Philosophy Redivivus? Science, Ethics, and Faith
The thesis of this essay is that philosophy is at an important crossroads at the end of the twentieth century in its role as paideiaphilosophy educating humanity. An unprecedented challenge and opportunity for philosophy today is to mediate, and enhance understanding of the relationship, between science, ethics and faith. A central question arises: What can philosophy contribute to the emerging dialogue between science and theology? The emerging science-theology dialogue is characterized by complexity and considerable confusion regarding proper methodologies, goals, and possible interactions. There are at least three major schools, models, or approaches to science-religion interfaces: (1) complete separation: no dialogue; (2) complementarity; and (3) fusion: "theistic science" or even a new natural theology (Gruenwald 1994: 4-14).
Paradoxically, the third model, which argues for a fusion or unity of science and theology has naturalistic as well as theistic proponents. For naturalists like Willem B. Drees, personal experiences, including religious experiences and consciousness, are all "part and parcel of nature" (1996: 245). Hence, Drees concludes that "the distinction between personal and impersonal relations provides no basis for distinguishing supernatural and natural phenomena" (1996: 245). Naturalists like Drees, then, consider religious beliefs and moral codes as products of evolution or natural processes alone, which leave no room for a Creator, let alone a transcendent God.
In contrast, theists like Phillip E. Johnson and Alvin Plantinga criticize the prevailing scientific paradigm in the natural sciences for excluding questions concerning design, purpose, value, First
Principles, and ultimately the Creator-God. According to Johnson, the scientific method or methodological naturalism leads imperceptibly to, and buttresses, metaphysical naturalism that excludes the transcendent and God. For Johnson, this reductionist methodology has impoverished science and led to a corrosive moral/ethical relativism affecting social theory, law, and practice, since "naturalistic metaphysics leads inexorably to relativism in ethics and politics, even though many naturalists dislike relativism and try hard to avoid it" (1995: 17). Johnson therefore proposes a "theistic science," which would bring God and concepts such as intelligent design, truth, rationality, and First Principles under the purview of science properly understood. For Johnson, only in this way could science become truly objective and able "to fight the prevalent bias of the age," by following all available evidence wherever it may lead (1995: 217).
Plantinga, a leading philosopher of religion, concurs with Johnson that "a Christian academic and scientific community ought to pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians" (1997: 143). According to Plantinga, Christian theists should reject methodological naturalism if it constrains inquiry, especially with regard to the human sciences such as psychology and sociology. In fact, Plantinga distinguishes between "Duhemian science," which excludes metaphysics, and a more comprehensive "Augustinian science," which is inherently metaphysical (1997: 151-42). These distinctions parallel, but do not completely coincide with, the traditional divisions between the natural sciences, on the one hand, and social sciences and humanities, on the other.
Critics of Johnson and Plantinga point out that methodological naturalism, defined by "the scientific method," is a sine-qua-non of doing science, in which the physical world is open to experiment, observation, measurement, confirmation or rejection of hypotheses, and what makes science universally accessible and intersubjectively transmissible. Karl Giberson notes that Johnson's concept of a theistic science provides no guideposts or specifics for actually doing science which needs to be intersubjectively transmissible and empirically verifiable. As Giberson avers, Johnson's paradigm of a theistic science "has yet to produce any positive results, or differ from the abandoned theistic science of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries" (1997: 81). Michael Ruse takes Johnson to task for succumbing to the "naturalistic fallacy," as if one could squeeze moral or metaphysical truths from nature. Ruse is equally critical of those naturalists who deduce a naturalistic metaphysics from the physical world in that "far too many evolutionists today treat their subject like a secular religion, drawing out all sorts of consequences way beyond the empirical" (1996: 54). To Ruse, both theists like Johnson and evolutionists compromise science, which should be properly regarded as ethically and religiously neutral (1996: 54). Johnson, in turn, expresses incredulity that even some Christian professors would argue in favor of methodological naturalism (1995: 206). Yet what bothers most scientists and some theists is that the rejection of methodological naturalism as its proper method of inquiry could subvert science itself by making science subservient to special interests and ideologies, multiplying subjective conceptions of "science" as almost anything goes. David Krause observes that Plantinga's notion of "what Christians know" is "profoundly problematic," given the diversity and divisions among Christian churches and organizations in the world today (1997: 285). This leads Krause to wonder: "But is science as done by Christians also destined to become just one more of this multitude of inward-facing practices carried out by particular religious communities, whose visions for the universe will possess validity only for the members of that group?" (1997: 285). Krause's major concern is that the demand for a theistic science may, in fact, deconstruct the scientific enterprise, resulting in an "unmitigated disaster for future relationships between science and Christianity," recalling Cardinal Bellarmine's prosecution of Bruno and Galileo (1997: 285-86).
