Saturday, December 24, 2011

Science and Theology (4)

Science is not an autonomous set of empirical disciplines.  Nothing about science properly, or actually, prevents philosophical or theological concepts from entering into it.  Science, like all intellectual disciplines, ought not to conduct its business in an imaginary, air-tight compartment, isolated from all other strivings of the human mind after knowledge.  Because too many scientists have cut themselves off from those other strivings, they condemn themselves to discovering all on their own many things already widely known by others.  For example, even though such ideas appeared new and revolutionary to some of the unphilosophical practitioners of science, most of Mach’s notions were already standard fare in the writings of a number of earlier philosophers.  The high price some scientists pay for their intellectual isolationism and prejudice is that they must repeatedly re-invent the intellectual wheel.
         But there’s more to theology in science than procedural agnosticism and atheism.  Our ape ancestors are treated with immense respect, even toadying homage, as the secular Adam and Eve.  No attacks upon their status, much less their existence, are tolerated.  Read Dawkins’ epigraph again.  (“It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane.”) Not to do obeisance to the fossil remains of ancient animals ranks as scientific sacrilege, as scientific heresy.  Religion, albeit pagan, has come to the laboratory, and the allegedly secular scientist has become its new high priest.
         Furthermore, many of those very scientists who insist on divorcing religion from science seem sometimes especially eager to use their science as a basis for theological (or at least extra-scientific) pronouncements.  The literature of science is replete with anti-theistic language and conclusions:  The universe was not designed; the universe has no purpose; human beings result from random and mindless natural processes, or so we are repeatedly told. 
         Put another way, to the adoration of God and of virtue, some moderns have added the adoration of science (or at least what goes by that name).  But you cannot deify the scientific method without at the same time devaluing or debasing both theology (the human understanding and application of revelation) and philosophy (the human understanding and application of reason).  Many scientists, therefore, without meaning to do so, undermine our only source of morality and freedom:  Revelation and the reason that springs from it it.  They do so by believing, writing, and teaching that only those things that are testable under controlled laboratory conditions qualify as hard knowledge; all else is merely opinion.  But even a moment’s reflection reveals that if every question of morality, of politics, of philosophy, and of theology is a matter of mere untestable opinion and not of fact because they cannot be tested under laboratory conditions, then they can be settled only by force, not by reason.  In that way (and in others) scientists sometime lead us to tyranny.  Fascism and pseudo-liberalism are the not-too-distant offspring of modern man’s widespread belief that science alone is trustworthy and that whatever lies beyond its pale is little more and little else than irrational prejudice, unsubstantiatable conjecture, and transitory emotion incapable of reasoned support.  This vision of life most modern and post-modern persons learned in the science classroom.  Too often scientists teach and write as if the only real options available to us are science or mysticism, empiricism or bias, fact or feeling. 
         Simply because no test tube yields either a “should” or an “ought,”  it does not mean that “should” and “ought” are thereby made suspect, much less banished; science is.  Moral questions -- questions about right and wrong or good and bad -- cannot be answered (or even raised) by the scientific methods now prevalent in either the natural or the social sciences.  That does not mean, however, that they cannot be answered, have not been answered, or have no answers.  It means only that with regard to the diagnostic and fundamental questions of life, science is impotent, though dangerous.  The one who has not learned to ask, much less to answer, the fundamental questions of life, is indeed no man at all, but still a child, still benighted.  To answer such questions, even to raise them, science is powerless.  Consequently, while technical schools and scientific laboratories are important and laudable things, to advertise them as colleges or universities, or to say that those who have passed through them are truly educated men and women, is a lie. 
         To put the point differently, God is the Lord of the entire world of knowledge, including science and technology.  Science and technology that are atheistic in both conception and conduct, that are consciously cut loose from all formal considerations about God and morality, are not your dream come true; they are your worst nightmare.  To utilize science and technology wisely or else to become their victims, that is the choice before us.  But the wisdom that saves us from our science and technology is no commodity derived from either of them or from both.  To paraphrase something C. S. Lewis said in another context, science ceases to be a demon only when it ceases to be a god.  It can never cease until it figures out a way to let God be God, even in the laboratory.                 


Ilíon said...

"Read Dawkins’ epigraph again. (“It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane.”)"

Ah, but you left off the best part. The full quote is "It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not consider that)." Even as he passive-aggressively "considers" that anyone who doubts the evolutionism he pushes is morally reprehensible.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

Ilion, I didn't remember that, so many thanks for bringing it to light again. Merry Christmas to you and to yours. Have a wonderful New Year.