacy.” Sociological “explanations” for religion, logical positivism, and existentialism are all shown to be inadequate.
Finally Alexander invites the reader to return to “Square One” and start over again on the exposition and evaluation of life from a Christian perspective. He turns his attention to the ultimate questions: What is the ultimate power that animates the universe? What is life? What is man? Who am I and what am I doing here? Having shown the bankruptcy of scientism and humanism, he challenges, à la Francis Schaeffer, the common world view of man in a box.
Accepting the biblical God as our basic presupposition, however, makes science possible, gives man a real and ultimate value, and provides meaning as well as mechanism to the universe. Finally, after a masterly representation of the Christian option, Alexander returns again to his theme,
The scientist who is a Christian sees the scientific method as neither completely objective nor completely individualistic.… He also realizes that there is no logical contradiction between “mechanism” descriptions of phenomena and “meaning” descriptions. He realizes that many levels of description are both valid and necessary [p. 203].
The Christian basis for ethics carries for Alexander a number of immediate consequences in the interaction between science and Christian faith: sex must be joined with marriage, marriage with parenthood, and child-rearing with the home; artificial insemination by donor must be forbidden; “cloning” should be forbidden; family control systems involving genetic engineering should be resisted; attempts to create a man-animal chimaera should be attacked; freedom of choice must be defended free of any external use of violence, drugs, or brain-washing.
A final quotation can serve as a summary of the book:
An answer that is to satisfy must both account for the real world and not limit man to what is less than human by removing the physical, or the mental, or the spiritual, or any other aspects of man’s social, rational, artistic or moral capabilities [p. 211].
My only criticism of the general utility of the book is that of some 110 references given in the bibliography, fewer than about 10 per cent are by American authors. At least that keeps us humble.
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