Thursday, February 04, 2010

The Road of Science and the Ways to God

Only have time for a very brief post....

Well, the bad news is that I've lost the Kabbalah thread, so we'll have to get back to it later. The good news is that I just finished Stanley Jaki's The Road of Science and the Ways to God, and I'd like to spend a post or two on that. It was originally presented as the Gifford Lectures for 1975 and 1976. In case you don't know, these lectures were established at the bequest a certain Lord Gifford in order to "promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term -- in other words, the knowledge of God."

In the course of writing my book, I read a number of the previous Gifford Lectures, since they are highly relevant to what I was trying to do. Let's see... from the list on the wiki page, I see that I read Josiah Royce, Alfred North Whitehead, Arthur Eddington, Werner Heisenberg, Michael Polanyi, Reinhold Niebuhr, Christopher Dawson, Arnold Toynbee, John Eccles, John Polkinghorne, Holmes Rolston, Charles Taylor, Richard Swinburne, Keith Ward, and Ian Barbour. They are all quite rigorous, nothing remotely like the wooly-headed blather you see in the typical new-age "quantum whatever" books, on the one hand, or in the self-satisfied middlebrow fare of the village atheist crowd, on the other.

Along those lines, this probably wouldn't be the best book to introduce yourself to Jaki's thought. It's quite dense and technical, with well over 100 pages of footnotes. A better recommendation would be his intellectual autobiography, A Mind's Matter, or another synthesis of his thought, Means to Message: A Treatise on Truth.

For those who don't know, Jaki was both a Catholic priest and a professor of physics. Here's a brief synopsis from the wiki page:

"After completing undergraduate training in philosophy, theology and mathematics, Father Jaki gained doctorates in theology and in physics.... He also did post-doctoral research in Philosophy of Science at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Princeton University and Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Father Jaki authored more than two dozen books on the relation between modern science and orthodox Christianity.... Jaki was also among the first to claim that Gödel's incompleteness theorem is relevant for theories of everything in theoretical physics. Gödel's theorem states that any mathematical theory that includes certain basic facts of number theory (and is computably enumerable, i.e. whose formulas can be explicitly listed) will be either incomplete or inconsistent. Since any 'theory of everything' will certainly be consistent, it must be either incomplete or unable to prove basic facts about the integers."

In The Road of Science, Jaki endeavors to prove beyond doubt that science developed (which is obvious), and only could have developed (a more subtle point), in the Christian West. At the same time, he shows that the road of science and the way to God are anything but incompatible. Rather, they go hand in hand; in a rightly ordered mind, the one should facilitate the other.

We joke around a lot about our uneducable trolls, or the idiocy of vacuous demagogues like Charles the Queeg, but seriously, the reality of the situation is 180 degrees from the latter's childishly dogmatic and authoritarian view, for science can only function with a background of certain distinct metaphysical assumptions, which are Christian to the core. Sever science from this core, and you immediately end up with an incoherent metaphysic that can never be made "whole," and has all sorts of unintended consequences -- not just for science, but more critically, for the soul of man, for man cannot properly function without a rational and rightly oriented faith in reality.

Even the most confused atheist must acknowledge that science was developed by Christian men, and that their Christianity was not "peripheral" but central to the pursuit. To point out that the order of the cosmos could only have come from a transcendental source does not repel a normal person from science. Rather, it only make them more fascinated by it. Conversely, if scientism tells us that we inhabit a meaningless cosmos with no possibility of objective truth or morality, then this is hardly a spur for normal people to take an interest in it beyond the technological goodies it makes possible.

Jaki writes that there is but "a single intellectual avenue forming both the road of science and the ways to God." It is an indisputable fact that "Science found its only viable birth within a cultural matrix permeated by a firm conviction about the mind's ability to find in the realm of things and persons a pointer to their Creator."

Furthermore, even if the individual scientist is unaware of the fact, "all great creative advances of science have been made in terms of an epistemology germane to that conviction" about the intelligibility of the cosmos and the mind's ability to disclose it. Thus, "wherever that epistemology was resisted with vigorous consistency, the pursuit of science invariably appears to have been deprived of its solid foundation."

