Jastrow’s Mountain And The Skeptic’s Who Study All It’s Pieces

I came across a certain blogsite while looking for a passage from Robert Jastrow’s God and the Astronomers, and came across the following piece entitled “The Mountain Theologians” which left me rather saddened:

The mountain theologians

For the scientist who has lived by faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.

-Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers

After staying a while to share some stories with the theologians, the scientist begins to explore the surrounding area. Soon he realizes that the mountain goes much higher, but the path is poorly marked and obscured in fog. He points it out to the theologians, but they cannot see the markings.

“How did you get this far?”

“God guided us here.”

“Can God guide you further?”

They cannot agree amongst themselves. Some declare they are already at the peak. Others speculate that there is no peak, and thus no reason to continue. Still others say, “Yes, God will guide us,” and begin to wander in the direction pointed out by the scientist, to become forever obscured in the mist.

The scientist prepares to leave, bringing only a few theologians with him. He slowly continues to scale the mountain, meticulously checking every rock, and occasionally backtracking for days at a time.

Those would not be the last theologians he would pass by.

The writer of this piece offers his own explanation, which is well worth reading (and to which I responded by editing this article to reflect his views).  But allow me to address the view of anyone who would interpret this immediately above piece as an epilogue to Jastrow’s insight, and viewing this as a tale where the scientist – who had clearly been the goat in Jastrow’s analysis – picks himself off the ground and regains his mantle as the hero of the story and as the master of reality after all.

One of the points offered is that theologians disagree with one another.note This is so, but clearly, so do scientists.  And Robert Jastrow does not bother with the theologians who did not believe in a Creator God; he focuses on the ones who DO so believe who have been sitting on the mountaintop for centuries while scientists blindly flailed around far below.

Jastrow’s point – known to any who have read his God and the Astronomers – was that theologians had claimed the need for a Creator God for centuries, only to have their grand view dismissed by “science.”  But ultimately, the discovery of Big Bang cosmology demonstrated for any who were wise that there had to be a “Big Banger,” an “Uncaused Causer.”  [For an in-depth explanation as to why this is clearly so, see here].

A little history is in order to see why such a view from “The Mountain Theologians” fails, and why its very premise is so sad.

The ancients looked for the ultimate causes behind events.  But when the scientific method began to dominate the quest for knowledge, instead of reaching for the whole truth, people began to study definable and clearly separable phenomena.  They stopped asking, “What is matter?” and “What is life?” for questions such as “How does blood flow in the blood vessels?”  In other words, the big questions were shunned in favor of limited ones for which it was easier to get direct and unambiguous answers.

The scientific method works largely by a process called abstraction.  In order to study a complex system, a scientist must usually break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces so that precise observation and measurement can be carried out.  The part is separated from the whole.  This clearly has certain benefits, but it has also tragically resulted in a dissected or fragmented view of reality.  And this fragmentation is now encountered in every branch of science.  While it has accomplished much, this dissection of reality does not and can not by its very nature have the ability to give us the complete picture.  Scientists began to think that since they could not see the Big Picture with their methods that there was no Big Picture to be found at all.

And so, with that background, what does the “scientist as hero” view of “The Mountain Theologians” seek to do?  It seeks to utterly ignore Jastrow’s comprehension of the Big Picture reality of a Creator God, and instead re-focus on the minutia of the endless physical details.  And thus we leave off with this pathetic ending of the scientist

meticulously checking every rock, and occasionally backtracking for days at a time.

Rather than look up at the sky for just one moment and taking in the Big Picture, the scientist on this view merely redoubles his efforts to fixate on the dissected view of reality.

And rather than advance forward into genuine knowledge of comprehension of reality, it retreats into a “scientific” backtracking away from the truth.

note The writer of the piece viewed the theologians’ disagreements with one another as representing the disagreement within the theological community as how to react toward science. I am taking it as representing the view that many scientists have toward religion as merely representing many subjective points of view, as opposed to “fact.” The problem is that disagreement would disqualify scientists from dealing in the realm of “fact” as well; consider Einstein disagreeing with Bohr over the issue of quantum mechanics – did this mean that neither of them were correct, and science was a merely purely subjective enterprise?

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8 Responses to “Jastrow’s Mountain And The Skeptic’s Who Study All It’s Pieces”

  1. jenn Says:

    All of you people are crazy!! you don’t give a care about the poor citzens of this country . U got the nerve to qoute something from the bible to justify your selfish motives and intrest . Do you know how many people are living without health care and dental services . Something that should be considered a human right . Of course not . U people make me sick . So selfish and full of hate . Now who’s the devil ?

