Dangling without a Rope: Science and the Need For Philosophy

photo-1431887915357-68b819fae322_optSchools develop traditions that once made sense, there were reasons for them when they developed, but that can continue long after everyone has forgotten the reasons. Once there is acceptance by the vast majority of students and teachers, nobody thinks to explain the tradition anymore.

This is a fragile moment, because the idea will be attacked by some excellent student who asks: “Why?”

Nobody is quite sure and if the student is forceful enough then the tradition will die before the “establishment” has a chance to develop arguments. That’s fine if the tradition was wearing a silly hat, but fatal if there actually was a good reason for the rule.

Before moving forward, I confess to mourning the loss of even silly traditions, maybe especially the silly ones, because they are old and so bind us with the generations that came before us. If there is no harm in wearing the silly hat as a freshman, cannot the practice continue so grandmother can laugh with granddaughter about Freshman Orientation at Dear Old Alma Mater?

There are traditions that must go: racist ones certainly, though making sure they are racist helps. Houses do not have “masters,” because of slavery and asserting they do makes a good cause look bad. Before we remove a tradition, we should pause and assume people in the past were as wise (though perhaps no wiser?) than we are and think. Why has this worked for so long?

We have a tradition at The Saint Constantine School of telling our teachers (and our President!) to avoid looking at screens in our common spaces. We want to talk to each other face-to-face and not through mediating technology. We thought about this for a long time and for me the rule was hard. It still is hard. As new students come, we try to explain the tratition and why we do what we do, so that the rule does not become fragile. The discussion also provides a chance for the new folk to challenge our thinking, maybe they bring new wisdom or insight.

What is true for schools is truer for cultures. We develop ideas, but then forget how hard the labor was to produce the idea. The Christian super-majority that has existed for all of American history has pushed, tolerated, or allowed evils and good, but nothing that exists in our nation does so without the consent of that majority. We chose not to put the name of Jesus explicitly in the Constitution and chose to keep it that way when we had the power to easily do so.

We had our reasons.

Broader than one nation, Christian monotheism produced science with the help of other contributors. Sometimes one reads that when religion flourished, science was persecuted. This is true, but when religion flourished, science flourished. How do we know? Religion, particularly Christianity, had a super-majority in all the areas where science was born while it was born. If we really had wanted to stifle free inquiry, we could have done so as other monotheistic faiths chose to do.

We chose not to do so, because we had good reason not to do so. These were the same sort of reasons that led a devote man like William of Ockham to develop his Razor: do not multiply entities needlessly in your theory. He came up with that idea, because he was a Christian. Read Galileo’s letters to his monastic daughter and you will see that there is more to even his story than science versus religion. If it had ever been (even now), science versus religion, then religion would have won easily.

It never was! Thank God.

We now live in a time when people have forgotten the history of the development of science, the philosophy that stands behind scientific work. As a result, many people believe ignorant myths like those of a “Dark Age” put out by bigots in the nineteenth century like Andrew D. White. When the foundations were unchallenged, science could go on doing her good work, but now a new generation is challenging the philosophy of science Christians so carefully constructed.

Sadly, secular people are without good defense.

Christian apologists like the philosopher John Locke helped create free societies as a result of their Christian belief. His Second Treatise is full of Biblical arguments and follows his extended First Treatise on Government that is a Biblical case for limited government and the right to revolution. This freedom was necessary for science, just as the rational Creator who is why “math works” or simple explanations are to be preferred was a necessary element. Locke gave us rights and a free society based on Nature and Nature’s God. Our decadent secularists have dispensed with Nature’s God and hope to rely only on Nature.

The social justice warriors of our colleges will not let them. Why is science privileged? What is the basis for the scientific methods we use? Theocratic nations like Iran do science. Must we have a liberal democracy really? Why not a libertine social order (a theocracy where social justice warriors are God)?

Science has been dangling in air without the supports that made it possible. Just as marriage was based on a religious ethical framework, now forgotten by many, and could be swept away in short order, so the “privilege” of the lab scientists to their assumptions will not last.

They are failing. They do not know why they think what they think and are left only saying: “but it works.” “For whom?” The revolutionary asks. “We do not want the world you wish, polluted, digitized, made artificial. Stop.” Even medicine, long insulated from criticism, is simply creationism (“ears are for hearing”) that sounds indefensible to those who challenge the basis idea. Why isn’t not hearing as good as hearing? Why the bigotry, the rank ableism?

And so it goes.

Christianity could unite the fine arts, science, and ethics in one whole. We had a basis for human rights and a means of defining them. Colleges and universities abandoned us fairly recently and now a new generation is asking hard questions to which the soft-secularism of the academy has no answers. The traditions will be swept away: republican forms, an open philosophical attitude, a free wheeling philosophy of science.

Or perhaps the young adults who are reading hard books, learning different languages, studying higher math, and not falling prey to fads of intellect will win the future. Don’t look to people consuming all their time looking for personal peache and affluence. Revival is coming, first in Nigeria, Kenya, India, China, and then here.

We need science too much to leave it to the decadent secularists.

 

 


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