Science in Christian Perspective



Robert D. Knudsen, Ph.D.

From JASA 10 (December 1958): 18-19.

Karl Jaspers On The Meaning Of Science, II

Karl Jaspers says that we cannot know the meaning of science. One cannot even say as an item of knowledge that science is for the glory of God, or that it should be for His glory. If one seeks to grasp what the meaning of science is, he must conclude that it is meaningless. Any claim to know the meaning of science must ultimately be destroyed by the fire of criticism, which leads one into a nihilism.

The root of such nihilism, Jaspers says, is not in a specific cause, which would be eliminable by some technique; it is in the absolutization of thought itself. If we think that we can know the ultimate rationale of things, we have absolutized knowledge, the sense of truth that pertains to consciousness in general. This absolutization inevitably disintegrates into, nihilism.

In the quicksand of nihilism, however, one is lost to himself. He cannot find a place to stand; yet if he is to be himself, he must have a place to stand.

The very criticism of the claim to know the meaning of science must be seen, therefore, to be impelled by a deeper motive, the impulse of possible true selfhood (mogliche Existenz). It is this impulse, not any discernible cause, which is at the root of the discontentment which Jaspers finds when any object of knowledge is taken to be the final reference point.

The direction to the self is not found in the intentional relation to the object of knowledge. Neither is it found in the subjective. The discontentment which arises with the absolutization of the objective or the subjective is the impulse to philosophizing, which arises with the absolutization of the objectivity and subjectivity to that which encloses both, the All-Enclosing (Umgreifende). It is only in philosophical transcending-in a turn-about-face-from the objective without losing the objective-that the true direction of the self can be opened.

It is this transcending which distinguishes the realm of philosophy from that of science. If science is directed to the object, philosophical transcendence is the method of rising above the objective while remaining within the medium of the objective. While science provides a body of universally valid knowledge, philosophy does not give a body of knowledge at all. The great systems of philosophy, as they come to us in a form that can be verbally transmitted and learned, are only the capita mortua of true philosophizing. Science has its terminus in the object of knowledge; philosophy is the method of transcending above every objective hand hold, preserving it from being absolutized into an absolute reference point.

Should the meaning of anything be known, one would be obliged to submit himself to a single, universally valid norm. But when one is truly himself, he is not bound to something (known) outside of himself. He is not set on a preestablished way. He is free.

Since the thing in itself cannot be known, science cannot interpret itself, gaining a set idea of its purposes and its goals. It is not by the way of knowledge but by the way of philosophical transcendence, which opens the way to human freedom and selfhood, that the meaning can be found in science. This transcendence can occur, however, only in the course of the pursuit of knowledge itself.

(To be concluded) 
August 12, 1958. Westminster Theological Seminary Philadelphia 18, Pa.