Rolf-Dieter Heuer invites Pope to visit CERN facility in Switzerland
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CERN, Large Hadron Collider, Rolf Heuer
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“Doing so, he [Heuer] says, would show the good relationship between science and faith.”
No it wouldn’t. It might indicate a good relationship between Rolf-Dieter Heuer and the Catholic Church, or between CERN and the Vatican, but religious faith will remain the antithesis of science. The way for Heuer to encourage mainstream acceptance of science is NOT to change the definition of science so that it somehow embraces faith. Religious faith impedes scientific progress wherever the science contradicts the faith. Why is money intended to be used for science being used to hinder it?
Do you even know what you’re saying?
1. The relationship between science and faith is the relationship between two modes of thought. Science applies empirical methods that will tend to get ever closer to the truth. Religious faith claims to know what the truth is and tends to reject opposing evidence. The relationship between the two is one of complete incompatibility. How can this be described as a “good relationship”?
2. In July, Rolf-Dieter Heuer spoke of the need to bring science into mainstream culture. If he meant what I thought he meant, then I completely agree. There seems to me to be a widespread lack of appreciation of why science is worthwhile. I often see science described as ‘elitism’, ‘arrogance’, ‘just another religion’, ‘knowing it all’, etc. I fully support attempts to show that it is none of these things. I did wonder whether the invitation to the Pope was extended in the hope that the Pope would become convinced that science was none of those things, but I dismissed that as far too ambitious. If, instead, the intention was to increase the popularity of science by demonstrating to a religious population a degree of approval by the Pope, then I do not think that it would achieve much in the way of improving the understanding of science. Rather, I think that the opposite would be true – the impression might be given that science is compatible with religion.
3. Religious organisations continue to impede science in a number of ways. Purely religious campaigns against certain scientific research are one way. Trying to instil irrational (non-scientific) thought in young potential scientists, and promoting non-scientific concepts such as prayer, is another. Demonising those who promote rational thought is another. Opposing or diluting certain scientific conclusions on religious grounds is another.
4. Given the need to reduce regressive effect of religion on science, and given the possible negative effect on the understanding of science, and given the futility of trying to demonstrate a good relationship between religious faith and science, what justification can CERN have for this use of its funds?
1. I’m not sure I understand the problem here. Yes, they are two modes of thought. It is generally difficult to use them both at the same time — that is a limitation of the human mind. It has been my experience that using different modes of thought in different circumstances is useful. Science is useful for understanding the material world insofar as it can be quantified. However, it can not be used to understand the consciousness of another living being, since that is something that is inherently “interior” and qualitatively different from physical objects. Likewise, God, due to his nature as transcendent Being itself, rather than one being among others, cannot be captured by the scientific methodology.
It’s also worth noting that there is nothing intrinsically scientific about the type of faithful devotion to science that you describe. Speculation about science itself isn’t actually science. So it would seem there must, in fact, be other “modes of thought” worth using?
2. Scientists seem to be, on average, pretty well-compensated. Not CEO level, but I don’t think physics PhDs need to look too hard to find a job. I think the general public fully appreciates penicillin, refrigerators, airplanes, etc.
Scientists would, however, be wise to speak cautiously on topics outside of their particular area of expertise. I have not known the pope to weigh in on any scientific issues, and I certainly never have heard him say anything in opposition to science.
3. If you’re referring to the American Protestant creationism subculture, then, yes, that particular form of religion does impede science and, yes, they are wrong.
Science is a useful tool for obtaining information about the material world insofar as it can be quanitified. Since it assumes an essentially “third-person” perspective; however, it cannot fully elucidate the nature of consciousness and the human experience in general. Science is not co-extensive with rationality, as the latter includes things like mathematics, music, and phenomenology, as well as since. As I said above, to even suggest such a thing is to engage in extra-scientific, metaphysical reasoning.
As I said, the pope does not weigh in on scientific issues because these do not concern him. Thus there are no Catholics “opposing or diluting certain scientific conclusions on religious grounds.” If scientists choose to make statements on ethical issues, then that might be an area of concern.
4. This is just a restatement of your assumptions formulated as “givens.” Obviously if you take as given precisely what is in question, then your conclusion follows. Very convenient for you, but it reflects poorly on your competence in logic, for all your talk about “rationality.”
Educated people have always understood that science and faith are separate, but complementary realms. The idea that the Catholic Church is an obscurantist, anti-science institution is a myth that was created during the French Revolution for ideological purposes. Today, it is useful as a marker of those who don’t understand science, faith, or history.
In matter of fact, it was due to the Christian faith’s tenet of a rationally ordered, intelligible universe that created science in the first place. For more information, I recommend The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, which was recently shortlisted for the Royal Science Society Book Prize.
“it [science] can not be used to understand the consciousness of another living being, since that is something that is inherently “interior” and qualitatively different from physical objects”
Scientists have some understanding of how brains work, and they can monitor brain activity to some extent, perform psychological experiments, observe the effects of brain damage, etc. Why should any aspects of consciousness always be beyond the reach of science?
“God, due to his nature as transcendent Being itself, rather than one being among others, cannot be captured by the scientific methodology.”
Well, it depends on your definition of ‘God’. (If you tell me that ‘God’ cannot be defined, then the word is meaningless, as is any sentence that uses the word.) The Catholic Church claim to know that their god answers prayers, including those relating to remote events. This can be tested by scientific experiment. No experiments so far have shown that prayer can influence remote events so there is, as yet, no proof that God, as defined by the RCC, exists, and the more negative results that are accumulated, the less likely it becomes that He exists.
“So it would seem there must, in fact, be other “modes of thought” worth using?”
I did not claim otherwise. My comment was limited to science and faith because they were what Heuer mentioned.
