Saturday, February 28, 2009

Biblical Basis for Western Science

Excellent article by Fr. Stan Jaki from InsideCatholic. . .


Science may be a refined form of common sense, but at times all-too refined. Some basic laws of science can, of course, be fully rendered in commonsense terms. One gives the full truth of the three laws of thermodynamics by saying that, first, you cannot win; second, you cannot break even; third, you cannot even get out of the game.

Those three laws mean that ultimately all physical activity tends toward an absolute standstill. This is true even if the present expansion of the universe were followed by its contraction. The next cycle of expansion-contraction would be less energetic, and the one after that even less so. Physics, the most exact form of science, tells us, if it tells anything, that all physical processes are part of a one-directional, essentially linear process.

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The faith was Christian in that most fundamental sense, in which the Bible holds Christ to be the only-begotten (monogenes) Son of God. When faced with that proposition, a well-educated Roman or Greek had his major intellectual shock, apart from shock relating to the moral level. For in Greco-Roman antiquity, the word monogenes was an attribute of the universe itself. Therefore, such a pagan, ready to convert, had to face up to the following choice: either Jesus or the universe was the only begotten. In other words, Christian faith and pantheism were concretely irreconcilable with one another because of the concreteness of Jesus. This is why only genuine Christian faith, and it alone, can resist the modern juggernaut of nature worship.

A belief in Jesus, in whom God created everything, is the very same belief that concretely opposes efforts to take the universe as a necessary fact that cannot be otherwise. Such efforts are apt even today to lead science into a blind alley.

[. . .]

Science owes to Christian faith the very spark that made Newtonian science possible: That science is based on the three laws of motion. Once those laws were formulated, a science was at hand which from that point on developed on its own terms, with no end to its progress, with no end to its ever new findings, and with no end to the ever new merchandise it makes available for the free, and, at times, not-so-free markets of neocapitalism.

But that irresistible progress needed a spark, the idea of inertial motion, which is the first and most fundamental of Newton's three laws.

The formulation of the first law preceded Newton by more than three hundred years. It first appears in the commentaries on Aristotle's book on cosmology, On the Heavens, which John Buridan gave at the Sorbonne around 1348. By then many other medieval philosophers had commented on that book and radically disagreed with Aristotle's claim that the universe was eternal, that the celestial sphere rotated eternally. The Aristotelian world machine is a perpetual motion machine. As such it blocks the possibility of perceiving an absolute beginning for physical motion. It was, however, this perception that sparked Buridan's insight.

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Nothing which is non-quantitative is the business of science. But everything which is quantitative is its business. Non-quantitative aspects of existence, such as purpose, freedom, design, honesty, cannot be handled by science because they are not quantitative propositions. But every bit of matter is quantitative and therefore the business of science. Does not the Bible say that God "disposed everything according to measure and number and weight"?

Please note that the Bible does not say that measure, number and weight, or quantities in short, are everything. But the Bible says that everything has measure, number, and weight or quantitative properties. Wherever there is matter, quantities are present. This is what gives science its unlimited competence in everything material, whether living or dead. But this is also the reason for the radical limitation of science to what is material insofar as it can be measured.

Read the whole thing!