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Reasonable Illusions by Rav B. Horovitz

Reasonable Illusions

Are there Limits to Rationalistic Science?


Rav B. Horovitz

Perception flows from the structure of the human mind, and is therefore partly subjective. Facts of science change from generation to generation, and are the subject of constant controversies. Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation and the Law of the Immutability of the Elements, considered facts not long ago, are rejected today. Einstein wrote: ‘There are no eternal theories in Science,

Let us begin with a crucial point. “The laws of science are not inviolable. They represent a constantly changing logical complex, changing from decade to decade, and even from year to year. Lest this may surprise you, let me remark that the world of science is not identical with the physical world itself, with the real world, if you like. “Science is a model of the real world that we construct inside our own heads.” (F. Hoyle) It is an “abstraction arrived at by confining thought to formal relations. The concrete world has slipped through the meshes of the scientific net. The exploration of the external world by methods of science leads not to a concrete reality, but to a shadow world of symbols.” (Whitehead) This comes from the paradox that exists between all objective thought (which is in terms of universals and abstractions), and personal human experience (which is concrete).

“Faith in reason cannot by justified by any inductive generalisation.” (Whitehead) “All scientific knowledge must be built upon intuitive beliefs,” (B. Russell) for reasoning is only a method of proving which itself cannot be proven.

Reason is an instrument of the mind which analyzes the material given to it. The motive that impels a person to use his reason in a certain direction, and to select facts, is his emotional interest in a subject, and a certain goal — a university degree, a scientific discovery, or a new theory that he wishes to formulate. It all depends on what reason attempts to prove and which master it serves. The over-weaning confidence of man in his own intellectual powers plays an important part in rationalistic world-views.

Schools of thought in psychology and history reach opposing conclusions, although they proceed from a rationalistic basis. The weight which is attached to specific facts is often left to emotional bias. This is apparent in the national trends in philosophy (British — ‘fairplay’ and ‘commonsense;’ French — naturalism; German — systematized idealism — ‘Ordnung,’ which is ambivalent; American — pragmatic ‘what-pays’).

Man strives to live by values, but the world which is apparently presented by science is blind to values of good and evil. One cannot define what man ought to be from that which he actually is. Free choice, moral responsibility and guilt are basic experiences without which man’s life loses its sense of purpose. Yet some rationalists regard them as illusions.

Science can only provide the ‘what’ but not the ‘why’ or purpose of the phenomena of Nature, nor ‘who’ produces them. But do not faith and reason really belong to two different spheres, two different faculties in the make-up of man? Can the eye perceive the grandeur of music, or the tongue taste the beauty of colors? So too the soul cannot be analyzed with a microscope, nor G-d scanned with a telescope. Neither can one, in retrospect, view G-d’s speaking with man by using the spade of the archaeologist. To deduce that the soul, G-d, prophecy and revelation do not exist, is to reason like the fisherman who proved that water did not exist because his net never brought it up.

Reason can come near to these concepts, yet it can never fathom them to the full, much as science may be able to analyze a person chemically (worth a few dollars in the drug store) without conveying real knowledge of the person. Similarly, religious faith is required for a knowledge of the Personal Ethical G-d.

These dimensions of experience have been variously formulated: synthetic and analytic, intuitive and discursive, inward and external, attachment and detachment, subjective (I-Thou) and objective (I-It). Faith deals with meaning, truth and ends, but reason deals with measurements, facts and means.

Reason often begins with doubt, faith with certainty. Faith is from the feeling of the heart, reason from the thinking of the mind. “ Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas.” (Pascal) “Do not all charms fly at the mere touch of cold philosophy?” (Keats)

Religion without science is blind, science without religion is lame” (Einstein). Truth should never be suppressed to conform to our notion of coherence” (Hutchinson). In science, paradoxes are accepted, as in the Theory of Complementarity: experiments demonstrate that light possesses the properties of particles (corpuscles — Newton), while other experiments show it to be composed of waves (Huyghens). Logically it cannot be both, but empirically it is. So, Religion and science, dealing with differing spheres, complement one another” (Max Planck).

When people discard faith because of reason, they bring disaster not only to their own and their neighbor’s world-view and personality, but to the stability and peace of society. The events of the Twenty-First Century have taught us that reason and the scientific method based on it may be an invaluable servant, but when it becomes master, it may destroy humanity’s faith, sense of values of good and evil, and moral responsibility.

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