May 24, 2019
Telescopes & Telos
The End of Science & the Beginning of Wisdom
Is modern technology necessary to give meaning to our lives? If it is, then our forbearers going back millennia were deprived of things essential to human flourishing, like watching The Game of Thrones, posting Selfies, or Twitter-Shaming their enemies.
We do love our gadgets. I am using one right now. But we've always had one tool or another--clay tablets, papyrus, styluses, printing presses, and computers. The question is, where are my "heart, mind, soul, and strength" anchored?
Now, I love science. I am reading Neil English's fascinating book, Chronicling the Golden Age of Astronomy: A History of Visual Observing from Harriot to Moore. I am reading this 650-page richly illustrated text slowly--not because it's academic (it's readable and enjoyable) but because I am reading other things besides. So why not leisurely survey 400 years of gazing at the heavens? What's the rush? Orion was still there this winter. Jupiter too. They should be whenever I finish.
My anchor point in all reading is Holy Scripture as preserved and taught by the Church. True, there is no one book I can read that puts all commentary and tradition in one place. While there are and always have been disputed zones of interpretation, there is a solid core and foundation upon which we stand and grow in Christ (part of the genius of Touchstone as intended by its editors). Knowledge for me grows not only through reading but also through the experience of the liturgy.
Scientific understanding also grows, through study and experiment. There also can be disputed zones and theories. Here are two new "surprises" as science grows.
After all the stargazing, radio telescopes, and calculations about the Big Bang, there seemed to be a consensus on the age of the universe: 13.8 billion years. But recent studies suggest the universe is a billion or more years younger.
And not only may the universe be younger, lots of species popped up more recently than was thought as well. A recent study's "most startling result," is that "nine out of 10 species on Earth today, including humans, came into being 100,000 to 200,000 years ago."
David Thaler at the University of Basel in Switzerland, co-author of the study, said, "This conclusion is very surprising, and I fought against it as hard as I could." The article continues,
That reaction is understandable: How does one explain the fact that 90 percent of animal life, genetically speaking, is roughly the same age?
Was there some catastrophic event 200,000 years ago that nearly wiped the slate clean?
So, Earth's slate was nearly wiped clean a long, long time ago? Hard to say what this refers to, but I wonder how difficult it is in the first place to accurately reconstruct history millions of years ago using the debris of rocks and fossils.
We can discover a lot with a little. Some hard puzzles can be solved. Take the field of wreckage from an airplane crash. It may take months of sifting and analysis, but there is a chance a picture will emerge of a mechanical failure or other cause. Weather records may help. Communications between tower and airplane. A black box recorder is helpful as it also contains more data. The raw material wreckage may or may not yield up its final history without dependable data.
Our gadgets can help our technology and dominion of the Earth flourish. But to nurture our souls, moral character, and virtues requires something more than technology. You could say Scripture (and I would add our early tradition) is our black box and other recorded data we use in assessing the cause of the Catastrophe we call the Fall. It's all in there, including the Remedy, which is Grace through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
As I've said before, a young student who knows his Bible understands the stars better than the atheist astronomer with his multiverses. The youth enjoys the true golden age of astronomy for he knows the meaning of the heavens and how, even when, it all started: "In the beginning God ...."
We grow and flourish, when under this canopy we worship. The Milky Way is more wonderful than any iPhone, the image of Christ beyond compare to any selfie.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.