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Saturday, November 20, 2021

Following the Lord, Noting the Science

Written by  Jerome German
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Image by David Klein Image by David Klein

This November 22 heralds the seventieth anniversary of the address of Pope Pius XII to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In this famous address the pontiff reminds his listeners that in 1911 the physicist Svante Arrhenius had declared that, “the opinion that something can be born out of nothing is in contrast with the present state of science according to which matter is immutable.”

 

Matter’s immutability dissolved in the forty-year interval between Arrhenius’ declaration and the popes talk in 1951. The “big bang theory” had emerged on the world stage and had been embraced by many as scientific fact. In the conclusion of his talk, Pius declared:

 What, then, is the importance of modern science with regard to the proof of the existence of God derived from the mutability of the cosmos? …[a] beginning in a time of about five billion years ago, confirming with the concreteness of physical evidence the contingency of [the] universe and the well-founded deduction that at that time the cosmos came out of the hand of the Creator.

Creation over time, therefore; and therefore, a Creator; therefore God! This is the voice, although not explicit or complete, that We asked of science, and that the present human generation expects from it.

“…that the present human generation expects from it” is perhaps the line that sent Belgian priest and physicist Msgr. Georges Lemaître (1894-1966) packing for Rome. The brilliant Lemaître had developed the Big Bang theory (expanding universe), and traveled to Rome to privately caution the Holy Father against making any profound pronouncements inordinately rooted in the shifting sands of natural science.

Has that great science lesson stuck with us? I don’t think so.

However, I’m not sure which would be worse: bishops who think they’re scientists or scientists who think they’re bishops.

I mean, am I mistaken, or does C.D.C. stand for Catholic Diocesan Consensus? I certainly hope so. I would hate to think that the Centers for Disease Control is calling all the shots; however, I’m not sure which would be worse: bishops who think they’re scientists or scientists who think they’re bishops.

Before entering a seminary to study for the priesthood, a man must first attain a bachelor’s degree in some area of interest. If any degree is to be of value, the graduate should come away with at least one thing: an appreciation for the immensity of what he doesn’t know and for what isn’t and/or can’t be known.

In an age wherein many of our bishops are expounding subjects that are well outside of their wheelhouse—climatology, economics, virology, or psychology—it would seem that, scientifically speaking, their education fell woefully short of adequately demonstrating to them the depth of human ignorance, thereby failing to force the expression of their humility gene.

That said, would competence in any of these fields make public policy their job? (Msgr. Lemaître we need you!). Consider, for example, the demands that they are making on their priests and the faithful regarding COVID-19 or their impetuous synodal virtue-signaling over supposed science in the area of same-sex attraction.

All this, though science invents nothing, designs nothing, and builds nothing. It is but a methodology for study, a humble tool for investigation. And it is most nearly worshipped by those who least understand it—those who admire it for its perceived dogmatic character.

Then again, let’s not. Let’s just consider it considered. Okay? I mean, we all know what’s happening; let’s talk about why, and start with a little investigation into the world of medicine and the god it has come to worship: science—the same god with which many of our bishops appear to be fully enamored.

Even though science is but a lowly methodology, daily we hear shouted from the rooftops, “Follow the science!”, as though scientific discipline came to us among the clouds from out of the east. All this, though science invents nothing, designs nothing, and builds nothing. It is but a methodology for study, a humble tool for investigation. And it is most nearly worshipped by those who least understand it—those who admire it for its perceived dogmatic character.

And what about science in the “practice” of medicine. If a surgeon performs a previously unattainable feat—think Ben Carson separating conjoined twins—the world is at his feet with accolades. While there is certainly a great deal of science involved in a surgical procedure, there is, undeniably, a huge element of it that is art—the “practice” in the practice of medicine.

But there is growingly no nuance—no art—to be considered in the prescribing of medication.

However, practice is quickly going out the window. Surgery is an art, and every human body has medical and physical nuances to which the surgeon dares not be unaware. But there is growingly no nuance—no art—to be considered in the prescribing of medication.

Willow bark, an herb that has been used effectively for millennia, contains the active ingredient salicin. Aspirin is a synthetic chemical analog of salicin; that is, scientists, fully recognizing the value of willow bark, created a chemical that gives us roughly the same results without having to strip the bark of willow trees and deal with the large shifts in potency that occur in nature. On WebMD.com, concerning the uses and effectiveness of willow bark, we find a long list of ailments under the now cliché heading, “Insufficient Evidence for”.

Any substance that has not passed the double-blind, placebo-controlled testing demanded by the FDA cannot, by their rules, be said to be effective for any specific illness. Double-blind, placebo-controlled means that two separate groups of participants (patients) will be tested and one group will receive the real treatment and the other a sham (placebo) treatment. Neither the individuals participating nor the researchers will know which is the real treatment until the test has ended and all the data has been recorded and analyzed—a highly scientific procedure designed to eliminate the bias of both participant and researcher.

