Science doesn't have all the answers


#1

January 21, 2005

BY ANDREW GREELEY

The nastiest letters this column attracts are from right- wing Catholics and militant atheists. Both groups are true believers, the former in the Catholicism of the 1950s, the latter in science. The mix of anger and triumph in their letters suggests that both have a deep emotional need for absolute certainty that drives them to rage at those who suggest that the world is a complicated place.

The atheists celebrate science. They reject religion because it is not “scientific.” They dismiss anything that suggests there are other sources of truth than “science” and thus claim an intellectual and moral superiority to those superstitious folk who believe in God. They rejoice therefore that the tsunami disaster proves there is no God.

In fact all the tsunami proves is that a planet that has “plates” floating over its molten core will produce earthquakes as a cost of generating a “crust” on which there can be life. One might argue that it is the mission of creatures who live on the crust to co-create warning systems that predict quakes and tidal waves. Perhaps such efforts are similar to the co-creation of techniques that control the worst of human plagues.

Atheists will dismiss such a view as not “scientific.” Perhaps it is not because it cannot prove beyond any doubt the thesis of human co-creation. But neither can science disprove such a view, much less disprove the existence of goodness and love in the universe. Science simply does not have the tools to wrestle with such questions.

Many scientists don’t believe in God, but many do. According to a study of college faculties some years ago by sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset, scholars who are engaged in the “hard” disciplines such as physics and chemistry are more likely to believe in God than social scientists or “humanists.” Those who are inclined to reject God in the name of science are less likely to be engaged in science in the strictest sense of that word.

Sociology may well be the most problematic of the “sciences” not because we are airheads (though in truth some of us are) but because we deal with the most complicated of subjects – humans in society. I tell the students every year in my course on “God in the Movies” that, while we can talk about images people have of God and stories they tell about God, we cannot address the question of whether God is. Facetiously I say that God is never home when our interviewers call. More seriously we lack the tools to answer the question – though of course we have our own personal beliefs.

The same constraints apply to all sciences. None of them have the tools to explain why there is anything at all, why there is an arrangement of reality in complex patterns (quantum theory, for example) and what might be the direction of and purpose of reality. Anyone who claims that science can answer such ultimate questions is a charlatan.

It does not follow from this fact that there is a God, much less that knowledge and love animate the cosmos. All that follows is that science does not have all the answers and it is in the nature of the scientific enterprise that it cannot answer the ultimate questions. This fact, however, does not prevent some scientists pontificating as if they had the answers. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as it is clear that their answers do not flow from their science. I can argue the presence of love strongly suggests the presence of Love. But sociology doesn’t prove that – though it can prove that most people everywhere in the world do believe in God.

Where the competence of science ends, mystery begins – though there is bafflement at the outer edges of science too. The answers to the Big Questions cannot be attained through the methods of science but require other ways of knowledge – insight, intuition, faith, no matter which way the answers go. To decide whether there is purpose in human life – something that looks like gestation and birth – or whether it is all a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, requires a leap of faith, a venture into the darkness of mystery in search of light. Science can bring one to the edge of that darkness but is impotent beyond it.

Copyright 2005, Chicago Sun-Times

What do you think?

John


#2

Bad article.

What means, “Catholicism of the 1950s”? The writer spaeks at lenght about what athiests “believe,” and notes their perversions of science without acknowledging that they are perversions. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that they are, and so can call sociology (one of the most prominent perversions) a science with an apparent straight face.

As for his references to certainty, science is a tribute to what we can do in spite of uncertainties, not a path to their elimination. And the tone of the article suggests that the writer has bought into the concept that, since man cannot come to knowledge devoid of uncertainty on his own, therefore no such knowledge exists, and to treat God’s revelation as certain is therefore not on.

As I said, bad article.

Blessings,

Gerry


#3

[quote=Andrew Greeley]. . . it is in the nature of the scientific enterprise that it cannot answer the ultimate questions. This fact, however, does not prevent some scientists pontificating as if they had the answers. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as it is clear that their answers do not flow from their science.
[/quote]

Mostly I agree with Greeley. It’s true that science, as such, cannot answer the ultimate philosophical questions. It’s also true that religion cannot answer the scientific questions. But that doesn’t keep them each from trying.

As for the “Catholicism of the 1950’s,” having participated in it, I can say that it is the same as the Catholicism of 2005. The only thing that has changed much is the sociology of Catholicism between then and now. But that is Greeley’s department, anyway.

I don’t quite buy the dictum that " Where the competence of science ends, mystery begins." That makes all non-scientific knowledge “mystery.” That’s just not right, as a reading of Mortimer Adler, Peter Kreeft, or Frank Sheed ought to convince you. The greatest heresy of our time seems to be the idea that ALL knowledge must be “scientific.” We absorb materialism by osmosis.


