Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 28
Response of the consulting Editors
Reprinted from Engineering and Science, California Institute of Technology, December 1974-January 1975.
When Michael Faraday was asked the question, so tiresome to a scientist, "What is the relevance of your work?" he could give his well-known reply, "Madam, what use is a newborn baby?" Or, when asked the question by the Prime Minister, Robert Peel, about his magnetic induction, he could reply, "I know not, Sir, but I'll wager one day you'll tax it." And in the golden age of Victorian progress, the point was taken and later proved to be correct.
It is not so easy to satisfy the questioner today. The baby is grown into a man of great achievement and power. It has almost won its battle against disease and the miseries of hard labour; Michael Faraday and James Watt released more men from slavery than did Abraham Lincoln. "Yes," says the man of relevance to the man of science, "I accept this, and I really am grateful. But now I've had enough. I need time to adjust to what I've got already. So will you please find a cure for cancer and then stop."
In some ways the man has a point. I should like to mention one of his anxieties because I share it and because it is urgent. It is nuclear power-not weapons, which are another problem, but reactors. When that first baby reactor was born in Chicago in 1942, scientists saw it growing into a benefactor of mankind. It was also good for science, and billions of dollars have flowed into research of all kinds because of this hope. Today, I don't think I am using emotional terms when I say the baby has grown into a monster. The world is as near to anarchy as it has ever been, and yet we are about to put nuclear reactors all over the earth-in Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland, in India and Pakistan, in Israel and Egypt, in Turkey and Cyprus, in Vietnam and in Chile. We haven't the remotest idea how to destroy the radioactive wastes, but soon everybody will know how to use them for war, sabotage, or blackmail. If we are making a mistake, then it is-unlike other mistakes we must make from time to time-irrevocable and irreversible because the radioactive products will be with our children and theirs for more generations than have passed since the beginning of civilization. What chance is there of man surviving in a plutonium economy, even as long as one half-life of plutonium, 24,000 years? Yet the momentum, the investment in nuclear power, is now so great that it seems already too late to stop the proliferation.
What do we say now to our man of relevance? I would say the following: Man, being what he is, will demand his megawatts today even if he dies tomorrow. We have made a terrible mistake in offering nuclear power as a solution too soon. We admit it. Now our only way out is to find an alternative which is cheaper; nothing else will be accepted. What is more, we believe we can do this-by using solar energy, for example. But this means more research, more science, more knowledge, not less.
So our man of relevance will probably agree to add energy, and a few other things, to cancer in his list of things still to be done. But he will maintain that we are bound, soon, to reach a limit where we have everything we want. "Then," he will say, "you scientists will just be doing it for your own amusement. I have no objection to this as long as it's safe, and I understand that it's fun and compulsive, like playing chess, but why should I pay for your game?"
I believe that there is a very good reason, though I don't expect it to appeal to every man. So far, we have answered the man of relevance entirely in material terms. This has less and less appeal as material needs are satisfied and spiritual needs assume greater importance. Science has increased our health and wealth; now what about our happiness?
To answer this question we have to ask deeper ones which are at the basis of our philosophy, our religion, and our ethics. What is it that we want of ourselves, of man, of our earth, of the universe? In the past, these questions have been answered by the theologians, and the answer-being rather pleasant-was readily accepted. But man's reason does not permit him to think happy thoughts which are irrational, and many have had to discard the old religions on these grounds. Our great dilemma is that science has not yet helped man to find a new religion which in any way replaces the old ones. There are philosophies of life, such as humanism, which provide a modus vivendi but do little to solve the basic questions answered so confidently by the old religions.
Most of our anxieties, problems, and unhappiness today stem from a lack of purpose which was rare a century ago and which can fairly be blamed on the consequences of scientific enquiry. It is well known bow the leaders of the established religions resisted the Age of Reason, sometimes literally to the death. By the middle of the 19th century, when it became clear that the establishment had lost the argument, a truce was called. The matter was resolved by the proposition that religion and science were quite separate activities, so there could be no conflict. Religion was concerned with the spirit of man whilst science dealt with the material and physical world.
