Saturday, May 07, 2005
Newbigin on Science
More from Lesslie Newbigin's The Gospel in a Pluralist Society:


On what does the authority of this [scientific] tradition rest? Obviously on nothing outside itself. Like all visions of ultimate truth, science is necessarily involved in a circular argument. It has to assume from the beginning the truth of that which it seeks to prove. It begins from the conviction that the universe is accessible to rational understanding, it refuses to accept as final evidence that which seems to contradict this faith, and it seeks with a passion which is one of the glories of human history to prove that the faith is true. It can only pursue this task within a tradition which is authoritative... The authority of the tradition is not something apart from the vision of truth which the tradition embodies. It would be a violation of the tradition if authority were to be substituted for the personal grasping of the truth. The scientist, from the pupil just beginning to study physics, to the pioneer on the frontiers of research, accepts the authority of the tradition not to replace personal grasp of the truth but as the necessary precondition for gaining this grasp. He accepts the authority of the tradition in order to reach the point where he can say, "I see for myself." In Augustine's phrase, his program is Credo ut intelligam - "I believe in order to understand."

Newbigin goes on to show how all this is equally true of the authority of the Christian tradition. In other words, the methods of science and religion are not all that different - not because religion is more scientific but because science, it turns out, operates a lot more on faith than we were previously willing to admit. But faith in an authoritative tradition (whether that of science or that of Christianity) is not an end to a personal search for knowledge, but the beginning. As Newbigin says, that initial leap of faith is what makes any knowledge possible.

 
posted by Mike Clawson at 2:17 AM | Permalink |


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