We all know by now that the error of the Medieval Church was to subsume science under theology. The error of modern Gnosticism, however, is to subsume theology and faith under science. Both approaches compromise science and faith. Whence this confusion? Enlightenment reason bracketed God, while positivistic science desposed of the supernatural and religion altogether as superfluous, equating science with knowledge and truth. Yet, shorn of First Principles, Enlightenment rationality could also deconstruct into postmodern thought, which ends up relativizing both science and religion, questioning the very concept of truth (Yates 1997). Is it any wonder, then, that scientists tend to eschew any and all questions of value, ethics, and religious faith? The pitfalls of a theistic science or a natural theology are proof to many that science deals, indeed, with reality and facts, whereas religion belongs in the subjective domain of personal experience. This persuasion is articulated well by Steven Weinberg who concludes that:
Weinberg's view constitutes the prevailing paradigm in the natural sciences today. It is that of a total separation between science and religion, knowledge and faith, is and ought, fact and value. Yet Weinberg himself admits to the necessity of "God-talk" in contemporary science: "Whatever one's religion or lack of it, it is an irresistible metaphor to speak of the final laws of nature in terms of the mind of God" (1992: 242).
Can philosophy mediate the dispute between science and religion? Philosophy in the classic sense as sophia (love of wisdom) can, indeed, facilitate science-religion dialogue by helping to clear up semantic and conceptual confusion, as well as shed new light on complex interconnections and the interrelatedness of all phenomena. For Platonists like Brigitte Dehmelt Cooper, science is but doxa (opinion), while true knowledge (episteme) arises from the application of a dialectic of distinctions which are given to us as tools and capacities to grasp reality and truth (1995: 173-74). An unusual consensus is emerging among some scientists, philosophers, and theologians, which sees increasing similarities and limitations of both enterprises of science and theology.
Bernard Lonergan pointed out already in 1959 that "the outstanding feature of modern science is that it is not certain" (1993: 146). Roger Penrose and John Polkinghorne agree that the modern science of the brain is only beginning to explore the relationship between the brain and the mind, the physiological and the epistemic. In Polkinghorne's judgment: "We don't know how mind and brain relate. We're ignorant, and so we have to make guesses" (1997: 65). Penrose's Shadows of the Mind conjectures that human intuition and insight cannot be reduced to any set of rules, and that human consciousness, awareness, and understanding are non-computational (1994: 59-61). To Penrose, a self-confessed Platonist and one of the world's foremost mathematicians, this indicates clearly that the human mind and the computer are essentially different. Unexpectedly, modern science of the brain appears to confirm Immanuel Kant's purely philosophical postulate of how knowledge and human understanding are possible by conjoining physical data of sensory perception or phenomena with the preexisting architectonic theoretical structure of the mind or noumena. In Kant's classic formulation: "Thoughts without content are empty; intuitions without concepts are blind . . . . The understanding can intuit nothing, the senses can think nothing. Only through their union can knowledge arise" (1781: 93). This unity of perception and aperception (thinking) produces comprehension, knowledge, and understanding in homo sapiens. The precise scientific exposition of the mind-brain interaction remains elusive, which even Penrose admits, but cautions that consciousness cannot be reduced to the physical component or matter of the brain alone (1994: 412). The multilayered, complex nature of human thinking is corroborated by scientific explorations of insight, which reveal many facets, but remain inconclusive (Sternberg & Davidson 1995: 584).
A great paradox lies at the heart of Kantian epistemology. It is this: The world of sensory perceptions or phenomena is accessible to reason, but the noumenal world of pre-existing forms and architectonic structuresas if imprinted by a Superior Intelligencenecessary to interpret, authenticate, comprehend or "make sense" of data gathered by the senses, presupposes man's reasoning capacity. How does one authenticate reason or Pascal's notion of man as "a thinking reed?" Likewise, science faces an analogous Gordian knot in how to authenticate its measuring devices. For most scientists, measurement defines science. Thus, Frederick Grinnell asserts that: "If it can't be measured or counted or photographed, then it can't be scienceeven if it's important" (1994: 105). Yet a measuring rod can be authenticated only by another measuring rod. But, this leads clearly to an infinite regress, since the concept of "measure" itself is extra-scientific. We are back to Kurt Godel's incompleteness theorem (1931), which shows that there is truth beyond even math's ability to prove that it is true. This prompts Kitty Ferguson to conclude that "the assumptions underlying the scientific method are not capable of being proved or disproved by the scientific method" (1995: 65). Ferguson's observation by no means implies abandoning science or proferring a new "God-of-the-Gaps" theology. But, it would seem to call for a more realistic, humble, and open-ended conception of science as a process of inquiry, rather than a set of unassailable propositions or ultimate truths. To believers like Ferguson, it also means that even science begins with a leap of faith. But, if this is true, how can science delimit its investigations to only the empirical, sensory, and observable?