Pseudo-intellectuals and anti-Christian bigots will no doubt bring up ancient Greece, or China, or the early Muslim world, but that is indeed the point. It's not that difficult to "discover" reality. The hard part is sustaining the discovery. The essential point is that to truly discover science is to simultaneously discover its self-sustaining nature. It doesn't just mysteriously stop, as it did in those non-Christian cultures.

For to discover science is to discover discovery and to unleash progress. In other words, the mark of true science is a kind of inevitable, self-sustaining progress in scientific knowledge. But for a host of reasons, people are by and large fearful of change, so science (not to mention its close cousin, the free market) has been strangled in its crib. Nothing causes as much radical change as science and free markets, which is why the left opposes both.

And please bear in mind that when I say this, I am referring to science proper, not to the narrow scientism of a Queeg, which is a reactionary metaphysic that can only be embraced by someone who has overt contempt for the truth in all its fullness; for "Scientism is never a genuine reverence for science but a harnessing of science for a nonscientific purpose. Since that purpose is fixed, science can only serve it by remaining fixed, namely, by remaining in its supposedly final stage," and then "taking that final stage to be free of metaphysics."

But God -- thank God -- always takes d'light in shattering our little human containers, because you have to break a few eggheads to make a cosmic omelette.

18 Comments:

Blogger Van said...

"Only have time for a very brief post...."

Cool! That phrase has a long history of producing prime posts.

Ok... I suppose I'd better read it....

2/04/2010 09:05:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Queeg banned Sharmuta.

In other news, Dracula banned Renfield.

2/04/2010 09:11:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Dan Brown and Opie Cunningham's not gonna like this!

2/04/2010 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"Even the most confused atheist must acknowledge that science was developed by Christian men, and that their Christianity was not "peripheral" but central to the pursuit. To point out that the order of the cosmos could only have come from a transcendental source does not repel a normal person from science. Rather, it only make them more fascinated by it."

What is interesting, is that the Greeks in general, and Aristotle in particular, discovered, found, began everything necessary for Science propertly develop. If you listen to the scientistic's, that is. Now, he did layout the basis for everything needed, in metaphysics, ethics, and particularly logic provided the system necessary for self correction... but aside from providing a basic foundation for science in mechanics and mathematics (Archimedes, Euclid, Ptolemy, etc)... it didn't ever go much further than that. Not with the Greeks, not with the Romans, Byzantium, Persian/Arabs.... Pretty much a dead end.

Why? For all the scientistics like to nail Christianity for the Dark Ages, Galileo & the Spanish Inquisition, it wasn't until the Christian emphasis upon the Individual, the value of their individual choice in regards to their soul and the importance of their being free to make that choice, not until then did all the groundwork of the Greeks... get off the ground.

"Conversely, if scientism tells us that we inhabit a meaningless cosmos with no possibility of objective truth or morality, then this is hardly a spur for normal people to take an interest in it beyond the technological goodies it makes possible. "

Yep.

2/04/2010 09:43:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"The essential point is that to truly discover science is to simultaneously discover its self-sustaining nature. It doesn't just mysteriously stop, as it did in those non-Christian cultures."

Exactly!

Science isn't just discovered and organized knowledge, but the pursuit of knowledge that is True! That requires much more than just a curiousity for how things works.


wv:dratchip
Vegas and Obama at the tables

2/04/2010 09:50:00 AM  
Blogger Grant Maher said...

Bob, you allude to the Christian underpinnings of the scientific method, however it is not fleshed out quite enough to see clearly.

Can you please elucidate a specific quality of Christianity and how it influenced the evolution of the scientific method?

2/04/2010 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"But for a host of reasons, people are by and large fearful of change, so science (not to mention its close cousin, the free market) has been strangled in its crib. Nothing causes as much radical change as science and free markets, which is why the left opposes both."

Not much to add to that, just wanted to see it again along with a: Yeah!

The left is opposed to Science, Free Markets and the Nation which made such choices to be freely made possible, through the defense of Individual Rights.

