Monday, September 15, 2008

Is Scientific Hegemony Coherent?

[I just posted the following on the Templeton Foundation's discussion area to the question, "Does Science make Belief in God Obsolete?" Since it stems from the last post, I thought I'd include it here.]

Not everyone thinks that the idea of a coming scientific hegemony is even coherent, let alone likely. Consider two challenges.

First, the plot summary of Gabriel Marcel’s L’ Homme de Dieu (I further compress Marcel’s summary from his 1949 Gifford Lecture in The Mystery of Being, Vol. I, p. 153.): A young pastor overcomes enervating self-doubt after discovering that his wife has had an affair when he finds the strength to forgive her. Later the man with whom the wife had the affair returns, is dying, and wants to see the child who was born out of the affair. The husband grants a visit. But the wife interprets the grant as “a professional gesture” that shows he has no “real, human love” for her, since she believes that would preclude the grant. “…she…infects her husband with her doubts,” and he returns to his enervating self-doubt.

Is there any reason to suppose that a complete scientific account of a man’s mental states in such a situation might remove his self-doubt by replacing it with an indubitable scientific account by which mental states are translated into brain states, as if the man were suffering because he lacked scientific understanding? In point of fact the man is in an existential crisis, and science offers no help because it is irrelevant.

And second, is the grand evolutionary narrative likely to answer questions concerning how human values and morals are to be ordered, as though the naturalistic fallacy just needs a few more facts to be overwhelmed by the logic of science? If so, the facts must be nicely behaved to fit the needs of scientists cum moral philosophers. How thoughtful of my Viking and Saxon forebears to have stabbed and clubbed their way to victory with biological imperatives productive of such moral clarity!

It’s a fine thought, but not credible. In fact, my light is on both because electrons are jumping orbit in the filament and because I want to read. The later, teleological explanation has not been part of science since Aristotle lost favor. That they will be subsumed by future science is easily burlesqued.

Marcel was right. Faith, not science, operates in the sphere of ontological mystery—the sphere of human life and experience. Science became successful when it gave up trying to subsume the side of life where faith operates. With a smile I ask, is science about to make science obsolete?

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