“I completely agree that scientific progress has undermined our old animist beliefs and led to the disenchantment of the world.” Jules Evans
I was thinking about that highlighted part, and my response is, “Well, yes and no.” Yes, if Evans is saying nothing more than that we no longer believe, for example, that fairies tangle the hair of sleepers into elf-locks.
But if Evans is suggesting that science has given us a better understanding of final causes, he is wrong. My favorite Chesterton quote:
All the terms used in the science books, ‘law,’ ‘necessity,’ ‘order,’ ‘tendency,’ and so on, are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy books, ‘charm,’ ‘spell,’ ‘enchantment.’ They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a MAGIC tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.
Scientists assume the universe is always and in all places rational and therefore it can be successfully modeled. Water runs downhill today and it will run downhill tomorrow. It will not suddenly start running uphill. In other words, scientists assume that the regularities they observe (which they call “laws of science”) will hold. No scientist can say “why” water runs downhill other than to say that gravity makes water run downhill. But the law of gravity is not a causal agent. Rather, it is an observed regularity. In other words, in 100% of the experiments on earth, water has run downhill, and from that we infer a general principle that things on earth always fall down and we call that general principle “gravity.” Thus, saying that water runs downhill because of the law of gravity is at bottom saying nothing more than water runs downhill because water runs downhill. Chesterton was right. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.
Everyone is familiar with the child’s game where the response to an explanation is “why?” which requires a deeper explanation, to which the child’s response is “why?” which requires a still deeper explanation. At some point the inevitable conclusion to the game comes when the adult says “That’s just the way it is.”
Scientists are not exempt from the “why” game. And it may surprise my readers to learn that they get to the “that’s just the way it is” stage fairly quickly.
Why does water run downhill?
Because things fall down; water is a thing and when it runs downhill it is merely falling down.
Because gravity makes things fall down.
That’s just the way it is.
Why does gravity operate the way that it does instead of some other way? The scientist has no better explanation for that question than the theologian.