  2. Michael Eden Says:

    Now who’s the devil?

    It’s still you, Jen. Though I think your comment somehow ended up being posted to the wrong article. I think you meant to attack me for this piece, instead.

    Hey, since you can’t stand having the Bible quoted, let me quote another passage that sums you up:
    1 Samuel 8:10-19:

    10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle [a] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

    19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.

    You demand a massive government that takes and redistributes according to political ideology and political pork politics.

    Interestingly, when Samuel brought the peoples’ (and your) request for big government, God told him, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).

    You want Government as God, Jenn. You want Barack Obama as Savior.

    In Matthew 25:36, Jesus says “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'” But you perverted that, Jenn. You warped it to mean, “I needed clothes, and you gave them to the government. I was sick and you created a gigantic federal spending program. I was in prison and you looked for a giant bureaucracy to visit in my stead.”

    You don’t want Christianity; you want a socialist – which is to say an atheistic – redistribution of wealth. It is interesting that your insistence that health care is a right was echoed by the Nazis and the communists. The Nazis had as part of their platform the demand for a creation of a strong central authority (#25); a national health care system (#21), and a “large scale development of old-age pension schemes” (#15).

    “Nazi”, for what it is worth, stood for “National Socialist German Workers Party.”

    And what of the communists of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics?

    With all these guaranteed necessities, what happens to incentive? An all-powerful government would decide everything for us. By the way, if this sounds somewhat familiar, maybe you’ve read the old Soviet Constitution:

    Article 40: Citizens of the USSR have the right to work (that is, to guaranteed employment and pay in accordance wit the quantity and quality of their work, and not below the state-established minimum), including the right to choose their trade or profession, type of job and work in accordance with their inclinations, abilities, training and education, with due account of the needs of society.

    Article 41: Citizens of the USSR have the right to rest and leisure… the length of collective farmers’ working and leisure time is established by their collective farms.

    Article 42: Citizens of the USSR have the right to health protection

    Remember the Soviet Union’s decent housing, decent jobs and who could forget the easy access to quality food?

    You clothe yourself in righteousness, but it is as though you want the greatest horrors the world has ever seen all over again. You demand a giant government that will necessarily become a fascist totalitarian state once it gets off the ground.

    You call me a devil, yet it is YOU who want to re-create the most devilish systems the world has ever known.

    And the righteousness liberals clothe themselves in is a false righteousness. They create a system where they don’t have to give a dime, while calling upon others to be forced to pay for the massive bureaucracies they create. Meanwhile, conservatives are individually more generous than liberals (see also here), and more personally honest than liberals (see also here). And why is that? Because they are far more religious than liberals – and express their true religion in action.

    You show me where the Bible – and particularly the New Testament – calls for Christians to massively increase the size of government, and to depend upon government to provide us with our sustenance and our rights.

    Christians are commanded to be generous. The first hospitals were the product of their generosity. It came from the faith and love of Christians, not from government. We were never, EVER told to create a massive government bureaucracy.

    You’ve been lied to, Jenn. And so has anyone who thinks the way you think.

    You deceitfully demonize (literally!) conservatives as people who hate the poor. But that isn’t even close to being true. We want health care reform every bit as much as the left; we just don’t want “health care” to be transformed into “massive government bureaucratic entitlement.” Rather, we want to bring down the costs of health care, and create the freedom to purchase the health care individuals and families want/need rather than have costly mandates imposed that destroy choice, and we want people to have the greatly increased choice that would come from allowing health insurance companies to compete with one another across state lines.

    Conservatives want to reduce costs, increase choice, and increase access.

    How does that make us “the devil”?

  3. miller Says:

    Hi, I’m the author of the humble short.

    If you care to know my intentions, I knew that Jastrow’s allegory was about Big Bang Theory. But I felt that the ultimate irony was that cosmologists themselves don’t take it for granted that the Big Bang was the beginning of the universe. We can’t really extrapolate that far back in time, because we don’t have a complete theory of physics.

    So, it doesn’t really sense to say that the theologians have met the cosmologists at the peak of the mountains. We haven’t reached the peak!

    The disagreement of theologians is not meant to be an attack. Rather, the different theologians represent different reactions of religion to science. If I pigeonholed all religions into one kind of reaction, that would not be very inclusive of me.

    I intended for the story to be sad.

    I like your interpretation too. The distinction between the big picture and minutia is an interesting one. However, I would suggest that some people find the big picture beautiful, while others find the little minutia beautiful. Everyone needs to pay attention to the ground at least a little if they want to keep their footing.

