Christianity and Scientific Concerns
This conversation originally appeared in Christianity Today's May 25, 1973, issue. We're republishing it today because it was our magazine's first significant interview with C. Everett Koop, who would later become Surgeon General of the United States. (Koop died today at age 96.) But the issues discussed here—including the environment, abortion, euthanasia, the dehumanizing effects of technology, genetic testing, and other concerns—remain highly relevant 40 years later.
* * *
Meeting in Philadelphia for a semi-annual board meeting, directors of the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies gathered in Tenth Presbyterian Church for an informal discussion on "Christianity and Scientific Concerns." Taking part were V. Elving Anderson, professor of genetics and cell biology, University of Minnesota; Martin Buerger, institute professor emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and university professor, University of Connecticut; C. Everett Koop, professor of pediatric surgery, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania; Gordon Van Wylen, formerly dean of the School of Engineering, University of Michigan, and now president of Hope College; and Orville S. Walters, professor of health science and lecturer in psychology, University of Illinois. The moderator was Carl F. H. Henry, professor-at-large at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, president of the IFACS directors, and CT's first editor.
Dr. Henry: No shift of mood in our lifetime has been more remarkable than the change from a trust that science would inaugurate a worldly millennium to fear that it might implement a massive destruction of mankind or of our planet. If an earlier generation replaced the Christian hope by faith in science, the youth culture now rejects scientism as the myopic mythology of the Western intellectual. Some persons even suggest that perhaps the time has come to call a moratorium on science. Quite surely no member of this panel thinks that either Christianity or science would be well served by the suppression of science. But the eclipse of Christianity in a scientific age has had more devastating consequences than our generation dreams.
Gordon Van Wylen has touched the frontiers of our technocratic and technological age as longtime dean at the University of Michigan's School of Engineering, attended by all three Apollo 15 astronauts. His broad perspective will be helpful in formulating an evangelical overview.
Dr. Van Wylen: As Dr. Henry mentioned, there has been a radical change of position in regard to science and technology and what they can really do for us. There was a time when men really pinned their hopes for the golden age on technology, while the developments of science are now a source of many of the major problems of our day. Among these are the problems of the city and the over-emphasis on materialism.
The question of what position to take toward technology in contemporary society is, of course, raised primarily by those who already have many of the benefits of technology. A few years ago we had two visiting scholars with us for a semester, one from West Germany and the other from the Soviet Union. I asked them if there was an anti-technology attitude in their countries. The scholar from West Germany, where there is an abundance of technology, conceded the presence of an anti-technology attitude, but the scholar from the Soviet Union said, "Such tremendous areas in our country do not have electricity, do not have adequate transportation, that technology still promises the golden era we are looking for." But an article in the Saturday Review recently suggested that even in Russia there is developing an anti-technology mood, a feeling that it is necessary to retain old values rather than simply putting hope in technology. It does seem that technology and the materialism that it brings have turned out to be false gods and that we need to recognize that there are many things technology by itself really cannot do for us.