January 14, 2005

The roots of science

Maybe it shouldn't but it surprises me sometimes how scientists are seen by the world at large. There are a few Hollywood archetypes, the mad scientist with a scheme to take over the world, the nerd bent on revenge for percieved slights, the antiseptic vulcan. And of course people project their own ideas onto the unknown, like, 'What are those physicists/chemists/agroengineers up to? Can't be good. Must be a plan to take over the world.' Scientists take an interest in understanding how things work. Things like gravitation or a chemical reaction rate or the effect of caffeine on your neurons work the same whether you live in a red state or a blue state. One of the origins of science is natural philosophy, the idea that we can know God by studying His creation. This has been a tremendously rewarding enterprise, and it has been found again and again that creation is a rational place, guided by laws that can be written down and understood. For me at least, it adds to the beauty. A good way to get a scientists attention is to tell them that something doesn't make sense.


At January 18, 2005 4:44 PM , Blogger fresca said...

Sounds familiar--I have just been browsing through Thomas Aquinas. Have you read him?

At January 19, 2005 12:09 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

I've only read a tiny amount of Thomas Aquinus. What do you recommend?

At January 19, 2005 4:58 PM , Blogger fresca said...

Oh, I am a pretender when it comes to Aquinas-- I took a class on medieval philosophy years ago and was not caught by his systematic philosophy, (Summa Theologica, is his most famous, as you may know) so honestly I have barely read anything.
I merely have been encountering him again recently as a sideline in my editing work on a pope bio.
And I recently was browsing through Matthew Fox's book in which he "interviews" Aquinas: Sheer Joy. A good way for someone like me to get bits of Thomas's thinking presented in a friendly way.
(The title is from a quote of Thomas that all of God's creation is sheer joy that calls for human participation.)

I have always appreciated Thomas's insistence on the necessity of the freedom of the will--since the human mind is called to "know God by studying His creation" (as you say and T. agrees) the mind must be free to operate, EVEN if this freedom leads to error.
This belief--which is formal Catholic teaching-- is central to my ability to stay in the Catholic Church.

Here's Pope John Paul II on the subject:

"Man cannot be forced to accept the truth."...The position of Saint Thomas is, in fact, well known: He is so consisten in his respect for conscience that he maintains that it is wrong for one to make an act of faith in Christ if in one's conscience one is convinced, however absurdly, that it is wrong to carry our such an act. If man is admonished by his conscience--even if an erroneous conscience, but one whose voice appears to him as unquestionable true--he must always listen to it. What is not permissible is that he indulge in error WITHOUT TRYING TO REACH THE TRUTH." [caps mine]

I sometimes find that people haven't reached a wrong conclusion, they've never even begun to try to reach an understanding at all....

At January 20, 2005 1:14 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

Wow, thanks a lot F., you get the award for the most beautiful thought of the day.

At January 21, 2005 10:24 PM , Blogger Matt_J said...

I have been using my few precious moments of spare time to try to find out more about Saint Thomas Aquinas. Here's what Encyclopaedia Britannica has to say:

New generations of men and women, including clerics, were reacting against the traditional notion of contempt for the world and were striving for mastery over the forces of nature through the use of their reason.


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