Re: Big Reply 7

Edward W. Farrell (ewf@INREACH.COM)
Sun, 14 Jul 1996 16:11:19 -0700

Here are some thoughts on this discussion; as I am coming into
the middle of, I hope I'm not covering old ground here:

Isn't science properly a method of investigation and, as such,
need not be opposed to art or religion? My understanding of
renaissance science (of which Bacon was an independent spokesman)
is that science was considered in large measure the handmaid of
art and religion. Bacon's science was intended to serve
religion, not oppose it; what it opposed was rather the prideful
tendency of the contemporary church to observe and interpret the
world through a rigid screen assembled from bits and pieces of
holy scripture and canon law, and forbidding any other view of it.
The following is from Bacon's preface to his "Magna Instauratio:"

"My first admonition (which is also my prayer) is that men
confine the sense within the limits of duty in respect of things
divine, for the sense is like the sun, which reveals the face of
the earth but seals and shuts up the face of heaven. My next,
that in flying from this evil they fall not into the opposite
error, which they will surely do if they think that the
inquisition of nature is in any part interdicted and forbidden.
For it was not that pure and uncorrupted natural knowledge
whereby Adam gave names to the creatures according to their
propriety, which gave occasion to the fall. It was the
ambitious and proud desire of moral knowledge to judge good and
evil, to the end that man may revolt from God and give laws to
himself, which was the form and manner of the temptation. Whereas
of the sciences which regard nature, the divine philosopher
declares that "it is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but it
is the glory of a King to find a thing out." Even as though the
divine nature took pleasure in the innocent and kindly sport of
children playing at hide and seek, and vouchsafed of his kindness
and goodness to admit the human spirit as playfellow at that
game. Lastly, I would address one general admonition to all,
that they consider what are the true ends of knowledge, and that
they seek it not either for pleasure of the mind, or for
contention, or for superiority to others, or for profit, or fame,
or power, or any of these inferior things, but for the benefit
and use of life; and that they perfect and govern it in charity.
For it was from the lust of power that the angels fell, from lust
of knowledge that man fell, but of charity there can be no
excess, neither did man or angel ever come in danger of it."

It is really only after the renaissance that science came to be
regarded as a somehow autonomous pursuit, which eventually gave
rise to the "scientism" of our day. I am not aware of a real
definition of scientism, so I am going to define it for my own
purposes here (however if there is a real definition I would be
happy to hear it): "Scientism is the belief that the domain of
scientific investigation and the universe are coterminous." This
is not really the same thing as empiricism or positivism, as
those notions do not necessarily deny the existence of things
outside of their domain (cf. Wittgenstein in the Tractatus: "What
we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence"). Scientism
does so deny. Scientism thoroughly embraces materialism, to the
extent that it entirely denies traditional views of mind in favor
of strict chemical determinism. In this respect scientism is
truly the worm that devours itself. Given Bacon's admonitions to
the church of his day, it is more than a little ironic that once
science broke free of that church, it retreated to a
philosophical domain that is in most respects smaller and
stingier than the one it left.

It is not so much "the extension of scientific methods of thought
far beyond their legitimate limits of application " as it is
scientism's embrace of a material, mechanical world view and
denial of all else that has really led to Heisenberg's "deplored
division in the world of ideas between the fields of science on
the one side and fields of religion and art on the other." This
division is truly a gulf in which scientism views religion as a
kind of naive cosmological speculation that can only be
appreciated historically, i.e., in light of the fact that it
predates science and therefore must be excused for errors it did
not have the tools to correct (but now has no such excuse and is
therefore largely intolerable). Art is even more difficult for
scientism to understand, however it is easier to accept because
it is often practiced without reference to God or religion.

On the other side of Heisenberg's "deplored division," art and
religion have made equally drastic work of science. In those
ever diminishing enclaves where art is not simply the tool of the
marketplace, the marriage of art and scientism has produced an
art so impersonal, so devoid of any reference to the human beings
we persist in being, that it is mostly deaf and dumb. Where
religion has married scientism we see the same thing in the form
of a Christian theology that reduces scripture to a cypher to be
deconstructed rather than lived, and that advises men who would
know God to close their eyes, leap, and hope for the best in
the face of a general conviction that such leaps may very well
be fruitless. Where religion has rejected scientism there is a
stubborn fundamentalism that in its behavior (if not its
doctrine) approaches the Manichean heresies of the early church
in its rejection of science and the world.

What is fairly clear (I think) is that the "deplored division"
and all of its consequences was an entirely unlooked for result
of Bacon's Great Instauration and renaissance thought in general.
E. A. Burtt once attempted to decipher the great shift in
western thought that accompanied science in "The Metaphysical
Foundations of Modern Science" (revised edition, 1932), and
posed a question I believe is at the heart of this:

"Just when did teleological explanations, accounts in terms of
the use and the Good, become definitely abandoned in favor of
the notion that true explanations, of man and his mind as well as
of other things, must be in terms of their simplest parts?"

Burtt saw very well what scientism forgets, which is that science
is always limited by being a generalizing activity and only
operates on those portions of the world it is able to single out
for study (the "simplest parts"). And science's manner of
singling out, as effective as it often is, should (as a caution)
be compared with Nietzsche's observation on the claims of
naturalistic painters of his generation:

All nature faithfully! Yet by what feint
Can nature be subdued by art's constraint?
Her smallest fragment is still infinite!
And so, he paints but what he likes in it.
What does he like? He likes, what he can paint!

Nietzsche's comment should also remind us that science and
religion are both rooted in human notions of use and are driven
by human values. Their respective successes can only be measured
against the motivating human values in whose service they've been
put to use. In this respect, no matter how mechanized and
determined a universe the scientist may imagine, the purposive
actions that drive his study are themselves stubbornly

We should also recall that religion's primary service is to
reconcile man with God, not to explain, describe, or manipulate
the world. (The phrasing of this can be suitably altered for
Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. without losing the sense of it). For
this reason, whatever science may tell us of the universe, it can
say nothing of the supernatural wherein God also works (as Bacon
put it: "for the sense is like the sun, which reveals the face of
the earth but seals and shuts up the face of heaven."). Science
cannot say with any authority that religions don't work; it must
either deny that the subject(s) of religion exist (as scientism
has done), or assume that it must always work within certain
limits and, outside of these, approve the work of faith..

Edward W. Farrell