The Terms of the Debate: A Modern World (1)

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St Pius X

The Modern World

As often is the case, the mind of the common man is profoundly imbued with the spirit of his particular age. At times, this situation seems quite penetrating, and man appears to be lacking in perspective, as he contemplates the circumstances that make up the mental picture of his respective time period; attempting thus, to offer an honest evaluation of the age under study.

It cannot be occulted that, the time since the emergence of Modernity, has borne witness to humanity’s incredible progress both in its technical achievements and in its social and political institutions. Undoubtedly, the life of the contemporary man, living in the third millennium, blessed with the wonders of human technology and the comforts of humane liberties, stands as a remarkable milestone; an accomplishment far beyond the possibilities conceived of at any point in the historyof humanity.

The forces that have been the instigators of this remarkable evolution, have radically transformed the way of life of the developed nations; in particular, the developed West. Even today, they are still at work behind the influence of public opinion and the novelty of technological advancement. More specifically, liberal democracy has been the primary agent of social change as it has disseminated throughout the world, the ideals of Enlightenment philosophy and the aspirations for a new Humanity, thirsting for a new emancipation and seeking the pursuit of freedom; and above all, the vindication of human Reason. Indeed, if Liberty has turned the man of the Modern Age into a latent revolutionary, it is human science in particular, that has been the great catalyst of Progress, directing the march of civilization towards a Technocratic order in which the forces of materialism are increasingly brought together under the firm authority of totalitarian government. Indeed, it is no overstatement to realize that, the current order and the commodities that it supplies ranging from highly advanced means of transportation to ever-more sophisticated ways of providing entertainment and pacing the life of the common man, stands ultimately for the latter, as a justification of human science; and in that regard, as a confirmation of its practical necessity and at times, a reflection of its ability to convey in faith and in truth, human and physical and even, metaphysical reality.

Modernism, a mental picture

And it is precisely the latter point that stands as a matter of debate. Involved in the preceding argument, is its correlation with the world of faith, the world of the supernatural and certainly, the world of Christianity. Modernism, which was once the guiding mental attitude at the start of the preceding century, now stands as obsolete; and therefore, as irrelevant. And yet, its intellectual and moral force endures. To put it more simply, at the heart of the attitude of the modern man, is an inclination that elevates human autonomy above and beyond Divine authority and Divine Revelation for that matter. In that sense, the modern frame of thought operates an irrevocable rejection and denial of any supernatural reality whatever and of its claim on the earthly plane of human reality. For that fact, it is decidedly secular, uncompromisingly agnostic and certainly almost atheistic. Yet, for all the seriousness of the matter at hand, its importance and its relevance often goes without mention. It is only when one is confronted with matters that directly involve a conflict between Faith and Reason, Science and Religion, that the seeds of intellectual tension are brought to the fore.

A matter that seems to put into concrete reality the subject at hand, is perhaps, the current controversy in the American North over the issue of the theory of evolution and intelligent design. The proponents of the intelligent design argue that the natural world, the world that is the object of scientific observation, experimentation and testing, exhibits in its features, its operations and its characteristics, a finality, a guided purposefulness that can only be attributed to an Intelligent agent whose nature is different from the intrinsic causality that the philosophers of science ascribe to nature. To this point, in the scientific consensus, the evolution of biological organisms stands certainly as a fact corroborated by a body of evidence gathered throughout the centuries, and certainly, demonstrated and validated by years of experimentation. Even further, to some, evolutionism stands as a law, inscribed in nature and to which all living and non-living matter ascribes to as to a deterministic cause that cannot be brought opposition and resistance to. In effect, the debate over the issue seems at once to put side by side, and one against the other two specific world views of whose philosophical and metaphysical roots are often the object of neglect in social and political debate.

The Debate, at hand

At the center of the evolutionary world view, is the world view of science, with its methodology, its objectivity and its concern for rigorous observation and experimentation. At the center of the opposing view, is in the perspective of the common man, the religious world view, characterized for its ignorance, its lack of perspective and its inability to contribute meaningfully and rationally in a debate that is largely above its competence. Certainly, the point at issue, that of the implications of the evolutionary theory and the conclusions suggested by the apparent purposefulness found in nature, can be extended to any contentious issue relevant to science. Whether this involves, the more general understanding of man and of his value in the created universe, to the question of proving the existence of a Creator God, it seems to be that the terms of the debate present similar characteristics. Many times, at issue, is whether science is qualified to provide an answer to a specific question, that is, of whether the question at hand is amenable to a scientific treatment, and thus, of whether the matter at hand is rational; or rather, of if it can be rationalized. If one were to pay close attention to the debates, it would be evidently clear that the ability of science to speak meaningfully and with certitude about ultimately, reality itself, is never put into question. Simply put, for the common man, the question hardly comes to the fore concerning science’s final authority, and in many respects, its verdict often ends up offering the final word on any given subject matter.

To be asked in this respect, is why this is the case. More importantly, one can ponder as to why the authority of science seems to be far-reaching and at the same time almost always conclusive on any given subject pertaining to the human individual, to his life, his evolution, his drives and feelings, and most importantly his final and existential destiny. Certainly, this debate does not purport to put into question science’s authority itself, but rather, to bring the reader to re-evaluate its importance and function in relation to its methodology.

In speaking of science, one usually refers to the natural sciences, that is, the sciences of life such as biology, the sciences of the earth such as geography and most of all the sciences of matter such as physics and chemistry. In this sense, one usually speaks of the empirical sciences; empirical for their ability to measure, their capacity to make concrete observations and generate computational data and most of all, their propensity to test hypotheses and repeatedly come up with consistent results. In this regard, the sciences of life and of matter, most certainly are the most prized and the most admired.

The Question

Yet, one can still ponder and ask the following question: Is the scientific account itself, able to reveal reality, in its life and its existence, in its extensiveness?

The answer as pertaining to the subject at hand, is in the negative.

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