Sunday, May 14, 2006

Call Before You Dig

You see it here and there, on posts at the side of the road:
Call before you dig.
Sometimes, as I mentioned so very long ago, now nearing one whole orbit around the sun, we ought to call upon God as we begin a new work, whether it be digging in the ground, or digging in history.

One of the most amazing digs made by humans has been the on-going exploration of the universe by the discipline we call "science". It is strongly linked to this idea of God - a topic rarely touched upon by theologians or by scientists - but well worth the time and energy for our consideration - especially by Chestertonians!

But some great scientists have pondered their own discipline, and the wise among them were able to recognize the possibilities of danger. They could read the sign along the road. For example, Vannevar Bush said:
Much is spoken today about the power of science, and rightly. It is awesome. But little is said about the inherent limitations of science, and both sides of the coin need equal scrutiny.
And the great Maxwell was even more strict:
One of the severest tests of a scientific mind is to discern the limits of the legitimate application of scientific methods. ... there are many things in heaven and earth which, by the selection of our scientific methods, have been excluded from our philosophy.
[Both these quotes are from Jaki's The Purpose of It All, p. 145]

Sometimes, unfortunately, scientists did NOT call before they dug. Sometimes, they didn't even bother looking to see if they were anywhere near the road!

Science can be studied in more than one way. Besides systematic, theoretical investigation, there is the experimental approach. In addition to admiration of the latest results, there is also the fascination of the long series of steps that precedes the crowning achievements. The survey of the road of advance offers, however, more than enthralling intellectual entertainment. The study of the past contains vital lessons as well that can be ignored only at a grave cultural risk. As human culture is increasingly influenced by science it becomes imperative to take a long look at science, at its potentialities and limitations, and last but not least, at the attitudes, qualities and shortcomings of its practitioners.
[Jaki, The Paradox of Olbers' Paradox vii]
What - you never heard of Olbers' Paradox? Here's the short form:

"Why is the sky dark at night?"

Well, Dr. Jaki's book tells the story of what happened when the astronomers refused to call. Or perhaps refused to dig - in their history! They forgot about Olbers.

Not satisfied? Sorry, you'll have to read the book.

The moral of the book is put right at the beginning, in the excerpt I just quoted. But the short version is even simpler: "Call before you dig."


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