  4. Michael Eden Says:

    I would have been quite positive that I had a completely accurately “take” on your story had you not commented. Your explanation of the theologians’ disagreement as representing theologians’ various reactions to science/scientists is a very clever (and valid!) motif – and I can only admit that it was so subtle that it sailed right past me. I never even thought of it.

    I certainly never thought that you had misread the subject of Jastrow’s allegory; but on my reading you were “correcting” it with an epilogue to remake the scientist the hero.

    Since you say that you didn’t intend the point to be quite as I took it, what I will try to do is update my own piece to take out declarative phrases such as “The writer perceives himself” and “He offers” with more tentative ones. I’ll also offer your view in the article.

    I would never say that the “minutia” isn’t beautiful or unimportant; only that they are unimportant compared to the Big Picture. For example, what is the more wonderful thing: that you are a living, breathing, thinking and feeling soul created in the image of a God so magnificent as to be beyond comprehension, or some certain quality involving your limbic system? I think the first scientists – who were incredible and incredibly brilliant men – nailed it when they described themselves as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” God’s handiwork is beautiful in its parts – but particularly so when it is considered as part of an overall whole.

    Allow me to furnish an example from Steven Weinberg in The First Three Minutes:

    “It is hard to realize that this all is just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe… [that] faces a future extinction of endless cold or intolerable heat. The more the universe seems incomprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. But if there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. . . The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little beyond the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.”

    Weinberg is ultimately saying that at best science is the discovery of an incomprehensible and meaningless (albeit hostile) process that is ultimately doomed to a purposeless end. But our white lab coats and our test tubes and microscopes lifts life a little beyond the level of farce!!!

    When I came across Weinberg’s view, I could not help but laugh in light of Solomon’s view of both the creation and the “wise man” as found in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes. He points out that – apart from God (i.e. existential “life under the sun”) – the world is merely bunch of endlessly repeating cycles and processes. In and of itself, it is as meaningless as one of those wind up mechanical monkeys with the cymbals that claps and grimaces its teeth until the batteries run out. Every cog and spring has relative importance in relation to the whole, but the whole is a meaningless farce. And apart from God, we’d all be no different: because we’re based on the same kinds of repeating cycles and physical processes, and our batteries die out too! And of course, the wise man who endlessly studies it all goes to the same end as the fool, because their end is the same and they share the same dirt afterward.

    Which is all to say, the only way to truly get “a little beyond the level of farce” is to live life in constant awareness of and worship of the Creator. And most wonderful of all, the God of the Bible – the eternal, Creator God in whose image we reflect – does not offer us to merely rise above the level of farce: He offers us to share eternal glory with Him. THAT’S the Christians’ alternative to Weinberg’s “a little beyond the level of farce” scientism!!!

    Science is no more to be mocked than theology, for the vast majority of both scientists and theologians alike have strayed hopelessly beyond their common foundation – the God of the Bible.

    So you are right; we need to study the ground (as a metaphor for empirical science) to keep our footing; and we also need to look up to see the Big Picture, and our purpose and place within it.

  5. Diane Says:

    Wow, Michael….well said, well said.
    Let me add that in your letter to Jenn you clearly illustrated your respect for “minutia” in your valiant (and most probably fruitless) effort to inspire her to “rise above the level of farce” and grasp the “Big Picture”. I spend hours and hours in such endeavors myself…rarely, if ever, do those labors bear fruit. But I am compelled anyway. There is something satisfying in it, though I am hard pressed to define it.
    God love you, my friend. You are beautiful!

  6. Michael Eden Says:


    God love you back. And thank you for your gracious words of encouragement.

    I don’t believe that “success” (converting a lost soul to Christ) is our mandate; that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. Our job is to be a witness, to preach the truth even as we try to walk in that truth as salt and light to others.

    Noah preached for 120 years and everybody laughed at him. Only his family ever bothered to listen to and respond to his message.

    What is satisfying to you, therefore, is that you are out there doing what God put you on this earth to do.

    And, yes, Diane. THAT is what makes YOU beautiful.

  7. Truth Preacher Says:

    Boy, Jen sure is one stupid, self-righteous bigot

  8. Michael Eden Says:

    Truth Preacher,

    I’ve come to realize something about the soon-coming Antichrist from the way Obama and liberals have handled “truth.”

    The beast will be a failure. His policies will all turn to literal hell on earth. And how will he react? He will blame the Christians and the Jews (the same way Obama went from slandering and demagoguing Bush to slandering and demagoguing Republicans even though Republicans have considerably less power than Democrats did as the economy tanked while Bush was president during the final two years of his term. That’s the way the most evil minds work. It’s the way the most evil minds have always worked. And it’s the way Jenn’s mind works.

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