This compromise and division of territory never rang true and probably deceived nobody. Things had already gone too far, and it was already clear not only that religions had always interpreted the physical world, as Judeo-Christianity does from the first verse of Genesis, but also that the greater understanding provided by science bad a profound effect on man's philosophy, ethics, and spiritual beliefs.
The discoveries of Copernicus, Darwin, and the molecular biologists have irrevocably changed our beliefs about our place in the world, but the new understanding has been negative in the sense of destroying old conceptions and religious views and much that goes with them without providing a new positive philosophy and purpose.
If then, we have changed our traditional faiths through increased knowledge of ourselves and our universe, is it not possible that our way to a new faith, a new purpose for life, is through further knowledge and understanding of nature?This is the true relevance of science.
It is, of course, quite possible that we can never understand, never discover a purpose, but we shall not succeed if we do not try. Time and time again in science some artificial barrier has been proposed beyond which science could not pass, and many of those barriers are now behind us. There is absolutely no evidence that the great reasoning power with which mankind is endowed has any limitations, and until evidence to the contrary is discovered, we shall be wise not to give up the search. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Once this "ethic of knowledge," as Monod calls it, is accepted, life becomes more meaningful again. The fatalistic mood is tempered with hope. Survival of the species once again becomes important because our search is likely to span many generations, and if we destroy ourselves by some self-inflicted catastrophe, man will never know what his destiny might have been.
It might be argued that it is impossible for us to imagine any conceivable purpose in the universe and therefore what we pursue is a mirage. But not many years ago, it was impossible to imagine any solution to the chicken and egg problem of the origin of life; yet a simple solution, understandable to all, has been found. When the earth was thought to be flat, it was impossible to imagine any solution to the problem: Where does the earth end? But a spherical earth is now
The ultimate relevance of science is to try to discover man's purpose by every means in our power.
so obvious that we hardly need to employ our imagination at all. Could it be that man's purpose will one day be as obvious as the spherical earth?
What areas of science are likely to be most fruitful in this quest? Until the glimmer of an idea appears, a hypothesis to be pursued, it is impossible to know; and it is probably wise to pursue most actively those areas where progress seems to be possible at the time. So-called relevant research does not always lead to relevant discovery, and-if the proper study of mankind is man-it may be equally true that the proper study of man at this time is through physics, chemistry, and biology.
If the problem seems insuperable, we should continue to remind ourselves that modern science started only about 400 years ago and has already transformed our lives and our understang. What may we not achieve in the four billion years which remain before the earth becomes uninhabitable?
What is it that we want man to achieve? Is it merely the greatest happiness of the greatest number? How many men should there be on earth anyway, and how many birds? How important is an individual compared with the survival and progress of the species? Until we have a better understanding, all our ambitions for a better world are at best short term and, at worst, may be quite wrongly conceived. Our ethics and morals must ultimately be derived from this better understanding.
There is, then, one great purpose for man and for us today, and that is to try to discover man's pur ose by every means in our power. That is the ultimate relevance of science, and not only of science but of every branch of learning which can improve our understanding.
In the words of Tolstoy, "The highest wisdom has but one science, the science of the whole, the science explaining the Creation and man's place in it."
George Porter makes some interesting observations I would agree with, e.g., humanism and materialism fail to provide answers to ultimate questions, and "so-called relevant research does not always lead to relevant discovery." However, I disagree with his thesis that science can provide such ultimate answers. He appears frustrated in trying to state a purpose for science, in order to keep science relevant and to maintain its public support. I have always understood that science is unconcerned and even unable to deal with teleology. Purpose, as well as other ultimates, is outside the scope of science. Science can have or can be given a purpose, but science itself is incapable of leading to or discovering ultimate purpose for anything.
Porter is right when he identifies the root of the problems of our generation as purposelessness and meaninglessness. In his essay Porter himself exemplifies man without God, groping for a purpose. For me this problem is solved in a personal relationship (won for me by Jesus Christ) with the Creator, Who gave me the purpose of glorifying Him by serving others. The purpose of my science is to serve fellow humans by understanding the world and learning how to control it for the benefit of all.
Not Science, but Scientism
An inscription in the Building of the National Academy of Sciences reads as follows:TO SCIENCE: PILOT OF INDUSTRY, CONQUEROR OF DISEASE, MULTIPLIER OF THE HARVEST, EXPLORER OF THE UNIVERSE, REVEALER OF NATURE'S LAWS, ETERNAL GUIDE TO THE TRUTH.
Christians, whether or not they are of scientific bent, are more likely to associate most of these functions with the creative and redemptive activity of God in Christ, and to view science as a useful human activity, but not as a source of values. It is one of the naive' of our day to hold that science has somehow "changed our beliefs about our place in the world" and that traditional religious ideas of faith and purpose are to be replaced by those found by a scientific quest for "further knowledge and understanding of nature". The quotations are from Sir George Porter, who would presumably approve heartily of the inscription.
Although Sir George is to be accorded every bit of deference due to a Nobel Laureate, we must recognize from this article that his expertise in chemistry does not extend to theology and philosophy. In these he is quite superficial and he shares a common misconception of the role of science. The main idea of his article is nothing more than that if we keep on doing science, we may discover a purpose for human existence. This is not science, it is Scientism. It loses sight of the fact that science is just one of many human activities for which the significance does not emerge from latent factors, but comes from the religious and/or philosophical outlook which is brought to the human activities.
To say that we must look to science to find purpose in life because science has changed some of the conditions of our lives is no more sensible than to say that we must look to football to find purpose since it has changed the conditions of life on weekends for most Americans. To say that science (or football) is important is to say something which is true but trivial. To say that science (or football) can be the source of purpose is idolatrous.Dewey K. Carpenter
Beyond Science to the Bible
Several years ago a group of psychologists gathered for a conference to discuss the state of their discipline. They debated the strengths, weaknesses, and relevance of psychology and ended their conference with the conclusion that "Psychology's only hope is science."
I was reminded of this when I read Sir George Porter's paper. He summarizes the strengths, capabilities, weaknesses and limitations of science and then seems to conclude weakly that the only hope for science is more science. It is true that the author talks about discovering "man's purpose by every means in our power" including the use of "every branch of learning," but he clearly rules out religion and divine revelation as one of these branches of learning. He assumes, a priori, that religion is "irrational" and apparently is unaware of apologetical and other data which support the truths of Christianity. He acknowledges that we have a lack of purpose which he blames on scientific inquiry, but then he proposes more science to pull us out of the existential vacuum that science has helped to create. He suggests that physics, chemistry, and biology may be the best way for man to understand himself, but then he raises questions (e.g., what is man's purpose on earth? what is it that we want man to achieve?) that neither the natural nor the social sciences can answer.
I agree with Sir George that we should use "every means in our power" to discover man's purpose, but this means that we must be willing to go beyond science to the Bible which addresses itself to these kinds of questions, The Bible does not claim to have all of the answers to man's questions, but then neither does science and the other academic disciplines. But the Bible does give us answers to the kinds of questions that are raised in this paper, and it may be that scientists such as those in the ASA should be speaking and writing about this. When science is set into God's creation and is seen as a way of understanding with clarity what a Holy God has created and sustains, science takes on a greater meaning and relevance; the kind of relevance that Sir George seems to be seeking.
No Straight Path from Fact to Value
Sir George Porter's piece on the relevance of science contains a splendid variety of perceptive insights. Nevertheless, I believe it is curiously flawed by an implicit internal contradition. Porter paints an anxious world near anarchy, with a nuclear Sword of Damocles uspended over it. Yet he seems to subscribe to a future ethic of knowledge" whereby this contradictory, anarchistic mankind can ultimately hope to find life's meaning-some optimistic, illdefined salvation through science.
So far science has given us an impressive understanding of, and increased control over, nature. Yet so far it has given us little basis for extrapolating to a system of ethics and morals derived from science, despite such valiant attempts as Jacob Bronowski's Science and Human Values.
At about the same time that Cal Tech's Engineering and Science printed Porter's article, MIT's Technology Review published a partly similar essay by Dr. Laurence Gould ("Science in Our Seamless Web," Jan. 1975), but a piece with which I am far more sympathetic. Gould writes that "sometimes analysis deludes us into thinking that we know all about things whose inner reality we miss." In contrast to Porter, he says "Today the problem is what should be done amongsi all the things that can be done. This involves value judgments by the scientific community; and this in turn makes it important to say that the choice of extrinsic goals cannot be determined purely by the methodology of science. There is no straight path from fact to value, and if we rely on science alone, questions of purpose will not be answered."