Watch the Latest from RTV -  THE ONE WORLD RELIGION: Francis and the Abrahamic Family House

 

This expensive process sets the stage for what is a good deal of protectionism on the part of the pharmacological/regulatory industry. No one is going to spend millions to do double-blind studies of non-patentable items. The “Insufficient Evidence for” heading, if not disingenuous, is grossly misleading. Is there sufficient evidence for the surgical separation of conjoined twins? It is impossible to subject surgery to a double-blind, placebo-controlled testing regimen, a fact that does not prevent surgeons from staying employed.

The point is that we are coming to a dangerous place wherein we are unwilling to assign any significance what-so-ever to art. Willow bark was used for thousands of years and was known to be so effective that mimicking it allowed the manufacturer of the patented aspirin to amass a huge fortune. During the covid-19 debacle, we have seen the pharmacological/regulatory industry take a firm stand against using several well-established, safe drugs for off-label use—an unprecedented, heavy-handed move. Is this the wave of the future? Will all, previously acceptable, off-label usage become a thing of the past? Is the art, the practice, of medicine gone forever?

There’s an old bit of wit that asks, rhetorically, “If your doctor tells you that, with treatment, you’ve only got three months to live, what’s the first thing on your bucket list?” The correct answer, of course, is that the first order of business should be to get a second opinion. But what if doctors have had their livelihood threatened if said second opinion doesn’t conform to an established narrative?

I think it fair to say that the god conjured up by deists—to fill the classical logic requirement of a prime mover—was a scientist, while the God of Abraham—the triune God of creation, salvation, and sanctification—is most certainly an artist.

In my career in manufacturing, one of the hats that I wore was that of process engineer. My job was to consult the experts—the artists—and decide what were the important elements of a process so that, by means of testing and mathematical correlation, we could create constraints and controls that would ensure quality. In other words, we were tasked to take the process from one of art to one of art supported by science.

Every process and every product starts with art. The scientific method itself is an art; that is, it was arrived at by practice, by centuries of methodological trial and error. Science is but the methodological quantification of art and to dismiss art is to dismiss its assistant.

What are the ramifications of this for the faith? I think it fair to say that the god conjured up by deists—to fill the classical logic requirement of a prime mover—was a scientist, while the God of Abraham—the triune God of creation, salvation, and sanctification—is most certainly an artist.

Consider this:

  • Constraint is an attribute of a great artist and of great art, but that constraint is not the art.
  • People are not produced on assembly lines, and the conformity of a controlled process has no place within the faith, the world’s greatest bastion of the value of the individual.
  • Science is mechanistic; art is hands-on.
  • Science is a tool of the wonderer; art is the wonder.
  • Science limits itself; art refuses limits.

Science without art is art that has starved to death. We seem to be following science that is but the skeletal remains of a once grand undertaking.

Stymieing the art of the practitioner strangles the practice. Federal bureaucracy has put medical practice into a straitjacket, just as many of our bishops are doing to our priests, our pastoral practitioners: the doctors of our souls. Reports coming from the various monastic communities around the country reflect this as well; that is, that the Vatican seems bent on destroying the foundational charisms of many of these communities. The thrust is always and in all ways toward social work and away from the contemplative, as though the one could exist, much less thrive, without the other—as though St. Paul’s teaching on the different charisms of the Body of Christ was without merit.

Rome seems to be saying that we can’t be bothered with preaching sexual morality when we are busy saving the planet—when the ship is sinking, urgency demands that we continuously shout Bail! Bail! Bail!

Similarly, Rome seems to be saying that we can’t be bothered with preaching sexual morality when we are busy saving the planet—when the ship is sinking, urgency demands that we continuously shout Bail! Bail! Bail! We are to coddle Catholic politicians complicit in murder because they’re “green”. How is it that they expect that a world that has not the fortitude to defend the unborn, the family, marriage, the aged, the vulnerable, sexual morality—in short, life itself—will be moved to protect the environment? Such a world will, indeed, be inspired to use the skills they’ve already demonstrated all too well: protecting the environment by destroying humanity. Failure to provide foundational moral instruction is the worst imaginable failure of pastoral care.

The catholicity of the Christian faith establishes the immutability of neither matter nor science, but the immutability of the faith—truth is truth everywhere, in every age. However, the immutability of the faith does not remove the nuances of pastoral care. Each soul answers to the same truth, but each soul’s spiritual needs are different. Many members of the episcopacy—indeed, including the bishop of Rome—seem to be confusing catholicity with homogenization. The abysmal irony is that this is a pontificate that would have us believe that pastoral concerns are of the highest priority, easily trumping the dangers of scandal. 

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Last modified on Saturday, November 20, 2021