It should be obvious to all Christians that Pascal was right. We do have to take the heart into account. I would suggest that just as elegance is valued in a proof of logic, so we can and should value beauty and elegance in a general view of reality.
Science itself is not the problem, of course. With all the problems, it has been more a blessing than a curse to mankind. The misuse of science or of the speculations of science is a problem, but one must not go too far in condemnation.
The chief problem with science for the Christian is being confronted by those who care less about what science actually discovers or does and more about establishing an official hegemony of philosophical naturalism over the sciences. The sociological pressures putting religious people constantly on the defensive has the intended effective of stamping out faith in many and weakening it in others.
All of us who are the products of the system must acknowledge this danger to our souls.
Many otherwise thoughtful people, some of them Christians, have forgotten that there is knowledge to be gained in fields outside of science. No amount of discovery by science of is will ever give them the ability to declare what ought to be. On this David Hume was right, but theists seem to be the only one who have learned the Scottish skeptic’s lesson.
A second related problem comes from those afraid of science and so reject the Western tradition of reason and investigation altogether to avoid the excesses of scientism. Some love the lessons of the heart so well that ignore the realities described by the mind. This way lays the post-modern madness that infects so many humanities departments. Many Christian college faculties behave as if they must choose between the modern temptation to merely ape the sciences and the post-modern snare of ignoring them.
Two films capture the dilemma facing us well. One film presents the solution.
This conflict has been around since before the Second World War. In the classic film Things to Come, H. G. Wells presents the case against the humanities and for the sciences as the only source of real knowledge. In the film, an elite group of scientists save the world only to have it ruined by effete and ungrateful artists. The heroes of the film are all scientists.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley has a much more jaundiced view of science and warns against it. Both the novel and classic film worry about the power of scientists to destroy mankind.
An earlier and better film Metropolis by Fritz Lang gave a different and more Christian answer. This silent film argues that humanity cannot function without heeding the folk wisdom of the heart and the scientific knowledge of the head. He pounds home the point using apocalyptic and Biblical imagery about the destruction of a city that ignores either.
It is an absence of beauty that most harms the common residents of the Metropolis. Most of them have been reduced to serving a state as cogs in the state’s machine. While capturing perfectly the ugliness of the totalitarian German state to come, Lang missed the banal ugliness of hedonistic consumerism that dominates much of Western popular culture. If it provides short-term pleasure, then many no longer care for it is ugly.
Such folk not only heed their hearts, they learn to worship them. Perversely this only strengthens the hand of those who wish to ignore the wisdom of the poet and artist. Why listen to the artist when what he produces is kitsch or the artistic chaos that dominates too many modern art galleries?
In reaction, many engineers have created roads, buildings, and even entire cities that lack beauty. It is no accident, I think, that the extreme secularists of our own time, like Richard Dawkins or P.Z. Myer, are so often artistically insensitive.
One problem feeds the other. The ugliness of the so-called “scientific man, who lacks poetry, repulses the artist and the consumerism of the artist produces no real beauty to attract the scientific man.
Adventist schools, like all Christian colleges and universities, have an opportunity to encourage their students to avoid this trap. We must begin by turning to beauty as an important part of our education.
The popular culture is addicted to subjectivity. As much as possible, people are less interested in what is true, good, or beautiful than in what they wish was true, good, and beautiful. Partly this is a result of a consumer driven culture. Companies spend a fortune telling people what they wish was true about themselves and not what is true.
Christians easily recognize the harm of reducing morality and truth to mere subjectivity. We have not been as good at recognizing the importance of beauty. In his Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis points out that this change has not come about so much as a result of argument, but because of a kind of intellectual propaganda in our schools. When I was in school, I received a handout where I was to identify all statements about beauty as matters of mere opinion.
The nearly universal American belief that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has had a profound impact on our educations. Fine arts classes too often are relegated to the “frosting on the cake” which are the first to be cut. Since musical and artistic preferences are merely in the mind of the teacher, there is no strong reason to pay someone to pass their eccentric preferences on to the next generation. Artists and musicians are reduced to entertainers.
Much is lost as a result.
I have elsewhere argued for the reality of beauty as an idea in the mind of God and for its importance. If we assume with most Christians at most places and at most times, that God has opinions about beauty to which we should conform, then our educational systems will change.
We will not teach our students in ugly rooms. We will value beauty, as the traditional Christian university did, as a good sign. Beauty cannot be divorced from truth and goodness without stunting the whole. Beauty has something to teach our hearts and through our hearts our selves.
In my own life, and in the life of any man or woman who has been “born again,” one intense and beautiful thing for which his view of reality must account is religious experience. Too often religious experience, and the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, has been ignored in our thinking about science, religion, and ethics.
Based on a presentation at Loma Linda University and at the College at Saint Constantine.