Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Gift of Science

Our tour of the gifts of the Holy Spirit has taken us to gift number five, which is the gift of knowledge. Or as I prefer to call it, based on its Latin name, the gift of science.

Now I realize that in our modern use of the word ‘science’ we don’t exactly experience it as a mystical gift of the Holy Spirit. The word science has been degraded (yes) from its rich and full medieval expression to a much more circumscribed and limited usage—namely the experimental physical sciences by which we learn through a disciplined process (the scientific method) the verifiable properties of physical objects of various kinds.

This was not unknown in the medieval world, although the silly historical illiterates called the New Atheists like to pretend it was. Scientific research and progress, and the technical innovations that arise from that, were part of the High Middle Ages, more often than not happening in the monasteries that were the locus of intellectual life in that era.

The medievals had a much broader concept of scientia than that, however. Their concept of science and knowledge was broad enough that they could speak of its highest expression in the gift of the Holy Spirit of knowledge.

The science yielded by the physical experimental sciences is of tremendous value, as far as it goes. It tells us how things work, and how they work in concert with one another. Because of that, it tells us how we can make things work for us to achieve purposes of our own design. All of which is good, very good indeed.

What the physical sciences cannot tell us is what things are, and what things are for. And any real scientist is quite happy to acknowledge that. We know quite a bit about how oak trees work—photosynthesis and root systems and all that. The experimental sciences have not a word to tell us about what an oak tree really is, or what an oak tree is really for.

Now, if we were content to leave it at that—yes, botany cannot tell us these things—that would be fine. But in our modern utterly illogical and unscientific thought processes, we declare more often than not that because botany cannot tell us these things, these questions are meaningless and cannot be answered by any other science, any other knowledge.

That this is a statement that derives from no scientific experiment (and cannot) and is as thorough-goingly metaphysical and indeed theological in its scope and claims utterly eludes the poor modern materialist who (I hate to break it to him) is not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. Indeed, if the question is declared meaningless and void, then the claim is that all physical objects, which includes you and me, are nothing but assemblages of atoms in various patterns—there is no inherent reality to things, and certainly no purpose.

I am going on at a bit of length about this because we cannot understand the Spirit’s gift of knowledge without challenging something of the inadequacy of our modern notion of ‘science’. But that’s enough about that.

Knowledge is that gift of the Spirit by which we come to see all created beings as God sees them. Instead of our narrow and limited human view, by which we only see other creatures as either serving our purposes or impeding them, as giving us delight or causing us sorrow, and in which we see our own selves even more dimly and inaccurately, God wants us to share in His own God’s-eye-view of creation.

To see that the oak tree is a thing that gives glory to God, that in its beauty and strength it speaks of the beauty and strength of God, His protection, His goodness manifest in a tree. And a tree is one thing; my brother or my sister, the stranger on the street is quite another. Knowledge allows us to penetrate the veil of appearances and reactions, our own selfish and limited perspective of one another, and see the person as God sees them. Knowledge also gives us the ability to put creation in its proper place—a good and delightful thing, given to us to manifest God’s glory and serve our real needs in this life, but not the ultimate good, not the ultimate point.

Knowledge allows us to love creation with making it into an idol, to affirm the goodness of everything God has made while holding that goodness to be very little and unimportant compared to the goodness of God.

From knowledge, then, we have the wisdom to apply our mastery of the physical sciences, our insights into how things work, so that we use them not simply to do whatever we think is best, but to really serve the good of humanity.

The Spirit’s gift of science, then, orders all the other sciences of our human intellect so that they serve the true good, the true dignity and value of the human person. In our world today when science is used to pour poisons into the earth, air, and water, when it is used to kill unborn children and the elderly, and mutilate men and women confused about their genders, we need the science of the Spirit to show us the truth of things, and of people.

Come, Holy Spirit.

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