Atheistic Science: The Only Option?

The foregoing discussion highlights the importance of retrieving the concept of formal causality in science and developing a more robust view of the human person in order to counter the increasingly aggressive voices of atheistic science. Attending to the implications of our upright posture guides us toward an integrative approach to science and theology. Science indicates the evolutionary importance of the upright posture while theology draws out its spiritual significance. This integrative approach—grounded in science, yet open to theology—is a movement toward the “interactive relationship” and dialogue between science and religion envisioned by John Paul.

Consider in particular the nature of the human person as scientist. Dawkins and others hold that good scientists must be atheists. I challenge that view and argue for an approach that eschews both scientific atheism and religious fundamentalism. The notion of the human person as mediator outlines the contours of this approach and suggests another image—that of the scientist as mediator. Why not replace the atheistic scientist with the scientist mediator? The scientist-mediator, standing in the middle between the nonhuman creation and God, and endowed with unique intellectual and reflective capacities, is uniquely gifted to perceive natural forms and to open up the profound mysteries of creation to human understanding. In a contemplative stance, the scientistmediator assumes a receptive posture, listening to creation and relating to it in a way that is not motivated by power or control. The scientist-mediator seeks to be attentive to the rhythms of creation so as to guide it according to its inner God-given laws and to be an instrument of its reconciliation.

Consider Paul’s image in Romans 8:20–22. The human mediator perceives the groaning of creation and seeks to bring it into the fertility that is the fulfillment of its natural patterning. The proposal advanced here engages the fruitfulness of scientific inquiry but is a distinct alternative to Dawkins’s atheistic science. It places the role of the scientist in a new context, less focused on mechanism and materialism and more on listening and acting in accord with nature’s rhythms as they represent an aspect of the Divine patterning. It advocates a posture of humility in which the scientist approaches the mystery of creation with awe and respect, allowing nature to reveal itself. The scientist uses his or her technical skills to decipher the “language” of matter and to learn to “read” the book of nature. From this perspective the scientist-mediator can begin to assume a healing, restorative role in creation.

Contrary to the assertions of ontological naturalism, the disciplined study of matter required of scientists need not divorce them from God, but could bring them closer to him through the experience of awe engendered by the discovery of the complexity and beauty of forms present in nature. The potential is there for the scientist to grow in “uprightness” in relation to creation, precisely through honest dedication to the scientific endeavor. As scientists grow in the capacity for truth, goodness, and authentic power, they mediate creation back to God while being transformed themselves in the process. Not only does this open up the potential for holiness in the scientist, it also sows in the soil of modern scientific culture the seeds of authentic development, grounded in a mission to restore creation. At the same time, science needs to recognize its proper limits. The three markers highlighted by Bonaventure in his theology of human mediation are especially relevant. Truth, goodness, and authentic power represent the boundaries within which science should work. When they are transgressed, truth can fall into ignorance, goodness into covetousness, and authentic power into impotence or prideful control. Atheistic science has evidently succumbed to these temptations.

That scientific truth is the one and only truth Dawkins and others readily proclaim, negating other forms of knowledge and reality. Likewise, there continue to be painful struggles in which scientific knowledge is pursued and coveted without regard for the ethical implications of the research. Further, in acquiring that knowledge there is the alluring temptation to do so in the exhilaration of technological prowess without recognizing the proper limits of human power and the need to orient science in service of the common good. Bonaventure’s approach calls for humility and restraint in science. Recall that in his cosmology, creation is subject to humanity inasmuch as humanity is subject to God; otherwise it will only be dominated and exploited by humanity. His three markers are gauges by which scientists can measure their relations with creation.

If scientists disregard these markers and give in to the temptations outlined above, creation itself will rebel, as Bonaventure states poignantly in a warning that echoes through the centuries: “Therefore open your eyes, alert your spiritual ears, unlock your lips, and apply your heart so that in all creation you may see, hear, praise, love and adore, magnify and honor your God lest the entire world rise up against you.”31 Let us rise to this challenge and begin charting a new path in the realm of contemporary scientific culture. The challenge is to engage in authentic science while preventing it from being overcome by atheistic scientism. Atheistic science is not the only option. Let us embrace in its place a science that engages in dialogue with faith. Instead of a scientism that leads inexorably to atheism, one hopes for the emergence of a new vision in which science, through human mediation, becomes a path to holiness. In fact, why couldn’t the next saints be scientists?

Source: Savino, Damien Marie. Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought & Culture. Fall (2009), Vol. 12 Issue 4, p56-73

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2 thoughts on “Atheistic Science: The Only Option?

  1. Pingback: Why I Believe – the Love of Science « Why I Believe in God

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