Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science

During doctoral studies at the University of Queensland, I played tennis every Friday with members of the religious studies faculty including Peter Harrison formerly of Bond University (now of Oxford Uni). Any ways, you can read an RBL review of his book The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science. The thesis for the book is intriguing:

"Peter Harrison provides a new account of the religious foundations of scientific knowledge. He shows how the new approaches to the study of nature that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were directly informed by theological discussions about the Fall of Man and the extent to which the mind and the senses had been damaged by that primeval event. Scientific methods, he suggests, were originally devised as techniques for ameliorating the cognitive damage wrought by human sin. At its inception, modern science was conceptualized as a means of recapturing the knowledge of nature that Adam had once possessed. Contrary to a widespread view which sees science emerging in conflict with religion, Harrison argues that theological considerations were of vital importance in the framing of the new scientific method."

The review is by Mark Elliott.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Isn't this based on the premise of "order" and "structure", as in the Catholic Church and the spiritual authority over man?

While I have nothing at all against order, if it is not totatalarian, the Church stood in the way of scientific discovery, because they based thier philosophical understanding on Aristotle. And their cosmological view of the earth's cetrality was also challenged. The scientists who challenged these views were excommunicated. The Church is no place for "freethought", as it wants to control what one believes, and sometimes what one does. Therefore, I don't know how you are defending your statements here.

Unless, you are arguing for the order and structure of the universe being open to scientific investigation because of that order...but that too, is being challenged, today, with quantum theory, string theory, etc...order is not the "language of science today", unless you are talking about Newton's laws, or Aristotle's cause and effect...

I'd be interested in knowing how you are thinking about his one..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

But, I also hope that you are not condoning a "biblicist" scientism, as if God "expresses himself" within a sceintific framework, using "some" (one among many scientific understandings) scientific theory and applying it to organizational structures, which human beings and their lives are determined accordingly. This would be the height of determinism/materialism.

sujomo said...

Hi Mike,

Thank you for an interesting blog which is proof that you meet up with interesting people. By the way, that is the germ of a hypothesis based on observation.

What caught my eye was this comment about your friend : "Peter Harrison provides a new account of the religious foundations of scientific knowledge. He shows how the new approaches to the study of nature that emerged in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries". The key point is the actual study of nature that began soon after the Reformation.

Ian Barbour has written about the Christian origins of science. I think he gave the Gifford Lectures many years ago in Aberdeen. Barbour's point is that the Reformation understanding of creation and the universe stimulated research into the physical world. One of the assumptions of science, when formulating hypotheses and laws, is repeating results of experiments that have been specifically designed after an interim hypothesis has been formulated on the basis of many observations. ie if you drop a stone or any object from the Tower of Pisa it will fall to the earth. You won't know if this experimental result will be repeated the next time unless you assume "other things being equal..." But since God created the universe and sustains it then one can assume that the results will be repeated.

Art from the time of the Reformation onwards begins to study the created world and was no longer limited to portraits of biblical people and biblical scenes.

Will be interesting to read Peter Harrison's book.

By the way, the newspapers in Oz recently referred to a forthcoming astronomical event that scientists want to use to check some aspect of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Do you remember you primary school history? James Cook was sent to observe an eclipse of the sun that had been predicted by calculations. That is proof of the order of the created world. Why is it that scientists assume such order without adequate explanation? Is it there because it's there?

By the way, Bullinger wrote a tract about the effects of a mini ice age that took place in Europe in the middle of the sixteenth century.

Do share with us all about your family in a future post.