Monday, July 25, 2011

The End of Science is the Beginning of Theology

In 1996, John Horgan, a journalist with Scientific American, published a book The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age. The book received a lot of attention and was widely criticised, particularly by members of the scientific community. In the book he describes interviews with an impressive cast of scientific leaders, including Roger Penrose, Stephen Jay Gould, Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, Edward Witten, David Bohm, Philip Anderson, Lyn Margulis, Murray Gell-Mann, ..

Here is the main point of the book (p. 6)
Optimists who think they can overcome all these limits [of scientific knowledge] must face yet another quandary, perhaps the most disturbing of all. What will scientists do if they succeed in knowing what can be known? What, then, would be the purpose of life? What would be the purpose of humanity? ... 
Given these troubling issues, it is no wonder that many scientists whom I interviewed for this book seemed gripped by a profound unease. But their malaise, I will argue has another, much more immediate cause. If one believes in science, one must accept the possibility - even the probability - that the great era of scientific discovery is over. By science I mean not applied science, but science at its purest and grandest, the primordial human quest to understand the universe and our place in it. Future research may yield no more great revelations or revolutions, but only incremental, diminishing returns.
Much is revealed by the chapter titles, Introduction: Searching for The Answer. The last chapter is Scientific Theology, or the End of Machine Science. The Epilogue is The Terror of God. In the latter he describes how his despair led him to his own personal mystical experience. Here are a few extracts:
At the heart of reality lies not an answer, but a question: why is there something rather than nothing? The Answer is that there is no answer, only a question.... The world is a riddle that God has created in order to shield himself from his terrible solitude and fear of death. ....
...everything comes down to God chewing his fingernails. This belief even gives me a strange kind of comfort. Our plight is God's plight. And now that science - true, pure, empirical science- has ended, what else is there to believe in?
I warmly recommend the book. It is well written and fascinating reading. Much of it I do not agree with (especially "The Terror of God" idea). But, it to me it clearly illustrates that Science does not have The Answer that some so desparately seek within it. Science ultimately raises existential questions. Why are we here? But, we must look outside Science to find the answers.

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