Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Our purpose, restated

A brief insight from Fr. Jaki into science, religion, and Pierre Duhem...
--Dr. Thursday

Had Duhem been but an exemplary practicing Catholic, an account of his life and work focused on that fact would need no further justification. We live in a secularist age which is not willing to learn from the colossal debacle of institutionalized Marxist slogans about religion as a mere opiate of the people. By and large, scientists in the Western world fail to protest against those colleagues of theirs who, blessed with literary and performing talents, keep preaching a now two-hundred-year-old message of secularist Western culture. The message, first formulated by the gurus of the Enlightenment, consists in the claim that science is the only reliable savior of mankind and that for science to be born Christianity, or the religion most explicitly steeped in belief in a most extraordinary Savior, first must be discredited.

That religion, including Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, can only be tolerated as a subjective option, is the implicit message of pontificating scientists, all too ready to perform before the batteries of television cameras. The option they allow to that religion is a lame licence to operate as an opiate which, so they hope, proper exposure to science will sufficiently prevent from doing too much harm.

Against such message and claim it is always effective to fall back on Diogenes' unsurpassable method of refutation. He was not the first to be presented with the sophisticated fallacy (then as always coated in specious references to the method of science) aimed at securing the rule of universal scepticism. The fallacy was meant to prove that it was impossible to traverse any distance, however small, because any such distance consists of an infinite number of parts which it takes an infinite time to traverse. Apparently, Diogenes was the first to dispose of that hollow argument by walking from one end of a room to the other. His commonsense act became remembered in terms of a proverbial phrase, solvitur ambulando. [Latin: "It is solved [by] walking"; a grand pun and a succinct counterexample!] The very life of any scientist who was also a devout Christian is such a perennial factual disproof of that impertinent secularist message. Such a disproof can particularly well serve those who cannot handle effectively the arguments, philosophical and historical, that invariably enter the scene whenever the question arises about the alleged conflict between science and religion.

Duhem, the scientist and Catholic, can be utilized in a far deeper sense. For Duhem was unique among modem scientists with his penetrating insights into the method of the exact sciences, and in particular of physics, both on the conceptual level and along the vast and broad front of its use in history. In fact he did, what historians and historians of science were supposed to have done long ago: He discovered the true origins of Newtonian physics. That those origins are steeped in a culture, the Middle Ages, which for many is still the classic embodiment of obscurantism, could have but served as lèse majesté. But as if insult were to be added to injury, Duhem also spelled out the fact, with a vast and most original historical research that those origins are intimately connected with Catholic dogmas, such as the creation out of nothing and creation in time.
[SLJ Scientist and Catholic: Pierre Duhem, introduction]

No comments: