Posted by: gcarkner | April 1, 2014

Who Stole Our Humanity?… 4

Are We Missing the Bigger Picture?

Further on the quest to recover our humanity in the age of scientism: In this post, we find ourselves on a quest to retrieve excluded knowledge [1], addressing the refusal of the transcendent inherent in scientism, including that biases endemic to the New Atheists’ writing.[2] During the Cold War, the Soviets often constructed city maps that excluded churches, a practice that made it difficult for tourists to find some of the architectural and historical treasures. The agenda was to eliminate knowledge of religion or God (exclude/bury it). This practise  stands in the true spirit of scientism; it operates on a cosmic authority dilemma. Philosopher Charles Taylor offers some very useful discernment here; he notes that transcendence can be read from two opposite angles, both of which involve faith at some significant level, i.e. it goes beyond mere rational argument or evidence.

We can either see the transcendent as a threat, a dangerous temptation, or an obstacle to our greatest good. Or we can read it as answering to our deepest craving, need, fulfilment of the good. … Both open and closed stances involve a step beyond available reason into the realm of anticipatory confidence.[3]

This is a moral choice as well, not neutral, nor scientifically objective. Within today’s immanent frame, Taylor points out that things do go both ways; this is in fact true of professional scientists today. Many hold to the reality of the transcendent; many do not.

What Taylor is most concerned about, however, is the spin whereby someone claims that a closed view (CWS or closed world structure) is taken as obvious and conclusive, i.e. that we exist unavoidably because of science as mere material beings in a material world. This spin of closure although not universal, is often quite hegemonic in the Academy. It tends to render the supernatural dimension unthinkable. Taylor challenges with this comment: “My concept of spin … implies that one’s thinking is clouded or cramped by a powerful picture which prevents one from seeing important aspects of reality, … [promoting] unrecognized ways of restricting our grasp of things.”[4] Another way of putting this is that it involves skewed, narrow or one-dimensional thinking and examination of reality. It deprives one of the best and fullest possible insight.

Taylor calls this CWS a horizontal world or way of grasping meaning (a refusal of the vertical dimension) which can include an intentional self-blindness, partly because of the lack of one’s conscious awareness of the internal background picture to one’s thinking. A world (Wittgenstein’s idea of an unconscious picture which holds us captive) is something which people inhabit and it impacts them in many ways. It gives the shape of what they experience, feel, opine, see, and controls the way they think, argue, infer, make sense of things (worldview).

From this picture which captivates the mind, people also take their identity or sense of self. But Taylor points out wisely that a CWS is a form of reality-construction, not a discovery or simple registration of external reality. He exposes the illusion of the rational “obviousness” of this viewpoint.[5] Sometimes there are real phenomena that we cannot see because of our world picture. We miss what we are not attentive to, which often involves depths or layers of understanding.

For example, he notes that belief in the death of God is not a property of the cosmos that science lays bare, even though many in the West hold this faulty logic as a kind of sacred trust. It is a choice, even if an unconscious one, of a value-laden meta-position. Dawkins is in denial of his faith position in scientism (his metaphysics), as was pointed out in a debate with Oxford mathematician/philosopher John Lennox at University of Alabama. Science in itself does not lead us logically to atheism or Godlessness.[6] In fact, the power of materialism today comes not from the scientific “facts”, but rather has to do with the power of a certain package uniting materialism with a moral outlook, the package we call atheistic humanism, or exclusive humanism.[7]

In our quest to enrich our humanity or become more fully human, Taylor proposes a philosophical turn toward intellectual openness within our current Western immanent frame (A Secular Age, Chapter 15). At the same time, he wishes to expose the myth that science eliminates the need for God and religion (Auguste Comte). A commitment to good science does not seek to close us off from the world in some tight, immanent reality. Instead, it remains open to receiving the gift of complete knowledge and insight, celebrating all kinds of reason.[8]

Theology and religion are definitely not the enemy of science per se, as the history of science bears out,[9] despite the claims of the some outspoken advocates of atheism today. There have been great lengths of time where science and theology were seen to be very friendly. Rather, there is an important complementary insight into the world and human well-being (theistic humanism) which is pro-science. This is a longstanding tradition which humanities scholar Jens Zimmermann traces throughout Western history. One can indeed be open to a relationship with the divine while practicing excellent science. We need to critique the current fear of religion due to poor knowledge of religion, to improve our map of reality in a way that welcomes science, theology and other insights back into the public discourse.

The modern Enlightenment experiment to live without religion has proved futile (a failure) and many now realize that it is folly, an experiment in deprivation rather than true progress. Some are insecure and uncertain about how to begin to deal with it, but deal with religion we must. It is not going away, despite what sociologist Emile Durkheim predicted over one hundred years ago. It is time to think differently about old negative science-religion paradigms of warfare, and re-examine the historical and philosophical foundations of science with scholars like Colin Russell (Open University/Faraday Institute), Peter Harrison (Oxford), Dennis Danielson (UBC) and Alister McGrath (University of London).[10] There is a very rich and mature stream of scholarship that moves in this direction. In fact, faith has been at the leading edge of most scientific breakthroughs (Cullen Buie, MIT Mechanical Engineering Professor, Veritas Forum at Tufts University; Michael Polanyi, Philosopher of Science).

