Australian apologist JOHN SMITH looks at the deficiencies of both scientific rationalism and post-modernism.

John Smith
John Smith

We live in an age when theoretically there is a scientific answer for everything. There is a pill to cool the overheated temperament, another to overcome the sleeplessness triggered by the troubled conscience or the materialistic lifestyle. There is an explanation for everything, and it's all so rational. Science has supplied a new priesthood.

There are, however, some strange responses to the brave new world of scientific rationalism. We are all grateful for the marvellous contribution of science to living. Not many reject the comforts of the mod cons associated with science's advance. But all is not well. There are some profound questions being raised.

Who wants to buy into shattered family ego isolation, loss of clan and tribe, and the loss of an ultimate meaning beyond the limited resources of our short-lived and increasingly lonely lives? The Western intellectual response is called post-modernism. Some sharp thinkers a few decades ago stumbled on a few simple, ignored realities. If you can't believe sacred books because modern discoveries challenge the simple views of pre-scientific society, then why trust science in terms of meaning and a photograph of reality?

The young turks of post-modernity are now doing to the confidence of Western scientific rationalism what the Enlightenment did to the Church of old. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy describes the case of this emerging scepticism as an argument that, since "all past scientific theories have proven false, we can expect present and future theories to prove false also."

While I'm not personally as cynical as that, I do question the over confidence of a secular mind which fails to deliver societal psychic health and admit any sign that the great experiment away from faith and meaning has substantially failed to make any improvement on the overall peace of mind of modern society. It is no accident that Mulder, the FBI rationalist of X Files TV fame, says to Scully: 'The truth is out there."

The battle between the rationalist and the believer in experience over the scientific method is a primary struggle of post-modern society. While the great concepts of religious faith are declining in many Western countries, overall Christian faith (for example) is massively on the increase in the major population centres of the world from China to Africa to Latin America. President Clinton, in an address to his Democratic core, called upon them to espouse and stress "some of the old fashioned virtues that got us here over the last 250 years." The answer lies neither in the social and spiritual naivete of scientific rationalists nor in the total relativism of the post-modernist who declares, "There are no facts - only interpretations of facts."

It does not lie in going back to pre-scientific days. That's not possible.

But it is possible to have a holistic view of life that admits that some things can't be cured by a pill. Some things require a spiritual change of attitude and belief. Some things need God and a hope beyond human achievements. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.