Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

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

March 18, 2010

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?