While reflecting on Porter's essay, I came across an interesting quotation from Clifford Geertz: "In order to make up our minds, we must know how we feel about things; and to know how we feel about things we need the public images of sentiment that only ritual, myth, and art can provide." To me this statement addresses itself to something profound that Porter has (perhaps deliberately) overlooked.
Mechanistic Description Breeds Despair
Porter in searching for "a new faith, a new purpose for life, through further knowledge and understanding of nature" should listen to what some of his contemporaries are saying about modern science. Theodore Roszak (Daedalus, Summer, 1974) views science as dominating the age with a doctrine of despair, i. e., with knowledge and an approach to understanding that leads inexorably from phenomena of great substance and human meaning-the beauties of sunrise and sunset, the incredible potential in the human personality-to models and explanations which reduce these and all other phenomena to meaningless descriptions of an inhuman universe out of which man emerged only by chance, and in which his living mind, with its concepts of good and evil, of hope and beauty, is estranged and inharmonious. He contends that the reduction of things of value and beauty to meaningless mechanistic description breeds despair; and despair is a secret destroyer of the human spirit.
Steven Weinberg in the same volume says "the laws, of nature are as impersonal and free of human values as the rules of arithmetic . . . the whole system of the visible stars stands revealed as only a small part of the spiral arm of one of a huge number of galaxies extending away from us in all directions. Nowhere do we see human value or human meaning."
Jacques Monod, whom Porter quotes approvingly at one point, states, "Science wrote an end to the ancient animist covenant between man and nature, leaving nothing in place of that precious bond but an anxious quest in a frozen universe of solitude." Clearly the Christian is not alone in his contention that science is neither a means nor an end in the search for the highest wisdom.
Purpose to be Accepted, Not Discovered
There is no question that modem man is trapped;
his technological success requires technological progress.
The physical and natural sciences provide the key to
solve the technological problems they cause today.
Thus, the relevance of science centers about the judicious use of physical and natural resources to allow for
There are several apparent weaknesses in Sir Porter's suggestion that "our way to a new faith, a new purpose for life, is through further knowledge and understanding of nature." First, it is not a valid statement for that segment of the population which has not changed its traditional faith. If science is to be a religion, the masses would be faithless and Sir Porter would be the high priest.
Further, it is doubtful that "if the proper study of mankind is man," this study can be limited to the physical and natural sciences. Certainly the social sciences and humanities would have a place in all of this. As the product of the physical and natural sciences, technology is not generally recognized as the revealer of truth and purpose. Rather, technology may be more rightly seen as a screen which has been inserted between man and nature. That screen may filter out some truth for the scientist but it leaves mass man searching for the hidden light.
Can the physical and natural sciences have any purpose outside of the plan of God? Apparently not, for such purpose would, at best, be a distortion of truth. Science can only rightly perceive that which has been provided by God.
For this reason, we could conclude that man's purpose needs to be accepted, not discovered. Science has little to offer in this regard. The proper objective of mankind is to accept God's purpose for man and live it. At that point, science may gain its highest purpose of helping man to know God and enjoy Him forever.
Significance Lies in Problem Exposed
Sir George Porter is absolutely right-so long as the appropriate riders are added. In the broadest sense of the term, "science" includes theology, the queen of the sciences; man rightly rejects the thought that he's a meaningless being in a purposeless universe; and be must discover his purpose with all available data, data which include the curious fact of reliance on a presumablv-valid rationality, an uneasy awareness of right and wrong, and the Christian claim that the Resurrection was attested by concrete evidence. If, then, science must deploy all available means to uncover the meaning of man, we must also ask that all the evidence be given an unprejudiced bearing.
