Posted by: gcarkner | March 18, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?… 2

Towards Recovering Our Humanity: Wisdom … 2

It is our conviction that if we are to become more human, science must be more engaged with and tempered by wisdom. Philosophy, of which science is a part, by definition is the love of wisdom that prompts persons to use all the skills of reason in the quest for truth, goodness and beauty. Rationalism unfortunately pits truth against beauty and goodness and against theology; we question this kind of prideful wisdom. Intellectual Jacques Maritain cautions that ‘science without wisdom is blind’;  it is therefore dangerous as a form of raw power without the tempering effect of wisdom. How is its insight and knowledge to be used well, for the best, for the common good?

There is a significant revival of virtue ethics today in academia. Upon deeper reflection, genuine knowledge is the cultivation of the virtue of wisdom, which entails that all knowledge must have a relationship with both the intellectual and the moral virtues. Science within its appointed limits attends to matters of fact, quantity, cosmic order, matter and anti-matter, the physical forces and the realm of stars and galaxies (the what and how questions). Wisdom, however, has a large vested interest in the qualitative conditions of life and research (the why questions): relationships, meaning, purpose, value, idea, narrative, appropriate application of knowledge and other meta-issues.

Neither should be ignored if we are to attain a whole and integrated truth quest; they could be interwoven for strength and balance. Both are key if we are to make sense of the universe’s richest intelligibility. Nobel Laureate Albert Einstein knowing that science is not the last word, once wisely countered the mentality of scientism with a bit of wit and balance: “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.” It is valid to ask whether the universe has a purpose beyond the mere fact and functionality of its existence (wondrous as that is), whether in all its vastness and complexity it dwells within a larger context. We possess within us this vigorous curiosity and desire to know about our world and ourselves, and not to settle for partial or one-sided answers. We should not stop until we have the whole truth to all the important questions.

As we have seen from rude and brutal historical experience, science and technology employed without a conscience can be soulless, dangerous and even massively death dealing. Einstein felt this worry very personally as he worked with other scientists on the breakthrough physics that lead to the first splitting of the atom, and ultimately to the first atomic bomb. He knew that this would release untold power. And so it did in the subsequent debilitating nuclear arms race.The controversial 1945 bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in a terrible way proved his gut suspicions correct. This much power is very dangerous indeed and must be handled delicately and appropriately with responsibility. We continue to worry about what rogue government will attend nuclear weapons capability next.

Science employed to its best ends, like other forms of philosophy, is geared to improve the common good of humanity, not to destroy persons or deprive people of personhood itself or drive civilization back to the stone age.[1] Scientists need philosophers, theologians and ethicists to see the bigger picture more clearly, and grapple with the wider implications of their research and inventions. Wise scientists do take responsibility for the human and environmental consequences of new research and technology. They do not hide behind mere collection of facts about the physical realm.

Philosopher of technological culture Albert Borgmann agrees. He examines how current technology has shaped society and impacts how we see ourselves.[2] The DVD series Test of Faith from the Faraday Institute for Dialogue on Science & Religion in Cambridge, UK raises many of these important why questions at the cutting edge of research, through a dialogue with top UK and American scientists and historians of science. It involves a mature reflection, which acts as a helpful follow-up to this discussion. Here are some of the significant questions discussed: What grounds science ideologically and culturally? Whence comes the mathematical order? Why is there something rather than nothing? Are science and Christianity in a deadlock conflict, or is there possible synergism between science & faith? Does the Big Bang eliminate the need for God? Can humans be explained fully according to their genetic template? Does one transcend one’s neural networks in making moral decisions? Does one’s biology determine one’s value and destiny? These scientists strongly value and respect science, but realize that it is not the only necessary form of question or important insight, nor does it exclude the legitimacy of circumspect religious and theological reflection. They significant players help to map out a robust dialogue between religion and science, science and the humanities, science and humanism.

Wisdom maintains wonder and awe and is interested in the whole rather than just the dissected parts. It is a virtue prior to and necessary to good scientific insight, a valuable companion in the application of scientific discovery. Science is dependent on the best human and divine wisdom for direction, application and meaning, even when the scientist does not realize this program is running. It operates with a set of underlying metaphysical assumptions that it cannot prove or produce from its own work. It is grounded in something other than itself for its very rationality. Science is also well known by insiders to be much more than about the “facts”. It is about imagination and the development of a vision of things unseen, unknown, unproven, a human adventure, a discovery, a heuristic exercise. It is a community with a tradition which tells a story and keeps trying to improve it, revise it. We need much imagination to make sense of a fine-tuned cosmos that gave birth to us, its most curious but still contingent beings.

~Gord Carkner

[1] Former Oxford Geographer James Houston in Joyful Exiles: Life in Christ at the dangerous edge of things (IVP, 2006) worries that culturally we have allowed the scientistic rationality of Modernity to destroy our personhood and our spiritual self. Sometimes things go terribly in the wrong direction.

[2] Albert Borgmann, Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life. (University of Chicago Press, 1984); Also see Steven Bouma-Prediger’s For the Beauty of the Earth (Baker Academic, 2011) on the impact of science on the environment.

Also see the following talks in the Veritas Forum Series

Praveen Sethupathy, Genomics University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill — Student of Francis Collins  “Are We More than our Genes?”

Satyan Devadoss, Mathematician Williams College “God, Math and the Universe”

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