Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, December 03, 2007

John Farrell on Lemaitre, Science and Faith

John Farrell, who wrote a very good book on Fr. Lemaitre, the physicist who developed the "Big Bang" theory, has some very well thought-out comments on the division between faith and science as Fr. Lemaitre understood it. Do give it a read.

5 comments:

jnewl said...

I've read this article several times now, and I still don't know what to make of it. Part of the problem no doubt is that I've never read anything by Lemaitre, so I can only try to guess at both his position and what Farrell is trying to make out of it. But one thing that does stick out like a sore thumb to me (presuming I'm not misunderstanding it) is when Farrell quotes St. Thomas in support, evidently, of the notion that scientists can take no position on questions that find an answer in theology. This is preposterous.

While St. Thomas certainly denies the possibility of demonstrating that the world had a beginning, it does not follow from this that he thought it could not be known. It can be known--indeed, more certainly known--according to the light of that higher science known as theology, which derives its principles from Scripture, which is inerrant. From the little bit he says here, it seems as if Farrell considers Faith to be something more akin to a tentative hypothesis than a firm and unwavering belief in things not seen. If so, this is very far from what St. Thomas himself believes.

The quote from Lemaitre that Farrell provides immediately following this seems to validate my interpretation, as Lemaitre there seems to be saying that it is illegitimate for a scientist to hold an opinion about a matter from Faith that he also investigates as a scientist. But this is, again, preposterous. If he has faith, then he doesn't just opine that the world had a beginning. He KNOWS it. He may not be able to demonstrate it from the principles of his particular science, but to stand around and pretend that he doesn't know it makes him either a) a ridiculous fool, or b) a man without faith masquerading as a man with faith.

John Farrell said...

Jnewl, I'm not sure what you're saying here. I understand that faith is a firm and unwavering belief informed by our scriptures and tradition...but that is not the same thing as knowing, the way scientists know something about the natural order.

You and I don't have a problem saying we know that God is the author of all things -with the help of our faith, but that is not the same thing as you or I claiming with the same conviction that we know the Big Bang is the instant of creation. We don't know it--and we can't prove it. We can be inspired by it and accept it as far as it goes. But it may change as we learn more.

jnewl said...

john,

Ok, here's where I need to understand what your complaint is, because it's unclear to me based upon the original article. Is it that someone is claiming that physical science has proved the world had a beginning? Because I didn't take the Pope's quote you provided as saying that. What he seemed to me to be saying was, "Yay, it looks like physical science has advanced to such a degree that what we believe now has scientific support." I didn't take him to be saying that science had absolutely proved the truth of the Scriptural account.

"I understand that faith is a firm and unwavering belief informed by our scriptures and tradition...but that is not the same thing as knowing, the way scientists know something about the natural order."

I didn't say faith was a firm and unwavering belief. I said it was a kind of knowledge. When I (following St. Thomas and Aristotle) use that word, I mean it. But let's leave that go for now. I'd like to concentrate on this Lemaitre business.

John Farrell said...

Jnewl,
I didn't say faith was a firm and unwavering belief. I said it was a kind of knowledge.

I understand. Now... how would you distinguish it from scientific knowledge?

John Farrell said...

Is it that someone is claiming that physical science has proved the world had a beginning? Because I didn't take the Pope's quote you provided as saying that.

Fair enough. But...Lemaitre did...and so did all of his contemporaries. That was the substance of my chapter. Recall too, that this was long before the Big Bang had anything like the evidence going for it that we have now.