However, "science" is also a word with a sharper connotation, and this commentator must confess he is frankly nonplussed at the claim that deeper delving into physics, chemistry and biology may disclose the meaning of man. Of course we agree that the data discovered by scientific methods will prove consistent with purpose, but that's not to say that the purpose of man can be read from any of the mechanisms involved. That's a bit too reminiscent of Descartes' idea that the mind might be bound up with the pineal gland, or of the chemist who analysed the paint be scraped from the painting to discover the source of its beauty. It simply belongs to a different level of interpretation, and the postulate that different levels-aesthetic as well as scientific-are essential to comprehension is just plain common sense. Without conceding the particular spiritual/physical dichotomy that Sir George thinks was defensively affirmed by a crumbling religious establishment, we fail to see how science, as science, can pronounce on questions of value. Presumably science may one day be able to predict the destruction of Hollywood by an earthquake, but how could science determine whether that event were bane or blessing? And how can we equate the solutions that flowed from recognition of the earth's sphericity with questions on the meaning of man-surely questions of a very different order? Admittedly, science has indeed broken through many a barrier that was externally imposed, but are these to be equated with inherent limitations which are intrinsic to the very nature of science? Some very significant distinctions seem to be blurred by such parallels.
Perhaps, however, the real significance of Sir George's argument lies in the problems it exposes rather than the solution it seeks. It underscores the problems posed by the nihilism that flows from purposeless science and the psychologically-inevitable search for an alternative faith. It also highlights our problems of communication. We may know that Christian faith is not cancelled out by Copernicus and Co., but bow many in academia will agree? We ma see that it is not Christianity but faith in supposedly boundless human reason which is based on wishful thinking, but bow many of our colleagues see Christian faith as rooted in objective truth? We may realize that it is scientism, no science, which imperils faith, and know also that Christianity has no stake in the application of special pleading to scientific issues. But is that clear in church and campus? As Sir George I s viewpoint implies, we members of the ASA have our work cut out!
An Example of Forbidden Activity
Assume that God created the universe. Add the idea that man can understand sorre things about the universe-about what its parts are, how those parts fit together, and how those parts function.
These assumptions are Biblical ideas. When God made man in His image, He associated this image with the dominion man would have (Gen. 1:26, 28). But having dominion in the universe surely includes investigation of that universe, i.e., scientific activity.
Is Porter correct when he states that the ultimate relevance of scientific activity is to discover man's purpose? If he is correct, we could restate his thesis, using Biblical terms, by saying that man bears God's image partially because man can discover man's purpose. But that conclusion is contrary to what the Bible says. The instruction to man to have dominion is the means God has used to tell us to carry out scientific activity. Therefore, the purpose of scientific activity is that man have dominion in the universe.
The Bible also teaches that man has dominion, partly by means of scientific activity, in order that God may be glorified and enjoyed. In fact, man's whole purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him. Therefore, scientific activity that is not God-glorifying or aimed at enjoying Him is forbidden. Scientific activity that is designed to discover man's purpose, a purpose that is already known because the Bible teaches that we are to glorify God and enjoy Him, seems to be activity designed with a spirit of questioning the Bible. Such activity is thus an example of forbidden scientific activity.
Would that Porter had More Respect for Scripture
The Relevance of Science is to cooperate with revealed religion to discover man's purpose. Science has already revealed many details of man's physiological and psychological nature-we are DNA plus and so are viruses. How come? When God breathed the breath of life, we came alive, animated molecular biology. But Sir George Porter does not accept the idea that God has revealed Himself and ourselves; to him we have to search to find meaning. So the crucial question is still one of life's greatest questions, "Is the Bible the real word of God?" Once that is agreed to, scientist and theologian work together to find the meaning in both Scripture and science. The idea that they cooperate was expressed long ago by Galileo who said God had two revelations, the Book and Nature. They are interlocking circles with the who and why answered by the Bible and the how and what and when delved into by men of science.
In trying "to discover man's purpose by every means in our power" Sir George Porter is right-would that he had more respect for "all scripture . . . profitable for teaching ... that the man of God may be complete. . . ."
Implicit in the article The Relevance of Science by Sir George Porter is the tacit presupposition that the scientific revolutions of the last 300 years have greatly altered man's view of himself. The Copernican revolution displaced man from the center of the universe; the Darwinian revolution brought man down to the level of animal; the Freudian revolution showed that man's thinking processes are marked by irrationality; and finally, modern molecular biology and neurology have seemingly shown that man is only a complex, physiochemical machine.
