Phi Beta Cons

Hang On to the Humanities

In his terrific Uncommon Knowledge interview from last fall about the current state of the academy, Harvey Mansfield points out that science does not provide answers to the big questions in human life, while the humanities and Great Books do. Mansfield also discusses Toqueville’s understanding of the importance of religion to democracy here, but his point about science is if anything an understatement. In a review of Human Dignity and Bioethnics: Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics (2008), I learn that evolutionary scientist Daniel Dennett professes that all claims to man’s higher nature are refuted by the scientific dictum that everything we think and do has a material cause, since we arose from the primeval ooze through random material processes. As reviewer Peter Augustine Lawler summarizes this view, ”Our beliefs in dignity and the soul have the same status as the discredited belief in mermaids. It is no sillier to believe in a half-woman/half-fish that no one has seen than to believe in a half-body/half-soul that no one has seen.” But Dennett thinks that we do need higher ideals, free will, morality, love, dignity, reason, etc., and so he declares that we should maintain them as a useful fiction.

Imagine that. We should give up a perfectly good belief in a perfectly good God who made us in His image and likeness, giving us a perfectly good reason for why we’re so smart and witty — we should give all this up for a fiction? This is science? And Dennett is evidently a good cut above other evolutionists in believing that man does need morality and higher ideals in order to survive and prosper. But given that this is all science can offer us at the moment, we’d better hang on to the humanities if we want to hang on to our humanity.    

Then the other night, no fewer than five cable channels simultaneously featured a program in which Stephen Hawking presents his supposed proof that there is no God and that the universe created itself, beginning when a quantum particle popped into existence from nowhere. The Big Bang took care of the rest, and we cannot ask what came before the Big Bang because time came into existence with the Big Bang and since there was no time before the Big Bang, there was no time in which God could have been doing anything. A couple of the channels followed up with a rather meandering discussion by experts full of non sequiturs and moderated by David Gregory, and nobody mentioned the simple theological point that God is not bound by time. No one has to believe that, of course, if he doesn’t want to, but how silly to think that science has outsmarted religion by depriving God of the time needed to create.

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