At first glance, the somewhat esoteric notion of "a leap of faith" might confirm what many a scientist has suspected all along, namely, that religious believers are, after all, a fuzzy-minded lot not to be taken seriously by rational creatures, let alone scientists. To theologians, the leap of faith metaphor only confirms what they already know, namely, that we all live by faith. To post-modernists, the leap of faith in connection with science only further relativizes both science and religion, which they consider just language games, along with objectivity and truth. One of the least understood truths today, however, in both camps of science and theology, is the particular nature of the faith necessary for science. Stanley Jaki, a physicist, makes the outrageous claim that the Christian God is necessary for man to have science at all. Science, according to Jaki, presupposes a monotheistic faith whose rational foundations are in concordance with the major presuppositions in science itself. Other cultures and civilizations lacking those presuppositions have witnessed a stillbirth of science, since they "failed to formulate the notion of physical law, or the law of nature" (1986: viii). Only a theology focused on a personal, rational, absolutely transcendent Lawgiver or Creator-God could give rise to modern science and its many successes. In Jaki's summary:
Sceptics notwithstanding, Jaki's vision of the scientific quest entails a consonance between Enlightenment rationality and theism. This also means, however, as Steven Yates emphasizes, that a "postmodern Christianity" is as unlikely as a "postmodern science" (1997: 91).
One of the most puzzling developments in modern science is the fact that both at the micro-and macro-levels of the universe, we can no longer observe directly, but only infer phenomena. No one has seen a quark or a black hole. Moreover, at a singularity, all our presently-known laws of physics break down (Ferguson 1995: 23). To cosmologists like Stephen Hawking, a singularity defies Enlightenment reason, prompting the remark that "nature abhors a naked singularity" (Time, 24 February 1997: 77). Yet Hawking lost his bet to the two American colleagues, John Preskill and Kip Thorne, whose theory proved him wrong. Echoing the Pythagoreans, Galileo thought that the book of Nature was written in mathematical characters. Hence Eugene Wigner's celebrated concept of the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics" as a key to discovery (1960: 1-14; cf Grandy 1993). Since mathematics is "pure thought" (Polkinghorne 1997: 24), it complements philosophy, and belies Karl Marx's condescension that philosophers have merely interpreted the world; the point being to change it.
Philosophy can help here in suggesting not only the obvious distinctions concerning appropriate methodologies in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, but also concerning the need for more global, interdisciplinary approaches for greater understanding. While Paul Davies' assumption that we can know The Mind of God (1992) may be a bit presumptuous from a Bibilical perspective (Isaiah 55: 8-9), already Galileo concluded that God's two booksNature and the Wordcannot be in conflict, since both have a common authorGod. This entails, inter alia, that science and faith are two roads to the Creator-God. David Grandy recalls that once upon a time, science and religion were perceived as complementary enterprises, with each scientific advance confirming the grandeur of a Superior IntelligenceGod (1993: 14-16). Are we, then, at the threshold of a new era of fruitful dialogue between science and religion?
There is a growing realization by scientists, philosophers, and theologians that extra-scientific assumptions underlie science both as theory and practice. Ferguson recalls five such extra-scientific assumptions, which underlie the scientific enterprise: rationality, accessibility, contingency, objectivity, and unity (1995: 9). To Ferguson, the inescapable conclusion follows that "the quest for ultimate truth must begin with a leap of faith. Not faith that we are capable of complete understanding. Faith that we can know anything at all" (1995: 3). Alas, extra-scientific assumptions, which underlie the practice of science, have become divorced from the realization that there is a God. The famous exchange between Napoleon and Pierre Simon de Laplace comes to mind concerning the latter's Oeuvres (1812-20). Napoleon: "You have written this huge book on the system of the world without once mentioning the author of the universe" (in Ebison 1977: 92). To which Laplace, unimpressed, retorted: "Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis" (in Ebison 1977: 92). Yet Laplace, or any other scientist for that matter, could only do science because of the marvelous concordance, correspondence, or "fit" between external reality and a perceiving and comprehending human mind. To Polkinghorne, "the reason within and the reason without fit together because they have a common origin in the reason of the Creator, who is the ground of all that is" (1997: 25). Curiously, in late twentieth century, even agnostic cosmologists like Stephen Hawkingwho is often compared with Einsteinpose a central metascientific question, which science per se is unable to answer:
But, with this question concerning a Creator, we are back to Hamlet's famous soliloquy concerning the nature, purposes, and destiny of man. Or, as Scripture put it: "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour" (Psalm 8: 4-5). The perennial question of man, in turn, is quintessentially a question of meaning, values, ethics, and the "ought." By rediscovering this question concerning man, philosophy may once more speak with renewed relevance to central concerns of man and society. This would mean that philosophy had finally recovered its soul.
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