If this basic presupposition can be shown to be invalid, part of Sir G. Porter's basic argument is tenuous: the belief that the advance of science has made irrelevant and outdated the biblical world-view as it deals with man and nature. In particular, man's ability to give and receive love, and his artistic and moral urges must be explained ultimately only at the level of physics and chemistry. The pionering studies on how people actually do science by M. Polanyi, G. Holton, and S. Jaki have clearly shown that man with unique human values (derived in part from a common Judaic-Christian heritage) and artistic creativity is still very much in the "center" of the on-going scientific revolution. The writings of these men must he studied in detail in order to appreciate the scholarly soundness of their basic conclusions; brief quotes from these men that summarize their results are now given:
Gerald Holton; The more we peer at the 'faces' of our meters, therefore, the more we see the reflection of our own faces . . . Even in the most up-to-date physical concepts the anthropomorphic burden is very large. Particles still attract or repel one another, rather as do people; they 'experience' forces, are captured or escape. They live and decay. Circuits 'reject' some signals and 'accept' others; and so forth.1
M. Polanyi: Thus, when we claim greater objectivity for the Copernican theory, we do imply that its excellence is not a matter of personal taste on our part, but an inherent quality deserving universal acceptance by rational creatures. We abandon the cruder anthropocentrism of our senses-but only in favor of a more ambitious anthropocentrism of our reason. In doing so, we claim the capacity to formulate ideas which command respect in their own right, by their own rationality, and which have in this sense an objective standing.2
S. Jaki: Physics, like the countless other pro;ects man pursues, is not cultivated for its own sake but for man's sake. The cultivation of physics is a human act, and as any human act, physics too will retain its full beauty and meaning only insofar as its cultivation is properly coordinated to the wholeness of human reality. For physics does not lack intellectual vistas of arresting beauty, and Boltzmann's comparison of Maxwell's equations to a symphony was far more than an exercise in rhetoric ... Yet, great as the beauty of physics is and deep as its meaning ought to be, beauty and meaning can exist only in the coordination of the part to the whole, of particular experiences to the totality and universality of human reality ... Undoubtedly this universality is also the only key to one culture, because culture is harmony, or the coordination of the parts in an all-pervading unity.3
The work of these men clearly indicates that man is still very much in the "center" of the universe ' physical, intellectual, and moral (scientists must be honest as their own work depends on the honesty of others in reporting results of research). This finding is very much in accord with the biblical theme that man bears the image of God, though marred by sin, and has been made steward of God-created physical reality, with the God-given capacity to rationally explore God's created order (which is not a chaos, but a cosmos). The true relevance of science was expressed very clearly by Kepler; man has, in his exploration of nature, been given the opportunity to think God's "thoughts" after Him.
lHolton, G.: Science and New Styles of Thought. The Graduate Journal. The University of Texas, 7, 399422 (1967). Also Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1973).
2Polanyi, M.: Personal Knowledge, Harper Torchbonks, New York, 4-5 (1964).
3Jaki, S.: The Relevance of Physics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, 532-533 (1966).
Out of Touch with Reality
This article is anachronistic today in a society that no longer looks upon scientists as saviors of the world. The Modern Age of Man was the 18th and 1.9th centuries. Imbued with the empirical rationalism of Berkeley, Locke, and Hume, the Modern Man saw the world as reasonable and logical as a well-oiled grandfather clock. The mysteries of life would yield and unlock by the ineluctable process of empirical inquiry. Science in the age of Modem Man was handmaiden of rationalism.
But we are not in the Modern Age of Man. The 20th century is of distinctly different mood and ideology-we live in the Post-Modem Age. Our philosophers are Wittgenstein, Camus, and Sartre. Their existential philosophy is one of pessimism and ennui, for rationalism is irrational. Our theater is the drama of the absurd. Science is a game played by those who create an "as if" world of structure. The revisionist historians of science concur in finding that the neat constructs of the scientific method never were a reality but an artifice of the scientist's mind. Science explains precious little. Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, succinctly demonstrates how the "primitive" man can explain more of his universe than can the learned scientist.
