Two Modes of Development and the loss of the vertical

In the final session of our summer workshop, a participant said that the Church could be in danger of losing science or scientists. We did not have time for a long conversation on this issue. John Paul II did much to facilitate the dialogue between science and faith. His special study and pronouncements on Galileo are an important set of texts to read. I plan to discuss details of the pronouncement in a future blog. Today I am interested in commenting on a section near the end of the statement on Galileo. The Pope draws back and provides a wide context for understanding science and faith in terms of the full development of humanity. He identifies a horizontal component, including science and technology and ethics, and a vertical component involving religion and no doubt, art and literature. Here is the quote:

“Humanity has before it two modes of development. The first involves culture, scientific research and technology that is to say whatever falls within the horizontal aspect of man and creation which is growing at an impressive rate. In order that this progress should not remain completely external to man, it presupposes a simultaneous raising of conscience, as well as its actuation. The second mode of development involves what is deepest in the human being, when transcending the world and transcending himself, man turns to the One who is the Creator of all. It is only this vertical direction which can give full meaning to man’s being and action, because it situates him in relation to his origin and his end. In this twofold direction, horizontal and vertical, man realizes himself fully as a spiritual being and as homo sapiens. But we see that development is not uniform and linear, and that progress is not always well ordered. This reveals the disorder which affects the human condition. The scientist who is conscious of this twofold development and takes it into account contributes to the restoration of harmony.” L’Osservatore Romano 4 November 1992

This statement may help us understand better why there may be a conflict still between science and religion, when there really should not be one.

For it should be clear that the Church acknowledges the proper autonomy of science. In a key section (§36) of Gaudium et spes we find this made explicit — the world is good and has a “proper autonomy” deriving from its creaturely status. It has its own weight, intelligiblity,laws etc which must be discovered by reason and through science. But there is a false autonomy which asserts that created things do not depend on God, and that man can use them without any reference to their Creator.

Could the conflict that now remains be due primarily to the claim for an exaggerated autonomy? That is, to extrapolate from the limited account of science a complete view about man and the cosmos, leaving out God, leaving out the vertical dimension entirely? Are there scientists who are conscious of “the two fold development” and who “take it into account”?

The academy does not encourage consideration of this vertical dimension. As Pieper once said, “the dome of the world is screwed down tight.” We cannot transcend the workaday world..

2 Comments
  1. John,

    Often the 1-d account is not a wood-splinter found lodged only in the scientists eye. Strictly vertical thinking is also prevalent, with many students and professors proudly admitting ignorance of the quadrivium (number, geometry, astronomy, harmony (harmony in generalized Pythagorean sense)).

    I'd probably remix by saying that the academy is split (discord), with some locked in horizontal thinking ("Why study so many hours in theology and philosophy!") and others locked in vertical thinking ("Why study more than one class in mathematics or watered down science?").

  2. It seems to me that scientist are not aware of this false autonomy because there is such a Cartesian split between their work as “scientists” and the world of value that they are obliged to live in. As brilliant as these scientists are, some seem incapable of seeing their work in the broader context of human relationships. Maybe it is do to the “beguilement” that Robert Spaemann spoke of in one of his papers. In other words, the successes of science is so appealing that one is tempted to see it as the only valid source of knowledge. On Friday one of the participants said something to the fact that Stephen Hawking disparaged religious faith because it relied on authority. If this is his claim, then one wonders what is the status of Newton, Hubble, or Einstein? If one is alert or at least honest with oneself they will see that much of what the have learned in the world is owed to the authority of others, which is the result of a common collaborative effort. In other words, the current state of scientific knowledge is the result of a collaborative effort that has produced an authoritative stance.

    It seems, then, that all knowledge is relational. We relate to real objects outside ourselves, otherwise thinking is reduced to solipsism. And since we are not omniscient, we have to work in a spirit of collaboration with other person’s seeking to know as well. For this even to be possible, one has to assume some attitude of trust. Before helping scientists to see the vertical dimension they may first need an appreciation of the implicit elements of trust and need for authority in the horizontal dimension.

    Obviously more has to be said here but these are some initial thoughts. More scientists (and not a few philosophers) could benefit from reading Michael Polanyi’s Personal Knowledge.

    Mitchell

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