Monday, January 11, 2016

Science Veluti si Deus Daretur (Assuming God Exists)

Werner Heisenberg
"If you distinguish so sharply between the languages of religion, science, and art," I [Heisenberg] asked, "what meaning do you attach to such apodictic statements as 'There is a living God' or 'There is an immortal soul'? What is the meaning of 'there is' in this type of language? Science, like Dirac, objects to such formulations. Let me illustrate the epistemological side of the problem by means of the following analogy:
"Mathematicians, as everyone knows, work with an imaginary unit, the square root of –1, called i. We know that i does not figure among the natural numbers. Nevertheless, important branches of mathematics, for instance the theory of analytical functions, are based on this imaginary unit, that is, on the fact that -1 exists after all. Would you agree that the statement 'There is a -1' means nothing else than 'There are important mathematical relations that are most simply represented by the introduction of the -1 concept'? And yet these relations would exist even without it. That is precisely why this type of mathematics is so useful even in science and technology. What is decisive, for instance, in the theory of functions, is the existence of important mathematical laws governing the behavior of pairs of continuous variables. These relations are rendered more comprehensible by the introduction of the abstract concept of -1, although that concept is not basically needed for our understanding, and although it has no counterpart among the natural numbers. An equally abstract concept is that of infinity, which also plays a very important role in modern mathematics. It, too, has no correlate, and moreover raises grave problems. In short, mathematics introduces ever higher stages of abstraction that help us attain a coherent grasp of ever wider realms. To get back to our original question, is it correct to look upon the religious 'there is' as just another, though different, attempt to reach ever higher levels of abstraction? An attempt to facilitate our understanding of universal connections? After all, the connections themselves are real enough, no matter into what spiritual forms we try to fit them."
"With respect to the epistemological side of the problem, your comparison may pass," Bohr replied. "But in other respects it is quite inadequate. In mathematics we can take our inner distance from the content of our statements. In the final analysis mathematics is a mental game that we can play or not play as we choose. Religion, on the other hand, deals with ourselves, with our life and death; its promises are meant to govern our actions and thus, at least indirectly, our very existence. We cannot just look at them impassively from the outside. Moreover, our attitude to religious questions cannot be separated from our attitude to society. Even if religion arose as the spiritual structure of a particular human society, it is arguable whether it has remained the strongest social molding force through history, or whether society, once formed, develops new spiritual structures and adapts them to its particular level of knowledge. Nowadays, the individual seems to be able to choose the spiritual framework of his thoughts and actions quite freely, and this freedom reflects the fact that the boundaries between the various cultures and societies are beginning to become more fluid. But even when an individual tries to attain the greatest possible degree of independence, he will still be swayed by the existing spiritual structures—consciously or unconsciously. For he, too, must be able to speak of life and death and the human condition to other members of the society in which he's chosen to live; he must educate his children according to the norms of that society, fit into its life. Epistemological sophistries cannot possibly help him attain these ends. Here, too, the relationship between critical thought about the spiritual content of a given religion and action based on the deliberate acceptance of that content is complementary. And such acceptance, if consciously arrived at, fills the individual with strength of purpose, helps him to overcome doubts and, if he has to suffer, provides him with the kind of solace that only a sense of being sheltered under an all-embracing roof can grant. In that sense, religion helps to make social life more harmonious; its most important task is to remind us, in the language of pictures and parables, of the wider framework within which our life is set."

From Physics and Beyond, By Werner Heisenberg, (Harper & Row, 1971). Republished in Physics And Philosophy: The Evolution Of Modern Science by Werner Heisenberg, (Harper Perrennial, 2007). Online source: Edge "Science and Religion"

Cf. Ratzinger, in Truth and Tolerance (Ignatius Press 2003) presents the above 1927 Heisenberg dialogue in detail and then summarizes it as the present day academic challenge to the Enlightenment banner of "religion within the bounds of sheer reason".
"If  a religion can no longer be reconciled with the elementary certainties of a given view of the world, it collapses. But, on the other hand, religion also needs some authorization that reaches beyond what we can think up for ourselves, for only thus will the unconditional demand it makes upon man be acceptable." pp. 141-142.

See also veluti si deus daretur

N.B. This excerpt from the movie "Hud" elucidates the need for moral bearings.

Homer Bannon: You don't care about people Hud. You don't give a damn about 'em. Oh, you got all that charm goin' for ya. And it makes the youngsters want to be like ya. That's the shame of it because you don't value anything. You don't respect nothing. You keep no check on your appetites at all. You live just for yourself. And that makes you not fit to live with.

[And to the younger boy]...Your just gonna have to make up your own mind one day, about what's right and what's wrong.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...