|The Fruit of All Sciences (3)|
|by T. M. Moore|
|August 07, 2012|
Science investigates the mysteries of God’s works of creation and providence.
And this is the fruit of all sciences, that in all, faith may be strengthened, God may be honored, character may be formed, and consolation may be derived from union of the Spouse with the beloved, a union which takes place through charity…
- St. Bonaventure, On the Reduction of the Arts to Theology
He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments…
- Psalm 78:5-7
According to the psalmist, the works of God taught against the backdrop of the Law of God can lead to the kind of obedience that produces wisdom and godly character.
It is significant that Asaph emphasizes that teaching the Law (Word) of the Lord alone is not sufficient for this task. Rather, teaching the works of the Lord within the context and framework of the Word of God is the way to foster obedience and godly character.
In Asaph’s day the “works” of the Lord would have been understood as creation, providence, and redemption. Such works were to be taught alongside the Word of God so as to shape young people for obedience to the commandments of God.
Bonaventure indicated that this is a fitting objective for all branches of learning. Not only must we, in the sciences and all disciplines, seek to strengthen faith and encourage worship of and witness to God, but we must apply our learning to the development of godly character. This is true of the sciences no less than of any other discipline.
The sciences seek to disclose the mysteries of God’s works of creation and providence. In doing so, Bonaventure believed, they must encourage development of the kind of human character which is consistent with the character of God as revealed in His works and Word.
In our compartmentalized learning environment we tend to leave the shaping of character to the discipline of ethics. Except that school children receive almost no training in ethics.
By contrast, their curriculum is heavy with courses in math and the sciences. Their ethics they pick up from parents, peers, and pop culture. But math and science are not abstract disciplines; they lead to practical outcomes, and practical outcomes always intersect with questions of ethics and values. Without godly character to guide the way at such intersections, “whatever we can do” is likely to be what we will do in the application of science to life.
If science devises a means of saving a child in the womb, stricken, let us say, with some heart malfunction, then we may choose to exercise the option of saving that child. If, on the other hand, science shows us how to abort unwanted children in the womb, we may choose, in the absence of any other value, to do that. Without a higher standard of character to guide our choosing, pragmatism, relativism, and merely personal values will prevail.
At such times science does not shape character, but only reinforces whatever kind of character chooses to engage its findings, outcomes, or applications.
In the practice of science according to the divine economy, shaping character would never be very far from the work of the lab bench, the research paper, or the application of science to life. But this is not likely to be the case in a scientific endeavor that fails to realize that the proper object of its labors is understanding the works of God and creating applications consistent with the character and purposes of God.
Science, that is, will not realize the fruit of godly character – in students, practitioners, or end-users – if it does not seek that fruit as a proper outcome for all its work.