Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University, Wellington. Vol. 21, No. 8. 2nd July, 1958

An Apology For Science

An Apology For Science

"Priest-made religion is the most grinding and the most crying of all grievances."


I cannot allow Dean Bretton's campaign against Science to pass unchallenged. The case against us must be hard indeed if we cannot use our brains but at the price of our moral nature. However, instead of attacking his intelligent and carefully - reasoned arguments, I shall concentrate on putting forward some constructive ideas of my own. I am to show that moral nature and the intellect are not incompatible, and that Science has a definite morality of its own.

My main point is that the Scientific Attitude may destroy one's hopes of immortality but it does substitute tangible and realisable prospects. It is my unalterable conviction that the man who has learnt to transfer his aspirations from the next world to this, and to look forward to the eradication of disease and vice here has gained more in the clarity of his aims than he has lost (if he has lost anything) in their elevation. It is not proper, though it is very tempting, to sneer at the prospect held out to us by Science. The technological Utopia which will be for the good of our descendants instead of ourselves may not be very attractive, but let us not deny that there is progress that way—it is the worst kind of scepticism to disbelieve in man.

The future is hopeful. If we are going to produce a philosophy suited to the whole mass of men, the purely intellectual movement will, no doubt, be the decisive factor. Admittedly our weakest passion is the love of abstract truth, but as the solid core of facts accumulates it becomes the axle around which our philosophy will turn. Within the framework of their discipline, scientists will reconstruct the world.

On logical grounds this discipline can only reject the constant inferring by the theologians that their opinions are confirmed because a non-natural interpretation can be forced on facts, or because the contrary hypotheses are not irrevocably established (e.g., that disasters occur because it is part of "The Plan", or that the universe was created at 9.0 in the morning on October 23rd, 4004 B.C. because Science does not know when it was created, or even if it is a sensible question.) The only test of truth is by, experiment—the efficacy of prayer can be investigated like the efficacy of sulfa-drugs. But faith can always make as many miracles as it wants, and errors which originate in the fancy cannot at once be extirpated by the reason. To neutralise religious feelings requires not disproof of this or that fact but an intellectual discipline which is rare even amongst the educated.

Furthermore, Modern Science rejects the idea of the existence of per se entities (e.g., God, Heaven, etc.) since by definition they are not accessible to our investigation. This is in distinction to the theologians' technique of postulating a word, then arguing to find out what it stands for. It is an utterly fruitless search which tries to establish the reality of per se phenomena—which infers God from nature yet says He transcends it.

Certainly their reality cannot be ascertained by scrutinising census tables—by taking a show of hands and proving it by mathematics!

It is one of Dean Bretton's contentions that an "ultimate morality" is a logical necessity. (This is my interpretation of "You cannot act rightly unless you believe rightly"). This is where the highly-esteemed Dean is up the gum tree. For if ultimate morality did exist then one would require some reason for judging it as such; some criteria for recognising it when one meets it; some justification for prefixing that particular adjective. But this contradicts the meaning of the word "ultimate" — which is absurd, as Euclid would say. So even as an hypothetical concept the idea is untenable. But there are always some people who, when logic contradicts their views say "So much the worse for logic". Christians especially are liable to get a glazed look in their eyes and mumble something about "Faith being required"—a kind of intellectual asceticism which pronounces logic to be illogic. Against these types, Science is helpless.

To conclude, the theologian and the scientist both admit that we are expressions of laws. However, the theologian puts a legislator behind the laws while the scientist sees nothing behind them but impenetrable mystery. The difference is nothing. The laws of nature you tell me are the work of infinite goodness and wisdom. But you are utterly unable to say what infinite goodness and wisdom would do except by showing what it has done. Therefore the ultimate appeal of the theologian is as unequivocally to the laws as the man of science. He has made a show of going to a higher court only to be referred back again to the original tribunal.

So apply your strength and your intellect to problems which admit of a solution. We are such stuff as dreams are made of, the Universe has no centre of expansion, a boundless ocean has no shores; it is all, let me say, a delusion. The only reality is here, though we seek to find it in an imaginary world, and our knowledge of this world is the foil on which the unique value of our personalities takes relief.

M. Heine.