“I think the general public fully appreciates penicillin, refrigerators, airplanes, etc.”
I don’t think that they all fully appreciate the thought behind some inventions. The painstaking research and engineering that follows years of study is based on rational thought, not divine inspiration. A fuel monitoring system for an aircraft must have predictable performance. Each step in the software program that controls a fuel monitoring computer is written according to the rules of logic, mathematics, physics, etc. As has been shown countless times, those are the sort of disciplines that aid reliability. A ‘devotion’ to them is a recognition that there are no viable alternatives. If science does not yet have the answer, this does not selectively endow alternatives (such as making stuff up) with explanatory power.
“I have not known the pope to weigh in on any scientific issues, and I certainly never have heard him say anything in opposition to science.”
So does he accept the scientific findings that prayer has no remote effect, or does he state categorically that prayer works and behave accordingly?
“In matter of fact, it was due to the Christian faith’s tenet of a rationally ordered, intelligible universe that created science in the first place.”
The concept of a rationally ordered, intelligible universe predated Christianity, but even if it had not, this would be irrelevant. The faith aspect of Christianity remains antithetical to science.
“No experiments so far have shown that prayer can influence remote events”
That’s not what prayer is, no one is claiming that it works like some kind of mysterious “action at a distance.” Prayer is a form of communication with God — as such it’s not something that can be studied scientifically. God does promise to answer our prayers but may choose to do so by granting us graces, rather than, say, physically curing us or making us rich. Grace is a key concept of Christianity that is part of the “interiority” of consciousness (what old-fashioned people call the heart).
That the brain is at some level chemical processes was known to the ancient Greeks, and to anyone who’s ever been drunk. We can now describe them in more detail but have not made any advances, at all, in understanding how chemical reactions can give rise to consciousness. In particular, you will note how examining the chemical, electrical, etc. states and levels of a human brain, let’s say your own, is fundamentally different than the experience of consciousness itself.
It’s also worth noting that quantum mechanics seems to require an observer, so there must have been a consciousness at the beginning of the universe.
“That’s not what prayer is, no one is claiming that it works like some kind of mysterious action at a distance.”
“Give us this day our daily bread” fails when food is too distant.
“you will note how examining the chemical, electrical, etc. states and levels of a human brain, let’s say your own, is fundamentally different than the experience of consciousness itself.”
The electrical states within a microprocessor are fundamentally different to the images it might generate on the computer screen, yet the latter can be understood in terms of the former.
“It’s also worth noting that quantum mechanics seems to require an observer, so there must have been a consciousness at the beginning of the universe.”
Why does an ‘observer’ need to be conscious, and what does it matter what goes on in the absence of observers?
“Give us this day our daily bread” fails when food is too distant.
That’s a reference to the Eucharist, not (merely) physical bread.
It hasn’t been demonstrated that consciousness can be reduced to physical processes. That’s just an assumption based on a materialist worldview. It may be possible, but since it’s not proven, it would be more in keeping with the spirit of scientific skepticism to admit that the problem of consciousness remains open. That’s what I mean by scientists venturing too far out of their areas of expertise. There’s reviews of a couple new books on this subject here: http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/philosophy/ph0069.htm
My argument would still be valid with the (disputed) Eucharistic interpretation of bread – why pray for it if there was no chance of a remote event obstructing it? When the Pope prayed for a peaceful outcome of the Egyptian unrest, that could be classed as praying for a remote event, but since the end of unrest is bound to be the resumption of peace, I’m not sure that counts. How about when the Pope prays for Christian unity? That surely requires multiple actions at a distance? So far, the prayer has not been answered, but without a deadline cannot be proven ineffective. It might be that the Pope always tries to leave loopholes in prayers, but he does convey belief in the remote effect of prayer as per Matthew 7:7 (rather than conveying an attitude of trying prayer because one has nothing to lose) in contradiction to the current scientific evidence.
The illusion of consciousness is clearly reducible, at least partly, to known physical processes. If there are unknown processes also involved, then their eventual discovery would introduce them into the set of known physical processes. If we never discovered them, then they would remain unknown. That does not imply that we should be ‘open’ to baseless speculation. I do not deny that (in addition to science) mathematics and philosophy might contribute to an understanding of conciousness, but I am not aware of theology contributing to an understanding of anything.
My point about prayer was that it is a request made of God, it does not itself do anything other than convey one’s sentiments to him and perhaps elevate one’s mood and level of consciousness.
That consciousness is an illusion is simply your opinion, as is the hypothesis that “their eventual discovery would introduce them into the set of known physical processes.” Yes, of course if you begin with the premise that the physical world as understood by quantitative scientific empiricism is the entire explanation of reality, then it no doubt follows quite closely that the mind is but a mere physical object like any other. This premise, however, is exactly what is questioned by Christianity. You can continue to restate your opinions, assumptions, and hypotheses, but you will not thereby turn them into actual proofs.
I almost agree with that first paragraph. I am not sure that I understand your second.
To clarify, by ‘illusion of consciousness’, I meant the illusion that we refer to as consciousness; I did not mean that consciousness does not really exist, but that it is only our perception of what is going on.
If a new process was discovered that helped explain the phenomenon of consciousness, what could disqualify that process from admission to the field of physics? Surely the physical world is, by definition, reality? If a process is discovered, this implies that it is real. (Consider the acceptance of magnetism as a physical phenomenon.)
Suppose someone invented the idea of fairies and, for each phenomenon not yet explained by science, declared that the fairies were responsible for it. What possible use could such a pseudo-explanation have – it has no predictive powers and nobody is any the wiser. It does not become true just because somebody wishes that it was true.
“Yes, of course if you begin with the premise that the physical world as understood by quantitative scientific empiricism is the entire explanation of reality…”
Who uses such a premise? Observations are not explanations.