2/04/2010 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Grant said "Can you please elucidate a specific quality of Christianity and how it influenced the evolution of the scientific method?"

Not the method, Aristotle had that in spades centuries before (and Bacon never came close to it), but the reason for applying it, the reason for bettering your life, the reason for valuing your choices, for assuming that Truth existed and had more worth and value than mere engineering... you should be able to find the implications through something like Mark:36 could be mined with "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?".

2/04/2010 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

GB wrote: "In The Road of Science, Jaki endeavors to prove beyond doubt that science developed (which is obvious), and only could have developed (a more subtle point), in the Christian West. At the same time, he shows that the road of science and the way to God are anything but incompatible. Rather, they go hand in hand; in a rightly ordered mind, the one should facilitate the other."

Bob's is the sort of commentary that would make a useful contribution at either one of these web sites, as their stated purpose is to uphold truth in science and religion, but they are sometimes over-run with and dominated by some pretty confused individuals (some of whom are "moderators". :)

The ASA Voices Blog: HERE

The BIO-Logos Blog: HERE

2/04/2010 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob,
Dupree says you can borrow his alarm clock. You just need to unscrew it from the ceiling and replace the batteries.

2/04/2010 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Warren said...

>> the reason for applying [the scientific method], the reason for bettering your life, the reason for valuing your choices, for assuming that Truth existed

Yes. And I would add: Christianity provided the belief that Creation is ruled by Laws (not merely a Deity's arbitrary whim, as in Islam, an assumption that makes science not only useless but blasphemous); that we are meant to be the custodians of this Creation and thus are obligated to learn as much about its Laws as we can; that the Creation is fully real and objective, not just a trick of our consciousness (as in Hinduism and Buddhism); that our power of Reason is God-given for a divine purpose, and is not reducible to the random motions of a three-pound lump of grayish meat inside our skulls (as in materialism); etc, etc, etc.....

2/04/2010 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Off topic (or is it?), absolutely gorgeous sound of the day.

2/04/2010 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

For to discover science is to discover discovery and to unleash progress. In other words, the mark of true science is a kind of inevitable, self-sustaining progress in scientific knowledge. But for a host of reasons, people are by and large fearful of change, so science (not to mention its close cousin, the free market) has been strangled in its crib. Nothing causes as much radical change as science and free markets, which is why the left opposes both."

Yes indeed! When the pro-regressives chant "change" they really mean slavey, not liberty, and therefore not change in the sense of transcendence but rather change in the sense of regression from our very humanity.

Great repost, Bob!

2/04/2010 07:56:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Somewhat off topic... unless you follow it around a bit... then it comes back to being on topic. My oldest asked me this weekend if I had any Sherlock Holmes books (the recent movie at least had some good effects), and I pulled my "Complete Sherlock Holmes" book down and handed it to him. This was the book my Grandpa had given me... which he'd bought new as a first edition, and it was far from new... he'd read it over and again and so had I... and sad to say it's no longer in the shape to passed down for someone to read rough and ready like. So we Amazon'd him a new copy, I put my treasured copy back on the shelf... and popped up the first story, "A study in Scarlet" on my PocketPC, intending to browse a page or two, and got hooked into reading the whole thing one more time.

I'd forgotten how good they were.

Anyway, this passage early on in the story caught my eye & having just finished reading the story, I thought of it again & thought I'd pass along. Holmes has been out to a concert after investigating a murder, Watson's first ever, and strolls back in,

"He was very late in returning—so late, that I knew that the concert could not have detained him all the time. Dinner was on the table before he appeared.

"It was magnificent," he said, as he took his seat. "Do you remember what Darwin says about music? He claims that the power of producing and appreciating it existed among the human race long before the power of speech was arrived at. Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood."

"That's rather a broad idea," I remarked.

"One's ideas must be as broad as Nature if they are to interpret Nature," he answered."

Not sure exactly why, but that 1887 comment on Darwin and his views, from a popularized point of view of the time, really seems so at odds with the likely popularized scientistic comment of today - so much has changed. It then continues from there with a tossed off comment which puts the mundane horrors of today is complete contrast with those situations we today would consider social triffles, and which they would have considered stop the presses material... Holmes continues,

"What's the matter? You're not looking quite yourself. This Brixton Road affair has upset you."

