Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Ends of Science...

Yesterday in science class I was having a discussion (some would call it a debate) with the chemistry professor. He made some off-handed comment about how God, or what we often times call God, is really just the gaps that science has yet to fill. "Mystery" is really just what we don't understand YET, but given enough time and testing, we'll get there.

Now, if you know me at all, you'll know that I'm really going to resist statements like that. They're dehumanizing, hubristic, and ultimately (I believe) wrong. So after asking a few more questions to make sure I had his position right (he conceded that it's very possible that science will never figure everything out, but the initial point that everything is essentially explainable in terms of physical cause and effect relationships and that the God of "mystery" will get eeked out given enough time remains) and then I tried to defend a bigger God than that, or at least the possibility that the universe isn't composed of entirely of phenomena explainable in terms of descriptive propositions. If I can get that point across, I've at least made room for science and God to coincide without encroaching upon each others' territory too much.

So let me try to give a few examples that get at my intuitions.

Imagine I find someone who has NEVER encountered sadness in any way and then I give them a book containing every single proposition about the entirely physical phenomenon of depression. This book contains everything from the physical and chemical states that cause people to feel depressed to a list of actions that depressed people have been known to commit while depressed. The book has everything. Journal entries from depressed people, lists of famous people who have had chronic depression, etc, etc. Now I ask you this: Assuming that this person had never experienced any sort of sadness and she or he had then learned everything there is to know about depression, would she or he have any idea what it feels like to be depressed?

Or how about this one:

Yesterday I went to go see a production from the Alvin Ailey II dance company. They came to Springfield and put on a FANTASTIC show (which I got $10 student rush tickets to!). There was one piece in the middle entitled "Essence" which I believe tried to articulate using poetic movement how it feels to be trapped inside yourself with some monstrous issue. The dance was just one woman on a chair. She stayed with the chair the whole time, unable to break her attachment to it no matter how much pain it seemed to be causing her to be sitting there alone. She writhed, she struggled, she laughed, she cried, she even tried to compose herself and put on the good face, but all to no avail. It was a beautiful piece, and incredibly moving. Here's an excerpt from it that I found on youtube:



Anyway, I was watching this piece while sitting next to one of my very good friends whose mother passed away last semester. I blogged about it here, and you can read a bit about her experiences. While watching it, I couldn't help but relate the dance to how she must be feeling. Going through something like the death of a parent. Seemingly alone. No one can really help deal with the pain. I have to admit that I cried a bit during the piece, overwhelmed by the emotion it caused me thinking about my friend and what she must be going through.

Again I ask you: If I gave you every bit of information regarding me, my friend, the dance we watched together, our chemical states, etc, would you be able to feel how we felt last night? Even now I must admit that if I had every propositional fact possible about my friend, her mother's fatal illness, and knew her even better than I did, it would be impossible for me to know exactly what she's going through.

My point is that there is an end to science. There is a chasm, an unbridgeable chasm, that science cannot cross when we go from the realm of propositions to the realm of humanity. Science simply cannot give us insight into how things feel, into how they effect us as meaning-seeking people. Science cannot help us grasp subjective reality through facts and data. So yes, science is useful and helpful and arguably even necessary, but it can never tell us everything. There will always be a gap between science's explanations of my friend's pain and my friend's pain from the subjective point of view. And to me, that's a good thing.

4 comments:

Mozart said...

I find that statement pretty odd coming from Petrich. As far as I know, he's pretty hardcore diehard Christian. I've heard from other students that he's been known to "preach" during class. Perhaps he meant something other than what he said, but just wasn't very articulate?

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