#4

[quote=JimG]As for the “Catholicism of the 1950’s,” having participated in it, I can say that it is the same as the Catholicism of 2005. The only thing that has changed much is the sociology of Catholicism between then and now. But that is Greeley’s department, anyway.

I don’t quite buy the dictum that " Where the competence of science ends, mystery begins." That makes all non-scientific knowledge “mystery.” That’s just not right, as a reading of Mortimer Adler, Peter Kreeft, or Frank Sheed ought to convince you. The greatest heresy of our time seems to be the idea that ALL knowledge must be “scientific.” We absorb materialism by osmosis.
[/quote]

I think the point Andrew Greeley is trying to make, without saying it directly, is that nothing is knowable for certain. The “BAD” people here are the ones that say science can provide definitive answers AND the “right wing Catholics” who also believe that there exists a definitve revalation from God. The good people are the enlightened that understand that nothing is certain and all of creation is a mystery and everyone’s opinion is equaly valid (with one exception).The exception is that the opinion may be ignored if the person with the opinion contends that there is a definitive truth that can be known (because they are one of the BAD people.

IOW it appears to be an attack against religous truth by implying that religous truth is the same as scientific certainty in the extreme and then attacking that.
Maybe I am cynical but that’s what I see in this piece.


#5

[quote=JamesD]I think the point Andrew Greeley is trying to make, without saying it directly, is that nothing is knowable for certain.
[/quote]

If that’s what he’s saying, then he’s wrong. Many things are knowable, in both the religious and scientific sphere, although not everything is knowable. (A Thomist might say that not everything is knowable, but everything is intelligible.)

But since sociology is Greely’s field, perhaps it’s greater degree of uncertainty in its conclusions affects his view of the world.


#6

[quote=JimG]If that’s what he’s saying, then he’s wrong. Many things are knowable, in both the religious and scientific sphere, although not everything is knowable. (A Thomist might say that not everything is knowable, but everything is intelligible.)

But since sociology is Greely’s field, perhaps it’s greater degree of uncertainty in its conclusions affects his view of the world.
[/quote]

Yes, if that is what he is saying he is wrong. I agree.:yup:


#7

[quote=John Higgins]What do you think?

John
[/quote]

Superficial.

The author doesn’t seem to be aware of the concepts of Teleology and determinism and has polarized theists and atheists.

The author is using the word science generally for theological concepts he might not know exist.

The word ‘science’ first coined ~1865, is rapidly falling into desuetude, being replaced by the terms Engineer or physicist (or even Advanced Studies).

This author is espousing the populist notion of science and religion exploiting their stereotypes revealing a hidden agenda to this article - a subliminal indoctrination of non-teleological ideology along mechanistic lines. :tsktsk:


#8

The “Letter” by Andrew Greely didn’t have anything new to say. It was a rehashing of decades old beliefs and facts. IMHO I think he was only filling space for a paycheck.


#9

[quote=Kevin Walker]Superficial.

The author doesn’t seem to be aware of the concepts of Teleology and determinism and has polarized theists and atheists.

The author is using the word science generally for theological concepts he might not know exist.

The word ‘science’ first coined ~1865, is rapidly falling into desuetude, being replaced by the terms Engineer or physicist (or even Advanced Studies).

This author is espousing the populist notion of science and religion exploiting their stereotypes revealing a hidden agenda to this article - a subliminal indoctrination of non-teleological ideology along mechanistic lines. :tsktsk:
[/quote]

I disagree in part.

I agree that he is using the populist notion of science. I tend to think that most atheists do as well. However, I am wondering if you are meaning the populist notion of science VERSES religion. In which case I agree even more.

However, since your post I googled Andrew Greeley and found he is a Priest! as well as a professor. After reading a few more of his articles I don’t think he cares about an origins debate. I think he would say that the world being teleogical or non-teleogical is unimportant and perhaps unknowable.
A consistent theme among his articles is a rejection of attributes of the religious right and the political left. However I think his rejections of the left are less damming and portrayed as more trivial than the wrongness of the religious right. I also sense a distaste for JPII. To me it almost seems like an attack on religion (particularly a fixed belief set) while seemingly being religious. I don’t know how this can be but that is the feeling I get from the articles I read. And I agree they are all superficial.

[font=‘Times New Roman’]examples:[/font]
Excerpt from Andrew Greeley:
I’m still a Catholic because of the beauty of the Catholic stories.
So are most of us Catholics.

An appeal to beauty may seem a weak argument; surely it will seem weak to many of the Catholic conservatives who write in this book. Again I remind them that we were Catholics for several centuries before the doctrines acquired some precision. It was the beauty of the stories and the lives inspired by the stories, particularly the Christmas and Easter stories which appealed to those who heard them. Whatever appeal our idiot leaders have left us is still to be found in the beauty of the stories.

Beauty is not opposed to truth. It is simply truth in its most attractive form.

