Friday, September 16, 2011

What can science liberate us from?

I benefitted a lot from discussions associated with my talk last night. There are two points that need to be clarified and sharpened.

First, we do need science to free us from religious superstitions and prejudices which hinder our understanding of the material world. The latter is not controlled by capricious gods or spirits. People are not epileptic because they have demons. The earth is not the centre of the universe. The motions of the planets do not control our romantic lives...
We are able, by a combination of reason and experiment, to obtain an excellent understanding of many aspects of the material world.

On the other hand, too much is sometimes claimed for science (especially by the likes of Jacques Monod). The intellectual autonomy (and success) embodied in science does not extend to moral autonomy and freedom. Contrary to the bold claims of modernism, we do not have complete autonomy to decide what is morally right. Furthermore, we do not the complete freedom to choose that moral course of action. Even when we (individually or collectively) know what is right we fail to do it. Jesus is quite clear: we are slaves to sin. We may not claim we are free because we are sons of Abraham. We claim we are free because we are children of modernism. We are not free. Only Jesus can set us free.

As an aside, I mention the whole issue of the extent of human autonomy in theology has been explored before. For example, a book I would like to look at is The Autonomy Theme in the Church Dogmatics: Karl Barth and his critics by John Macken.

An earlier post of relevance is The cross is a scandal for modernism.

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