Friday, December 23, 2011

Science and Theology (3)

Third, scientists often fail to admit, sometimes even to recognize, that so many of the issues and findings of science are neither purely scientific nor genuinely empirical.  Because all empirical endeavors build upon, and proceed according to, various presuppositions, and because those presuppositions and procedures are inescapably philosophical, no scientist and no scientific procedure is truly philosophy-free.   Empiricism and the empiricalist procedures that arise from it are philosophy-laden world views and techniques, and not necessarily the best.  If ideas have consequences, and if (as some philosophers strongly argue) empiricism and empiricalism are highly suspect, perhaps even greatly flawed, then scientists are likely to be misled if they apply these notions uncritically to their work.  To put a point on it, if, as some scientists insist, real science is truly empirical and reduces only to empirical methods and to the conclusions reached by using them, then there is no real science, because the theory-independent observation, analysis, and conclusions needed to establish such empirical premises are simply not possible.  Because we are not, none of us, presupposition-free, and because (despite much contrary insistence) scientific theories often deal with the unobserved and the unobservable, the laboratory is no philosophy- or theology-free zone.  Scientific methods and conclusions cannot be purely empirical because the unavoidable philosophical and theological underpinnings upon which those scientific methods rely are not the result of those allegedly empirical methods. 
            Put another way, the claim to objectivity and empiricality falls down on both sides -- on the side of the scientist and on the side of science.  When eating their curry, many people like to build for it a nest of rice.  To employ a more American image, people like to mold a bowl in their mashed potatoes in order to hold their gravy.  Science, it seems to me, has its nest, its bowl.  Science always has its philosophical and theological underpinnings; physics always has its metaphysics -- always.3  To declare science a philosophy-free zone is to have a philosophy; to declare science a procedurally agnostic or atheistic endeavor is to have a theology; to claim that science ought to be value-free is to make a value statement.  The question is never whether or not the scientist in a laboratory has a philosophy, a theology, or an ethic when doing scientific work; the question is whether or not the philosophy, the theology, and the ethic the scientist has are any good and are worth having.  This problem they cannot escape.
            Even in the pursuit of something as fundamental as self-definition, science alone is utterly insufficient.  To the question “What is the proper definition of science?” one can give only a philosophical (and, by extension, theological) answer because the question itself presupposes and requires a vantage point from outside science.  Because we cannot tell who are the scientists and who are not until we know what science itself is, one cannot answer this question, as scientists too often do, by resorting to the tautology that science is that which is done by the scientist.  The question “What is science?” is a question about science, not a question of science.  Scientists want, indeed claim, to be empirical.  But please note:  “empirical” is a philosophical category.  Without the aid of the humanities, science cannot even identify itself, much less justify, or even invent, its procedures.
            To make the point in a different direction, science is not theology-free, and that is so precisely because science intentionally operates according to a procedural agnosticism, if not procedural atheism. That is, science operates as if God cannot be known or else as if He were altogether irrelevant, if not entirely absent.  By its means and its conclusions, science implicitly, perhaps even explicitly, denies that Christ is Lord of the universe, an inescapably theological denial.  What I, as a theologian, want to tell my scientific colleagues is that, as Lord of the universe and all that is within it, Christ is not something in addition to science, He is Someone in relation to it.  To operate as if He were utterly irrelevant to the laboratory is to answer, probably without careful analysis and theological acumen, the question raised long ago in the gospels:  “What think ye of Christ?”  Because Christ is foundational to the universe, He is foundational to science.  As Thomas Torrance once explained to me,
            . . . the countries of the Far East and of the Southern Hemisphere want our science and technology, but they have no doctrine of creation.  They do not realize that science and technology rest upon, indeed arise from, Christian foundations.  This is true both historically and epistemologically.  We must show them that it is the Creator God himself who stands behind everything, and that he provides the rational ground upon which the various sciences rest, as well as the world those sciences unlock and help to tame.   Theology and technology come as a pair.  We must be quite firm about both this and their function in serving and respecting the integrity of nature.4 
            Like it or not, the systematic and procedural denial, not to say the intended destruction, of metaphysics and of theology, is the death of scientific truth, if for no other reason than that it posits a dual or dichotomized universe, which we noted at the outset was untrue.  Answers to questions predicated upon that same bifurcated basis, while they are perhaps true as far as they go, do not go all the way, and are not the whole truth.  
            Perhaps an illustration will serve.  No physicist today can reckon with miracles and interventions from outside the material order, or with interventions that break that order open.  No theory they devise, no answer they propose, permits such ideas or recognizes such data, even though such data and ideas might be absolutely and comprehensively true.  That analytical inability reveals the limitations, indeed the willful blindness, of modern physics.  Modern physics does not reveal the limitations of God and his actions, much less God’s non-existence or irrelevance, assumptions implicit in scientific method as now understood and practiced.  God, if we need to be reminded, works in perfect freedom, and not according to the Kant-Laplace theory of determinedness, or to any of its current or future descendants. 
            Let me put it more graphically:  Any intellectual endeavor in which theology is segregated from the other disciplines and relegated to an intellectual ghetto is an instance of Jim Crow come again to the college campus because it explicitly asserts that the best intellectual paradigm is not well-informed academic integration but some framework of “separate but equal,” which, as we learned in the old South, meant separate but unequal, not because of actual inferiority, but because of bigotry.  By acting as if God Himself were irrelevant to the universe He has made and to our understanding of it, scientists, in effect, practice “disciplinism,” a widespread form of intellectual bigotry whereby the research and discoveries of other scholars are systematically disregarded simply because those scholars are members of another discipline.  The Queen of the Sciences has been banished to the back of the bus by her own bigoted descendants.  The fool has said in his heart that there is no God, and the scientist permits himself to operate as if the fool were right. 

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