E.F. Schumacher, someone who grasps science and technology very acutely, argues a good case for a non-reductionist picture of reality in his insightful book A Guide for the Perplexed. In his opinion, we must move beyond mere animal survival knowledge if we are to survive as a civilization. In order to flourish as a human race, we need more information and insight than hard science can offer. He claims that we are cheating ourselves of both insight and personal growth by bowing to the reductive outlook of scientism with its restrictive approach to knowledge. Schumacher urges scholars and scientists to strive for the highest and richest, most integrated possible truth at all levels of our being. Humans are much more than their physics and chemistry. To say that we are finished when we have captured this dimension of understanding is just not helpful in the long run. He calls for intellectual honesty and openness to higher orders of reality, to complete and whole knowledge—integrated truth.

There are higher realms of being which begin at a level of wholeness and complexity precisely where hard science reaches its limits. Higher in this case does not mean spatially separate, but rather more important, more integrated, more good, more real (including the transcendent dimension). Such were the convictions and assumptions of some of history’s greatest thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, St. John, Cicero, St. Augustine, Thomas Acquinas, Erasmus, Galileo, Pascal, Owen Gingerich, and many other top scientific and cultural contributors. The biblical story and metaphors have much insight into many of the modern problems and questions we have examined in this essay and this leaves us with many good critical tools and significant horizons to explore. This is a vote for the expertise of some integrative/interdisciplinary thinkers who recognize the importance of the bigger picture.

New developments in science-theology dialogue are most welcome under such brilliant and original minds as Sir John Polkinghorne[11], a Cambridge physicist turned theologian mid-career, and now a world authority on science-religion dialogue. He has many global colleagues among the most productive active scientists and philosophers: Francis Collins, Alasdair Coles, William Newsome, Alvin Plantinga, Jennifer Wiseman, Simon Conway Morris, Don McNally to name a few.

Three key associations are contributing to this conversation: the American Scientific Affiliation, UK Christians in Science and the Canadian Science and Christian Affiliation. They keep the God question philosophically open for people who value science and theological reflection. They see the vital benefits of this dialogue. This kind of discussion happens in forums at several top universities in Canada, the USA and Europe: Pascal Lectures at Waterloo, Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum at UBC, Veritas Forums at Harvard, Oxford and the Sorbonne and the Faraday Institute of Science and Religion at Cambridge created by Denis Alexander (now Emeritus Director), a former cancer researcher. In fact, if every account of reason assumes something beyond it, some enabling condition that makes it possible but cannot be accounted for it within its own systematic aspirations, this something (theological and philosophical insight) is well worth exploring and examining.

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner

[1] An allusion to E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed.

[2] See the response to Dawkins et al in The Dawkins Delusion by Alister McGrath; also see John Lennox, God’s Undertaker: Has science buried God?; and Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century by Denis Alexander.

[3] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age. (Boston: Harvard Press, 2007), pp. 548 and 551. Read the whole of Chapter 15 for deep insight into this phenomenon.

[4] Ibid, p. 551

[5] Ibid. p. 556.

[6] Ibid., p. 569. In fact, NASA astrophysiscist Jennifer Wiseman says the opposite: her study of the birth of stars show her the wonder of the Creator; it increases and informs her faith. Even the possibility of a multiverse (which is also beyond scientific demnstration) does not dissuade her from celebrating creation as the magnificent creative work of God.

[7] This concept is well defined in Taylor’s brilliant tome on ethical formation, Sources of the Self.

[8] Famous geneticist and former head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins offers two books that are helpful here: The Language of God and his recent Belief: readings on the reason for faith.

[9] See Colin Russell, Cross-currents: interactions between science and faith.

[10] Colin Russell, Cross-Currents; Peter Harrison Oxford Prof of Science and Religion, Dennis Danielson, Book of the Cosmos; Alister McGrath, Science & Religion: a new introduction.

[11] John Polkinghorne, One World: The Interaction Between Science and Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.) The DVD Test of Faith is a good selection of these minds and the positive tone of this dialogue.

John Lennox Debates Richard Dawkins at Oxford University

For Discussion: Ten Myths about Faith and Reason

1. Faith and reason are inherently incompatible, or in opposition.

2. Reason does not involve faith at any level of its operation.

3. Modern (Enlightenment) reason has made Christian faith redundant; faith is a primitive disposition of our medieval ancestors.

4. Faith is credulous assent to unfounded premises, a belief in something that is untrue or at least suspect.

5. Reason is a pure, disinterested obedience to empirical fact; methodological naturalism implies/requires belief in philosophical naturalism.

6. Reason is morally and ideologically neutral, the same for all thinking human beings, therefore universal–unifying society.

7. Faith & reason exist in separate incompatible arenas; reason deals in physical causes only, while faith deals with supernatural/spiritual/magical causes.

8. Faith is the irrational belief in the opposite direction of where the scientific evidence leads us.

9. Faith is seated in the emotions or sentimentality; reason is a non-emotional, cool operation of the disinterested mind.

10. Good reason requires a materialistic universe; materialism is a fact of deductive logic.


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