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What Scientists Forget

Dr. Mansfield's remarks represent an opening. Are we ready?

We are a society accustomed to nodding in agreement at whatever "science" tells us.

"Science" says the cosmos is "billions and billions" of years old and has evolved to its present state by sheer, random processes, with no meaning or purpose.

Yeah, well, guess it must be so.

"Science" tells us that we can know nothing for certain except by scientific means; everything that is not science is not knowledge, but only changeable opinion.

OK. Guess I'll just shut up.

"Science" insists that life may begin in the womb but that doesn't mean the "fetus" is a person. "Science" says there is no God or spiritual realm - at least, not that we have to take into account. "Science" - in one form or another - intends to have the last word on whatever it chooses to address.

Gotcha. Lemme just get out of the way.

The authority of the voice of "science" in our society has far exceeded what it should be. Given the limitations of science - it can only work with material objects and processes, after all - we might think that members of that community would be rather more circumspect about the implications and applications of their findings. What we typically hear, however, are even more expansive claims affecting everything from the education of our children, the priorities of health care, and the role of religion in the public square, to what car to drive and which anti-depressant we should take.

So it's refreshing when a respected voice from the secular community speaks up to chasten the hubris of his colleagues in the sciences. Which is precisely what Henry C. Mansfield did upon accepting the Bradley Prize recently. As reported in City Journal (17 May 2011), Dr. Mansfield, Harvard Professor of Government, took the occasion to bemoan the state of truth - or non-truth, as it happens to be - among America's colleges and universities, and to call the members of the scientific community to a bit more humility.

"To scientists," Dr. Mansfield explained, "the university is divided into science and non-science; the latter is not knowledge and is likely to be mush (in this last they are right)." Only science can tell us what is true; everything else is opinion. Dr. Mansfield continued, "Scientists easily forget that science cannot prove science is good, that their whole project is founded upon what is at best unscientific common sense. They do not see that the unscientific foundation of science leaves science far short of wisdom, whether practical or theoretical. Science has no idea why human beings resist science at least as strongly as they embrace it. It cannot say why knowledge is better than prejudice."

To fill in those gaps, Dr. Mansfield explained, science needs the assistance of the humanities, including - wait for it - theology: "For some reason, the human is best respected in company with the sacred, humanity with divinity."

These are views we have frequently expressed in this space, so we are greatly encouraged to learn that, even among the secular elite, awareness is growing that you cannot have a good or wise society where science rules and theology is excluded from the public square.

But are those who read theology and practice divinity prepared to step up and take a responsible role in pointing the rest of society in the direction of virtue and sound wisdom? Would you want your pastor sitting on a panel with Harvard professors arguing the case for goodness and wisdom? Or any Christian you know?

Dr. Mansfield's remarks represent an opening, if ever so slight, for informed Christians to begin engaging secular intellectuals and scientists on a great many subjects of importance to our society. But if we aren't ready, or we don't consider such engagement an important part of our mission of reconciling all things to God through Christ, then that door will quickly shut, and the authoritative voice of "science" will only get louder.

Additional related texts: 2 Corinthians 5.17-21; 2 Corinthians 10.3-5; Psalm 24

A conversation starter: "Do you think that Christian leaders should be preparing themselves and taking the inititative to engage secular thinkers about matters of truth, goodness, and wisdom?"

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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