This week’s Faith and Wisdom in Science event took the discussion to the Parish of St. Luke’s Grayshott, where vicar Moray Thomas had managed to fill the village social club (excellent beer) with more than a hundred young, old and in-between. As usual, a very stimulating question-time, including a well-posed challenge to the question of other faith-traditions in the ‘participative-healing’ theology of science. As that issue has been partially addressed by an ealier post on Islam and Science here, I thought I ought to comment on another challenge, which was put rather differently to others over the past year.
The accusation was that the positive view of science as a good gift to be used wisely, but one that really does give us growing insight into the natural world, is fundamentally flawed, that science is permanently doomed to be on the wrong track because of its blinkered purview. By implication, in this gloomy assessment of science, it can have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God. It might have someting to do with the deployment of earthly power structures, of the domination of an intelligensia, of a sort of mind-control. It is most certainly not the the joyous, unexpected wonder that we can, for example, understand the delicate weave of colours in a rainbow, or conjour up on our minds the molecular bonding structure of water in its various forms of ice-crystal.
A New Force
Now it is important not to confuse a view that science is fatally wrong with the simple, everyday, observation that science is wrong about some things most of the time. The discovery that we can begin to grasp something of, for example, the structure of atoms, is wonderful because it is so difficult. We can do it, but it takes centuries, many different minds with their own
perspectives, many false starts and wrong-headed ideas, flashes of hopes dashed by decisive experiments, before light dawns. My questioner conjecured. that science is ignorant of an entire force field that it has ignored, yet which affects, among other things, the structure and properties of water. This is actually a very instructive example, since there are force fields that untial very recent history were unknown to science. The ‘Weak Nuclear Force’ was first proposed to exist by Enrico Fermi in 1933, and was understood properly as a symmetry-broken aspect of the electro-weak force by Glashow, Salam and Weinberg in 1968. For many years its existence as a fundamental force field was contested – and its carrying particles, the W and Z bosons were not directly detected until 1983. Should there be a new force field yet to be discovered, there simply needs to be significant weight of experimental evidence and some form of theoretical concept that allows a predictive approach to further experiments, and what was once outside science will become part of its accepted wisdom.
All you need is love…
So before 1933, and arguably before 1983, science was ignorant of an entire force field. Did that make it fatally flawed? Was skepticism such as it was within the science community unwarrented suppression of challenging ideas? I argue in Faith and Wisdom in Science that, on the contrary, the weakness and implausibility of young ideas in science needs the exercise of love towards them on the part of their proponents. The theological insight that our relationship with the natural world is one that starts with ignorance and fear and makes a long and arduous journey towards knowledge and wisdom is well-illustrated by the metaphors of thorns and briars of Genesis chapter 3 and even of the pains of childbirth in Romans chapter 8. Being wrong does not make science flawed, it is part of the painful journey to understanding that underscores science as the deeply human activity it has always been, and the highest of our imaginative projects.