Saturday, May 03, 2008

Science and Eternal Things

Some interesting thoughts by the Thomist:
Al-Ghazali said that one does more harm to a doctrine by defending it with a method not suited to it, than by attacking it with a method suited to it. A perfect example of such a harmful defense is the ID movement, or any other movement that might try to find God or intelligence through science.

What we now call science is a method that deals with things insofar as they can be made proportionate to our intelligence. Science only accepts accounts that can be reduced to things we create: numerals, graphs, meters, grams, seconds, equation/variable-based mathematics. Because we are understanding the world in relation to things which owe their existence to our own will, it’s no surprise that we gain more and more power over things as science advances. If you understand something only so far as it conforms to something you control, then the extent of your understanding will stay close to the extent of your control.

So how well do you think God or intelligence can be understood by this method? The bare fact that both are free makes them impervious to the kind of reduction that science demands. So far as we expect understanding to be proportionate to control, can you “understand” anything about anyone? Well, yes, but only to the extent that they are not free- so to what extent does this apply to God?

One of the constantly recurring themes in perennial philosophy is that the eternal things are hard to know. The reason for this difficulty is always the same: eternal things are not proportionate to our intelligence. In Aristotle’s terms, we stand to God, the soul, and the angelic universe like the eye of a bat stands to the sun; in Plato’s terms, we are as a man who’s lived his whole life in a cave stands to the noonday sun. This is not to say we can’t know these things- everyone who knows how hard they are only says thisbecause he knows them- but it takes a while to acclamate oneself to the sight of the higher things. One can’t simply expect to drag people out of the cave in a day. For like reasons, a public debate with the cave-dwellers won’t get very far. How do you depict the sun with shadow-puppets?

In Plato’s terms, science is one of the most wonderful and edifying shows that the cave has ever put on. It has provided more corruptible (falsifible) knowledge than the world has ever known. It has provided more power and material comfort than human beings have found in anything else. Like church stained-glass, science is the closest that most people ever get to a sight of the eternal things.

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