Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Yah, but I got Science!

My father was a genius. A biologist by trade. He had a deep knowledge of history (especially the history of modern warfare) and was, to boot, a fair student of philosophy. More importantly, he was kind. He was wise despite his knowledge. His knowledge didn’t keep him from wisdom, but used the former for sake of the latter. He arrived at some fair conclusions; not all of them, but enough for his sons to be proud of him.

You don’t have to be on the internet long before you see people bragging about their commitment to science. Their boast is remarkably akin to the boast of traditionalists who know no Latin. Even worse, scientists who mistake techne for sapientia, know-how for wisdom.

People usually brag about ‘science’ because they want to vault themselves above religious people, as if there was an essential opposition between science people and religion people. If you are one you can’t be the other, they seem to suggest. Recently a family member referred to himself spending time with me as a scientist hanging out with a devout Catholic, or something like that. Logically, that is the equivalent of saying ‘a scientist and a man—or woman—walk into a bar.’ How many people were there: one or two? I am a man and a theologian. Aristotle and Newton were both hugely significant scientists as well as theists. Fr. Gregor Mendel - you know the guy who came up with genetics, was a priest. I follow Newton’s law of gravity when I paint the walls of my house, and the laws of Jesus when I relate to my neighbour, rarely confusing the two.

Another person said to me that we should follow science rather than religion when it comes to morality. I assured him that the Nazis did.

Why do people brag about being a follower of science? It’s a very common thing nowadays. You get people like Dawkins, you even get people like Family Guy creator, Seth McFarland, doing this. Oh, and how, Mr. Cartoonist, did you arrive by scientific means at the conclusion that homosexuality was natural, for instance?

My father used to lament his graduate students’—whom he loved like a grandpa—lack of perspective when it came to science. He said that they had no sense of the ‘bigger picture’ that a better knowledge of the history of science and philosophy could give them.

It’s a common vice to want to feel superior to others. But it’s not scientific. It’s not scientific to look down upon others—on anyone, especially upon those who are probably better than you. When you aren’t better than anyone else in any appreciable sense, when your life is pretty unremarkable, it natural to want to find something about you that makes you better than the rank and file. An all-too easy thing people do today is to say that they are scientific. No, they don’t necessarily say they are scientists—they may not even have a BA in science—but they are saying that they are logical and of an empirical mindset, unlike those superstitious religious people.

I don’t know everything about everything, but I can assure you that in my long study of religious people that:

1. Many of them have quite high IQs

2. Many of them are quite well educated

3. Many of them are very fond of science

4. Many All of them understand that science cannot teach them the meaning of life or what’s worth getting up for in the morning.

Of those who claim they follow science, you know, they watch Neil deGrasse Tyson on TV and have read The God Delusion, (a), (b), and (c) may be true, but many of them don’t get (d). (Consult the ‘fact-value distinction,’ boobs.)

All of this came out of my reading of Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. When you have read a book before, read it again backwards. So I began with the Appendix, “Illustrations of the Tao,” which contains a whole host of wisdom sayings from the past, like from Hindu, Jewish, Babylonian sources. Let me tell you, here is the good stuff. No knowledge of science can equal the greatness contained in those pages.

“For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.” (pp. 84-5)


  1. I have always been rather befuddled by those I refer to as "rationalist atheists". They love to talk about how rational and scientific they are, and attempt to claim that science does not support faith (what they really mean is that their interpretation of their current level of scientific knowledge does not support faith). However, they are actually being entirely non-rational. The first mistake they are making is assuming that science has revealed everything we need to know to make a decision about God's existence. Any casual observer of history can see that the only thing we can know for sure is that some of what we think we know for sure about science WILL be proved to be wrong.

    I'm a mathematician by training. A lot of mathematicians, at least in my personal observation, are in fact religious and have no problem at all reconciling a faith in God with "rationality". I think this is partly because one thing you learn very quickly as a mathematician is that there are many things that are provably true but are either not obvious or even counterintuitive. It took humanity a long time to realize that irrational numbers exist! They certainly aren't intuitively obvious. The rationalist atheist position is, to me, the equivalent of a person that refuses to believe anything more complex than the fractions exist just because they can't see them.

    1. I find it particularly funny how quasi-scientists can let a theory get out of control. No, I don't mean evolution (I am a fan of evolution). Take the big bang example, or the 'infinite number of worlds' example. While I think both are possible, these are the mathematical best-fit. Well, at least the big bang is. The infinite number of worlds thing - if I am not mistaken - is something that is required if the rest of the equations Einstein and others needed are to work. That means (1) they were right and there are, therefore, an infinite number of universes, or (2) the equations are not yet quite right. Which is more likely? Number 2.

      A scientist (or mathematician) is a poor one when he begins to think outside of what is strictly dictated by the terms either of observation or of calculation. Math operates with a whole host of assumptions, that means that if X is true, then Y, but X might not be true, but it is required to be true if we are to arrive at Y by means of X. Y might still be correct, but getting there from X might involve an error somewhere. When people say dumb things like 'parallel lines intersect' because Einstein said so, they reveal the depths of their ignorance. A physicist might need to say "something can come from nothing" to make his equations work, but a logician knows that this cannot be. Who is right? Both are: the physicist is correct that something needs to come from nothing for his equations to work, the problem is, there is still something wrong with the equations insofar as they are being thought to explain actual phenomena.

      I'd love to talk to you more about this stuff. Since my dad died I have no mathematician to talk to, and I am certainly not competent to do anymore than examine their logical structure