Science Is No Savior

Take God out of the equation and science can be dangerous

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Atheism Faith

Healthy human culture is inextricably linked to religion. Christopher Dawson and others have argued that ethical systems are unsustainable in the long term apart from a trust in the immanence of a good God:

Human nature always retains its spiritual character—its bond with the transcendent and the divine. If it were to lose this, it must lose itself and become the servant of lower powers, so that secular civilization, as Nietzsche saw, inevitably leads to nihilism and to self-destruction. (Christopher Dawson, The Formation of Christendom).

This is a hard saying that will understandably anger many of our friends who have no religious belief yet are highly moral in their lives and aspirations. Many such people have a religious background in the sense that they are well informed about the claims of religion yet choose to reject them: their quarrel is more with the institutional church than with God himself. Transcendent moral teaching remains their yardstick, even while doubting its source and denying the immanence of God.

But what about what we might call “the second generation” of sceptics, those who have never had any kind of religious contact or formation? In modern Western societies they now constitute a majority. They think of themselves not as dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants, but as masters of a world of their own making. That explains the extent of the terror that Covid-19 has unleashed on their world: it reminds them that they are not fully in control—not a nice feeling if you don’t believe in objective truth and think that you can manufacture your own.

Science is their only savior—or at least Science as they understand it or would like it to be. But Dawson reminds us (in the same work quoted above):

The conception of the universe as an intelligible order has inspired the whole development of Western science, alike in classical antiquity and in modern times; and in the formative period of modern science from Galileo to Newton the belief in God as first cause and creator of the order of nature, as well as the supreme governor and lawgiver of the moral world formed an essential part of the scientific [view of the world].

Take God out of the equation and science can be a dangerous ally. Germany after World War I was probably the most highly-educated nation on earth. Where did that lead? Without an overarching moral firmament Science can lead us into strange and sometimes sinister corners of the imagination: theories to justify racial inequality, for example, or to deny the physical realities of human sexuality.

Justice also takes a tumble when lawmakers forget the Source of all law and Truth becomes merely relative, when practitioners appear to give higher priority to winning, at almost any cost, than to their ethical obligations.

Western Christian Civilization is in a perilous state. But here’s another thought from Dawson:

It is true that Christianity is not bound up with any particular race or culture. It is neither of the East or of the West, but has a universal mission to the human race as a whole…

It may indeed happen that Western civilization becomes overwhelmed, as other cultures have been throughout history, but we can be confident that God will have the last word.

 

David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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