Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More on Science III

The following is the final installment of a series of posts reviewing and critiquing an article about the relationship between science, religion, and and society. The first two parts of the series can be found here and here. If you have not read them, you may want to start there.

Levin’s argument has convincing elements. Of particular import is the notion that science necessarily operates from certain presuppositions. Any critic of modern science needs to be prepared to demonstrate that not only Fundamentalist Evangelical Christians argue from an uncritical fideism. Anyone who studies science today will admit that they spend little time learning the history of science or the philosophy of science. The ethics that they do study are focused more on academic and intellectual integrity than the moral repercussions of scientific research. They unquestioningly accept the philosophical undergirding of science as fact. They unquestioningly believe that science is always good.

In light of this fact, Levin’s argument offers an honest and clear evaluation of the quasi-omnipotence that science enjoys in contemporary politics and culture. Anyone who has ever introduced philosophical principles into a debate about a scientific topic knows that such arguments are not taken seriously by anyone other than philosophers and theologians. For this reason, Levin can be forgiven if he fails to provide an adequate response to the alarm he sounds.

Levin is deeply concerned that men shaped by the modern conception of science will be unable to discern good from evil. To some extent, I share this concern. In response, Levin suggests that man needs some reference to more traditional epistemologies and anthropologies. He insists that theology, philosophy, and politics must have something to offer as regards the judgment of the moral quality of science. He is correct, but he fails to enumerate what wisdom might be brought to bear on the discussion. I suggest that of particular import are the concepts of conscience and synderesis.

Man possesses a natural habit of evaluating a thing to be either good or evil. He does not have to be taught to do so. It is well within man’s capacity, even when confronted with the full arsenal of modern scientific argumentation, to choose good over evil. Furthermore, man possesses a conscience. By means of it he judges one thing to be good and another to be evil, and in so doing, informs his will. Levin hints at these concepts, but seems reticent to employ them. While he is clearly speaking to those within a modern/post-modern framework, he cannot convince people of the need to think critically about the moral quality of science without providing a new paradigm in which they might do so.

The concern about conscience and synderesis is further augmented by the fact that Levin does not specify the philosophical or theological wisdom that should be used to influence the behavior of science. I would not go so far as to suggest that one cannot know good from evil without reference to the Aristotelian philosophical system or the Christian faith. I would suggest, though, that it is not helpful to imply that, generally speaking, all philosophy, religion, and politics have the ability to reshape people’s thinking for the better. The truth is that only some philosophy, only some theology, and only some politics are capable of improving the situation. After all, the author himself notes various famous politicians and philosophers (Machiavelli, Locke, Hobbes, Descartes, etc . . .) who have helped to shape the scientific prism through which much of humanity interprets the world today. More of their thought will not be useful. Thus, it would seem that the religion, politics and philosophy used to respond to this modern worldview must necessarily contradict those which are currently prevailing.

Finally, Levin is remiss in failing to provide even a seminal idea of a good human anthropology. He wavers as to whether or not the pursuit of health and the avoidance of suffering are sufficient ends towards which man should strive. Though he seems to lean toward the concession that such a telos is less than satisfactory, he offers little else as an alternative. In doing this, he writes an article that is appealing to people of many faith traditions, but he fails to help readers see the exalted position to which they are called in Christ. Likewise, his willingness to opine that the elimination of suffering by means of science might be a good thing limits his ability to see that human fulfillment cannot be a purely human endeavor – in brief, he shortchanges the value of the Cross.

Levin’s voice is one to which men of good will should listen. Science, though well-meaning, is clearly neither the neutral body nor necessarily the force for good that it purports itself to be. In making this claim, Levin does a great service to both science and his fellow man. His insight into the troubling direction science has taken provides a proper grounding by which some other discipline might enter more fruitfully into a conversation with science. Levin fails to articulate, however, that only the Christian tradition seems to have the insight and the wherewithal to establish itself upon that grounding. The unfortunate result of this failure is that too many people “refashioned by science” will only hear him crying wolf.

1 comment:

jprapp said...

Good summary. Even and fair.

The concern for moral grounds is being advanced from within science itself in concepts of shared moral intuitions. Levin’s concern would be whether these grounds are strong enough. I think your concern is whether biologized grounds are proper. Alone.

I agree with you on something like an innate conscience.

My quasi-Quaker bias (plus a bunch of other influences) would credit the Inner Light for any heightened capacity for advanced discernment of good and evil in concrete cases, case by case.

I sincerely appreciated your very keen and kind balance of submitting to the Cross while simultaneously crediting Levin’s voice as “one to which men of good will should listen.” Very nice job.

I don’t have the answer on how to bridge the two: Cross and science. My knowledge is too partial. Scaffolded. Messy.

But, I do hope that your kind of spirit will punctuate the work of the future priests of the third millennium. Best wishes in your studies and service.



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