It is frightening to think of the extent to which people are now being encouraged to banish from the minds of their children great questions as devoid of all meaning; to dispel the wonder that is a young mind’s birthright; to confine their spirit to petty problems that can be answered once and for all to the satisfaction of reasoners incapable of raising a question to begin with. We now have a philosophy to show that there are no problems but those which it has shown to be no problem; and to decree that there is no philosophy other than one that is a denial of philosophy. Under the twinkle of a fading star, Hollow Men rejoice at a hollow world of their own making.
So warned Dr Charles de Koninck in his “The Hollow Universe.” And indeed, it is alarming to see how widespread is this general philosophy against philosophies. On the one hand we have the modern cynics who claim that there is no such thing as truth, goodness, or beauty, and that besides this the traditional approaches to these things are especially wrong. On the other hand, we have the scientistic insistence on the absolute truth of empirical and observational science–especially the former–to the exclusion of any other knowable truths.
The cynical nihilist need not ally himself with the scientisically inclined one. There is, after all, a sense in which the two are opposites. The cynic finds himself opposed to all wonder, since for him there is no Truth to seek, no Beauty to contemplate, and no Goodness to strive for or attain to. For him the world of science is as meaningless as the world of art, or of philosophy; though none is so appalling as theology. He never permits himself to pause and ask how the traditional approach to Truth can be especially wrong if there isn’t such a thing as especially right, nor how traditional morality can be exceptionally bad if there is no such thing as an absolute good, nor how it is possible that there can be a worse ugliness in traditional art if there is no ultimate beauty. He lacks wonder or curiosity, and hence asks questions to mock and not to gain enlightenment.
The scientistic-fellow, on the other hand, may live in a world of wonder. He is sometimes, though not always, an actual man of science, and so he does accept that there is some truth, beauty, and goodness. But these are to be found mostly in nature, and seldom elsewhere. He has perhaps the greatest sense of wonder, but it is directed only towards the accidents of nature. It is as if a connoisseur of art was fixated only upon in the ingredients of the oil-paints or the size and smoothness of the canvas. The picture itself scarcely catches his attention for all the elements which go into making it, and he most certainly is not interested in any reality to which it points. He is the man who has found so much wonder around him in nature–and I will grant that the wonder is there for the finding–that he fails to ever look up and see that there exists greater and more wonderful things still, a reality which is more awe-filled than the merely physical one which we naturally inhabit.
The two should not be natural allies, and indeed I suspect that they are not. There is something to Tolkien’s observation–via Frodo Baggins–that there is little harmony between the forces which oppose the Church; but that they will quickly drop their quarrels whenever they spot an opportunity to attack her instead. They may harbor no love for each other, but at the end of the day, they have made God and His Church their common enemies, and both they detest.
In this they are certainly allied, if inadvertently: that both the cynic and the scientistic materialist have made the universe “hollow.” Both have deprived it of any deeper meaning so that there is but what is on the surface, which is nature. That one takes a very keen interest in this surface and the other has merely resigned himself to living on it is of small comfort to us, we who have been the denizens and victims of a society which increasing embraces one or the other of these two ideologies.
We are thus left with a universe in which science progresses beyond ethics, so that all manner of troubling experiments are carried out whilst the debate as to their morality rages. The scientistic and the cynical nihilists alike do not mind this. The latter relishes any chance to stick his finger in the eye of traditional morality, and if that finger comes in the form of human cloning or human-animal hybrids, so be it. The former meanwhile has decided that there is no higher morality than scientific investigation, and if this investigation must make use of human subjects in a way that they are stripped of their dignity, so be it.
Both the cynical and the scientistic men recognize that from science springs technology, and from technology springs power–power over Nature. Alas, neither technology nor power can grant happiness, and indeed both can be used for bad ends as well as good. In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis calls attention to just this. In the third chapter of that short though prophetic work, he writes:
“In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?
Let us consider three examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive…What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers of the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or the subject as the possessor, since he is the target for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose or prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.”
If this thought does not send chills up and down your spine, then you should take a moment to check your pulse.Yet it is precisely the world of propaganda and eugenic contraceptives (and worse) in which we now found ourselves. There is a great part of society which refuses to believe in the existence of moral problems, and more still who think that these moral problems can be solved by mere technical know-how. These are the cynical and scientistic ideologues, respectively.
The universe has been hollowed and made skin-deep only, as the metaphysical has been discarded needlessly in favor of the physical, and the moral for the biological. I say “needlessly,” because we need not place science and philosophy as a dichotomy–nor science, philosophy, and religion as a trichotomy–among which only one can be chosen. Contra both the religious fundamentalists and the atheist ones, there is no inherent contradiction between religion and science, nor between science and philosophy, nor between religion and philosophy. When we do force the three two work against each other, we are left with a hollow universe, and a false, nasty and brutish one at that, however much our scientific knowledge and technical skills may improve.
[author] [author_image timthumb='on']http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/JC-Sanders-OP-e1313150942177.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]JC Sanders, OP is a cradle Catholic, and somewhat of a traditionalist conservative. He is currently a physics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas, where he studies high-intensity laser-plasma interactions and Raman processes. He is a lay member of the Order of Preachers, with a three year commitment to the Order. He has been happily married since June of 2010. He has at times questioned – and more often still been questioned about – his Faith, but has never wandered far from the Church, nor from our Lord. “To whom else would I go?” His websites are Equus Nom Veritas and The Nicene Guys.[/author_info] [/author]