"To tell the truth, it has," I said. "I ought to be more case-hardened after my Afghan experiences. I saw my own comrades hacked to pieces at Maiwand without losing my nerve."

"I can understand. There is a mystery about this which stimulates the imagination; where there is no imagination there is no horror.

I suppose A. Conan Doyle's story was considered rather sensational in it's time, but those bit's the Victorian's might have found shocking, are quaint to us, and the purely imaginative nature of the story stands out all around. Today, however, keeping with Holmes, he's got to be surrounded with the most eye-popping special effects, explosions, graphic fights, given a constant dissolute personality and even get punched out by Watson, to get and keep the audiences attention... which all amounted to lots of perceptual thrills, masking very little imagination.

As we walked out of the theatre, no one turned an eye towards the pierced, tattooed and goth'd people (not just 'kids') walking by or behind the snack bar, or much remarked on the contents of the daily news.

where there is no imagination there is no horror

The horror.

2/04/2010 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Nor is there beauty; after all, even though the music existed in some form, someone still had to imagine it into being.

And to tie it all again back to the post, just as modern could not have developed anywhere else, so modern music in virtually all its permutations owes its being to humble monks who were trying to find better ways not only to express their love of God through music, but to put it in writing so that others could share in that expression.

2/04/2010 09:38:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

pimf;
Should have read "Just as modern science"... yadda yadda yadda

Obviously, it's past my bedtime.

2/04/2010 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger todd said...

"Bob, you allude to the Christian underpinnings of the scientific method, however it is not fleshed out quite enough to see clearly."

Van, you clever 'Coon you.. you beat me to it. But its late and I am working on a broken server with the team.

Yes, Bob spoke of the why you do it, not the how you do it.

I would add (to kick a long dead horse I've discussed before a long time ago) -that the Greek word for "faith" in the New Testament is not a religious word, but came from a secular source.

It has to do with acting in context, aware of circumstances and consequences.

Hence, when one gets out of bed in the morning and stands up, they are using that word correctly. The faith in gravity not having failed, the action follows *in faith* -a verb.

So, likewise, turning on a light switch, and other activities.

So, as in life as in science -application of an hypothesis to determine by experimentation or calculation, we do the same thing. We have faith in an outcome, based upon a supporting context.

And all these scientists are incorrectly taught (these days) that faith is an abstraction, a belief in something that is not, and opposed to "true science" -how silly, absurd and ignorant of the word and the process.

Of course, one could say, without too much reaching, that the scientific method was an outgrowth of the science itself, and thereby a child process of the original core pursuit -which was not based solely on method or secular construct.

At this stage of the clock time, I think that would be a correct conclusion, based upon the chronology of the evolution of scientific thought.

The other foolish thing I see often in science (studied Physics / Astrophysics somewhere in the middle of New Mexico in my life) -is that presumption of objectivity, which is wholly a fallacy.

Explain to me how an individual can be objective, when soley subjective?

Correct me if I am wrong, but don't the German's have the word for this in away by saying the Umvelt? (sp?)

But yet, they are also smart enough to consider, that even if I sneak into a blind and wait for the racoons to walk by, that I am changing the natural state of things, and not actually observing the true nature of the events, as I have become part of the frame of reference, and thereby it is changed somehow.

Sort of a broader use of uncertainty, and perhaps we should call this Schrodinger's Racoon?

I've mentioned to my friends about the necessity of uncertainty. We all sometimes ask why things are that way.

If things were certain, there would be no use for faith, as we would know all outcomes.

So, the faith part of the equation is also part of the uncertainty function in the grand scheme.

How else could Racoons have fun if there were not a bit of mirth in the mist now and then?

Beaky and pets are doing well.

-Todd

2/05/2010 01:06:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Beaky and pets are doing well.

Thanks, Todd. It's good to know they are being well cared-for.

2/05/2010 08:32:00 AM  

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