We should admire humanists. Yet I could never be a humanist.
A theological blog 16- vii – 19
Far from merely showing that mysteries once explained by God are merely secular puzzles, both science and God, whatever that term means, speak out of the whirlwind.
We should admire humanists. How impressive are their attempts to lead a rational life, doubtless frequently failing, for which of us is always rational, but none the less praiseworthy for that, and inspiring their belief that one should be good simply because it is good to be good, not because some clergyman tells you to be. There is something elementally human about being a humanist, as the name suggests, and in that sense we should all be humanists. How well they often compare with the adherents of the religions, so frequently haunted by fear of some frightful god who will send you to hell for ever and ever, and where even the most laid back and unholier than thou of clergymen emit a vague and radioactively disquieting sense of holiness, and, at least in the higher echelons of ecclesiastical preferment, seem so unable to resist wearing funny hats. One can almost share the sense of relief with which humanists must feel released from all that. Yet, much as I admire so many of them, I could never be a humanist, for they seem to me, these days anyway, to be so unintentionally irrational, a debilitating condition confirmed by their conviction that they, and only they, are the rational ones.
The spring of this misconception is their view that science, and only science, can tell us truth, for only science seeks truth through the rigour of the scientific method. This is a capital error. Science tells us true facts, it never tells us what they mean. There are few humanists who distinguish between facts, which can at least to all intents and purposes be certain, and meanings that never are. Even the greatest scientists have regularly misunderstood the meanings of their own great discoveries. Galileo thought that the sun, or more accurately a mathematical point close to the sun, was the centre of the universe. Newton thought that his laws of motion explained all forms of motion. Darwin thought that war, pestilence, disease and death explained evolution, as he tells us on the last page of The Origin of Species.But war, pestilence, disease and death explain nothing. These are conditions, not causes. Despite the fact that his own discoveries had been integral to the developments of quantum physics, Einstein did not accept quantum physics until his last breath. There is no physicist alive today who thinks Einstein was right.
The great glories of science are not the astonishing facts it has established or the amazing technical feats it has accomplished, wonderful as these are, for even the most awesome discoveries rapidly become part of a familiar and barely noticed landscape (think how rapidly we began to take sat nav for granted or hardly give the Hadron Collider at Cern a passing thought most days, even though this fabulous enterprise is attempting to penetrate into the beginning of the universe for goodness sake) these kind of wonders are not what is most wonderful about science for they rapidly degenerate into mere facts, no what is most wonderful is not what science knows but its restless advance into ever greater and more insoluble mysteries that it doesn’t yet know, ever deeper darknesses where God may or may not dwell. Far from merely solving problems that God used to be hauled in to solve – that’s another one ticked off then, what used to be holy mysteries now revealed to be merely secular puzzles, you’re going down God – science enthrals and bewonders the soul. The whole history of science is one long story of solving puzzles that unexpectedly revealed whole areas of fresh mystery that had not even been suspected before the puzzles were solved. Every time science makes a new major discovery it not only adds a new truth to the stock of those already known, it alters the significance of all the truths that had been known already. Thus, when Newton’s laws of motion can be shown not to apply at very high speeds, it alters the whole of science. We move from a totally causal predictable science into an uncertain random one. If even Newton’s laws of motion can be shown to be not applicable in the way we thought they were, what is the next great discovery that will alter the whole of our understanding? It is because science knows so much, that it tells you that at a deeper level it doesn’t yet know anything it knows.
The discoveries that science is now making are so astonishing they are not only altering the significance of everything we ever knew, you can’t help wondering whether they are entering a whole new area of understanding or rather non-understanding. Will we ever understand what is meant by an infinity of universes? No problem about the anthropic argument, says Dawkins in The God Delusion, in an infinity of universes there is bound to be one just like ours. Thanks for the glib thought, Richard. How can we understand how subatomic entities can be both particles and waves? How can they be two different things and yet the same thing at the same time? It abrogates the very law of contradiction for goodness sake. How can two photons that have become entangled communicate instantaneouslyeven though they are separated by the whole universe? It abrogates the cornerstone of Einstein’s physics, that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Science is entering into a new territory where it not only does not yet know the answers to these conundrums but may never know them or certainly not in the foreseeable future. The distinction between science and mysticism is becoming ever more hazy. We certainly need to get away from the entirely superficial one more point to science, one less to God, that afflicts so many humanists. God doesn’t even exist. Hear that God, you don’t exist, you don’t even register on our telescopes and microscopes. Well of course not. Aquinas would have told you that. Both God and science are wrapped in a further, perhaps impenetrable, darkness. Both science and God, whatever that term means, speak out of the whirlwind.