Sir George Porter also seems out of touch with reality when he claims munificent achievements for science. He claims science has almost won its battle with disease and eliminated the miseries of hard labor. Who is he kidding? Science prolongs life but has not gained an inch on death. Witness the popularity of courses on death and dying-1800 courses in our colleges. We are painfully aware that science cannot win the battle of disease. As for hard labor, the majority of the world population farms by hand today. In our own society our workers toil on monotonous dehumanized assembly lines of technological beauty and human brutality. Science has robbed work of its personal value.
Finally, Porter argues for an "ethic of knowledge". But since when did knowledge provide goodness, or knowledge create virtue? Science would create a new religion, and Porter is the apostle. The rationalist assumes there is meaning to be discovered in the world. The religionist assumes that one's faith creates and gives meaning to the world. Science as the creator and sustainer of value and meaning is a puny religion. I have profound respect for science as a discipline, but I find it passe' to exhume the dead body of science as the 19th century religion of rationalism.
Fuchs, V. R. WHO SHALL LIVE? Health, Economics, and Social choice. New York: Basic Books, 1974.
Levi-Strauss, C. The Savage Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.Wheelis, A. The End of the Modern Age. New York: Basic
Brush, S. G. Should the History of Science be Rated X? Science 183:1164-1172, 1974.
Science Would Need a Heart Transplant
First of all Sir George's thesis is not new. Linberg, a sociologist at the University of Washington, wrote a book called Can Science Save Us? with the implication that it could. That was in the 1930's.
The good news is that scientists may be awakening to the realization that without some genuine sense of meaning or transcendence in life even science itself can be a drab task.
The bad news is that science needs a heart transplant if it is to do what Sir George has defined it to do.
Such as: science must go from the "is" of science ("facts") to the "ought" of ethics (purpose). At present both ethicists and scientists deny that one can go from the is to the ought. It will be a new science that will reverse this.
Such as: Bacon tossed out final causes as not at all useful in the work of science. But purpose and final causes are closely connected. Science has followed Bacon and therefore it will be another reversal to bring final causes back into science.
Such as: science is not permitted (when it is "axiomatized") to import into the explanation something not found in the axioms. To jump from scientific theory or law to purpose will mean something must be introduced that is not possible by the character of the axioms.
In short, science as we now know it contains a
powerful rejection serum towards such concepts as
purpose or meaning. If Sir George thinks we can neutralize it, blessings on him.
Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Can Man-made Processes Explain Man?
I have serious problems with Porter's thesis that the ultimate relevance of science is to try to discover man's purpose. Since he relates the change in traditional faiths to increased knowledge of ourselves and the universe, Porter believes that the way to a new faith and a new purpose for life is through further knowledge and understanding of nature. I will comment on two facets of the problem: the nature of science and religion, and different levels of discovery and understanding.
The nature of science is very different from that of religion. Scientific research is an eternal striving for truth. Since the purpose of science is to constant.
raise questions rather than to be convinced that trutK has been attained, it is by nature dynamic, evergrowing and ever-disturbing. Porter states that "a simple solution, understandable to all" has been found for the origin of life. But can we be certain that scientists have the final explanation for the origin of life which will not be replaced in the future with a different explanation? On the other band, a major characteristic of religion is the basic understanding and meaning which it supplies for man. The crucial axiom for religious experience is "he who would know must first believe," and those beliefs are used by man to interpret the world and his place in it. Although Porter seems to believe that science can eventually articulate a comprehensive world-view, is not such a world-view antithetical to the ever-questioning nature of the scientific endeavor?
I would argue that when Porter equates the discovery that the earth is spherical rather than flat with discovering the purpose of man, he is confusing levels of discovery and understanding. Success in the former has no logical relationship to success in the latter. In a lecture at the 1972 Wisconsin Anthropological Society Student Conference, John T. Robinson suggested that there are three major levels of organization in nature: the physico-chemical, the eugenetic (lower animals). and the psycho-genetic (man). He stated that science has been quite successful in discovery on the physicochemical and eugenetic levels, but since behavior is the most important factor on the psycho-genetic level, science has little success there. The facets of man which are actually human-such as purpose and meaning-cannot be discovered by science, and Robinson questioned whether man-made dissecting processes could ever be used to explain man.
I cannot see how science could ever discover the
purpose of man by obtaining further knowledge and
understanding of nature.
Claude E. Stipe