I wonder how I would be able to explain that I am still a Catholic to Sam Donaldson. If I said to him it was because of the beauty of Catholic stories, he wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

Or to the ineffable Phil Donahue whose main concern seems to be whether masturbation is a mortal sin. Or to those Catholic conservatives for whom a list of doctrinal assents is the proper measure of Catholicism.

One of which assents is NOT to the notion that God is love, a notion which they find dangerous.

Too bad for St. John.

[size=2]They are the heretics, the falsifiers of the tradition, the scribes and Pharisees of our time, the false prophets. [/size]

[size=2]Pay them no heed. [/size]


#10

[quote=JamesD]I disagree in part.

I agree that he is using the populist notion of science. I tend to think that most atheists do as well. However, I am wondering if you are meaning the populist notion of science VERSES religion. In which case I agree even more.

However, since your post I googled Andrew Greeley and found he is a Priest! as well as a professor. After reading a few more of his articles I don’t think he cares about an origins debate. I think he would say that the world being teleogical or non-teleogical is unimportant and perhaps unknowable.
A consistent theme among his articles is a rejection of attributes of the religious right and the political left. However I think his rejections of the left are less damming and portrayed as more trivial than the wrongness of the religious right. I also sense a distaste for JPII. To me it almost seems like an attack on religion (particularly a fixed belief set) while seemingly being religious. I don’t know how this can be but that is the feeling I get from the articles I read. And I agree they are all superficial.

[font=Times New Roman]examples:[/font]
Excerpt from Andrew Greeley:
I’m still a Catholic because of the beauty of the Catholic stories.
So are most of us Catholics.

An appeal to beauty may seem a weak argument; surely it will seem weak to many of the Catholic conservatives who write in this book. Again I remind them that we were Catholics for several centuries before the doctrines acquired some precision. It was the beauty of the stories and the lives inspired by the stories, particularly the Christmas and Easter stories which appealed to those who heard them. Whatever appeal our idiot leaders have left us is still to be found in the beauty of the stories.

Beauty is not opposed to truth. It is simply truth in its most attractive form.

I wonder how I would be able to explain that I am still a Catholic to Sam Donaldson. If I said to him it was because of the beauty of Catholic stories, he wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

Or to the ineffable Phil Donahue whose main concern seems to be whether masturbation is a mortal sin. Or to those Catholic conservatives for whom a list of doctrinal assents is the proper measure of Catholicism.

One of which assents is NOT to the notion that God is love, a notion which they find dangerous.

Too bad for St. John.

[size=2]They are the heretics, the falsifiers of the tradition, the scribes and Pharisees of our time, the false prophets.[/size]

[size=2]Pay them no heed.[/size]

[/quote]

Greeley likes to think he is a moderate but he is a liberal and that is why he is in demand when the media come calling for an opinion of an announcement from Rome. That is also why he can’t abide “conservatives”.
As was pointed out earlier on this thread, there is no difference between the Catholicism of the 50’s and now. Any changes have only been on the surface and even many of those were done without Rome’s permission. Things have been blamed on Vatican II that can’t be found when you actually read the documents. Greeley seems more of a secularist than a dedicated priest.
On the other hand he does get some ideas correctly enough to seem reasonable.
Newman60


#11

[quote=JamesD]I disagree in part.

I agree that he is using the populist notion of science. I tend to think that most atheists do as well. However, I am wondering if you are meaning the populist notion of science VERSES religion. In which case I agree even more.

However, since your post I googled Andrew Greeley and found he is a Priest! as well as a professor. After reading a few more of his articles I don’t think he cares about an origins debate. I think he would say that the world being teleogical or non-teleogical is unimportant and perhaps unknowable.
A consistent theme among his articles is a rejection of attributes of the religious right and the political left. However I think his rejections of the left are less damming and portrayed as more trivial than the wrongness of the religious right. I also sense a distaste for JPII. To me it almost seems like an attack on religion (particularly a fixed belief set) while seemingly being religious. I don’t know how this can be but that is the feeling I get from the articles I read. And I agree they are all superficial.

Hi JamesD,

I am not surprised that the author is a professor but very surprised (and a little disturbed) that he is a priest. I find a hidden agenda reading his article and as a Catholic priest he should avoid a non-teleological slant to his theme. I wonder who for whom this article was written?
[/quote]


#12

Greeley is a priest, a sociologist, and a novelist. Because his novels, like most modern fiction, do not hesitate to portray sexuality, he is unlikely to find himself ever facing the prospect of being made a bishop. As a diocesan priest, he does not take a vow of poverty, and has made quite a bit of money on the novels and the sociology survey work.

I recall a friend who was reading one of his novels, but not knowing anything of his background.
I remarked, “Oh, you’re reading one of Father Greeley’s novels?” She looked up, startled. “You mean this was written by a PRIEST???”

Don’t get me wrong. The fiction isn’t really that objectionable. You can find worse on network TV.


#13

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