Saturday, May 28, 2016

Science: what has love got to do with it?!

Science raises theological questions.
An important example is:
Why does science work?
This is not a question that science can answer. All it can say is that science works; and very well, often.

This week I realised there is another interesting question.
Why do scientists love what they do?
 It goes far beyond the joy of a successful businessman or plumber. There is sometimes something "religious" and "mystical" about scientists devotion and pleasure in their work. Furthermore, many young scientists are willing to work long hours, often with less financial reward and job security compared to other options available to them. Why do they do it?
Again, this is not a question that science can answer. But, theology does address.

Three different recent events brought this question to mind.

First, the atheist scientist Sean Carroll has just published a book The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself. He advocates a "religion" called poetic naturalism. A good critique of the book is by another atheist scientist Peter Woit. The relevant point here is that it highlights how even for atheist scientists there is something deeply religious about science.

Second, last week I saw the excellent movie, The Man Who Knew Infinity which nicely illustrates some of the joy and mystery of discovery in mathematics.

Finally, and most importantly I am finishing reading the wonderful book Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish. He has a whole section entitled "Love" in the chapter, "A Theology of Science".
By "love" he means "the super-rational .... emotionally engaged delight in, and action to sustain the well being of another."
Love, pain, and perseverance cannot be separated.
"Above all it is a love that seeks to understand."
New scientific theories "need to loved into being".
He gives the example of the novel (and for long controversial) concept of reptation in polymers.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree about the religious/mystical element in scientists' work. I'm curious as to whether you've read Kuhn's "Structure of Scientific Revolutions". His discussion of how paradigm shifts occur -- specifically, how scientists from the old paradigm must undergo a "conversion" to the new one -- allows for, I think, another set of parallels between science and religion.