- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Free Press (August 1, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684836394
- ISBN-13: 978-0684836393
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 23 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #518,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Science and the Modern World
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About the Author
An English mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead provided the foundation for the shool of thought known as process philosophy. With an academic career that spanned from Cambridge to Harvard, Whitehead wrote extensively on mathematics, metaphysis, and philosophy. He died in Massachusetts in 1947.
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Most scientists say they accept Hume with their words and then ignore him with their works. "Scientific faith has risen to the occasion, and has tacitly removed the philosophic mountain."
He notes 'we all share this faith, and therefore believe that the reason for this faith is because it is true.' Belief does not confirm truth. Why do we believe in order? The Chinese and the Indian cultures are older and the scholars just as brilliant. Why no science? The don't have an absolute, instinctive, unquestioned conviction in rationality of existence. (Page 18)
"it must come from that medieval insistence on that rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. . . Remember that I am not talking of the explicit beliefs of few individuals. What I mean is the impress on the European mind arising from the unquestioned faith of centuries."
Rationality can only come from a rational mind. Jehovah, a rational mind, created the universe. Therefore the universe is rational and can be studied and comprehended.
"My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative of medieval theology."
However, the trust in meditative rationality also led to a wall. It needed to be combined with observation for science to appear. This occurred. Therefore, Whitehead makes an interesting point, modern science is fundamentally - anti rational and pro observation, "based on a naive faith. . . It has never cared to justify its faith or to explain its meanings."
He says this needs to change or science will no longer progress.
(Page 27) "Faith in reason is the trust that the ultimate natures of things lie together in a harmony which excludes mere arbitrariness. It is the faith that of the base of things we shall not find mere arbitrary mystery. The faith in the order of nature which has made possible the growth of science is a particular example of a deeper faith."
Whitehead notes, "it requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious." (Page 6)
Most moderns do not undertake the analysis of the obvious. Few realize the foundation of the scientific world is Biblical faith.
(Page 268) "we have not yet exhausted the discussion of the moral temper required for the pursuit of truth. There are short cuts leaving nearly to illusory success. It is easy enough to find a theory, logically harmonious and with important applications in the region of fact, provided that you are content to disregard half your evidence. . . Such people are apt resolutely to ignore, or to explain away, all evidence which confuses their scheme with contradictory instances. Sheer determination to take the whole evidence into account is the only method of preservation against the fluctuating extremes of fashionable opinion. This advice seems so easy, and is in fact so difficult to follow."
Evidence to one is nonsense to another.
(Page 273) "Religious appeal is directed partly to excite that instinct the fear of the wrath of a tyrant which was inbred in the unhappy populations of the arbitrary empires of the ancient world. . . This appeal to the ready instinct of brute fear is losing its force. . . Because modern science and modern conditions of life have taught us to meet occasions of apprehension by critical analysis of their causes and conditions.''
"Religion is the reaction of human nature to its search for God. . . The non-religious motives which has entered into modern religious thought is the desire for a comfortable organization of modern society. . . Also the purpose of right conduct quickly degenerates into the formation of pleasing social relations. . . Above and beyond all things the religious life is not a research after comfort."
(Page 275) "Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest present facts; something that gives meaning to all the passes, and get the moods apprehension; something who's position is the final good, and yet is to be owned all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and a hopeless quest."
(Page 276) "The power of God is the worship he inspires. That religion is strong which in its ritual and then it's molds of thought evokes apprehension of the commanding vision. The worship of God is not a rule of safety-it is an adventure of the spirit, flight after the unattainable."
(Page 275) "The fact of that religious vision, and it's history of persistent expansion, he is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up the mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience."
Fascinating comments from a world famous mathematician/philosopher.
One of the most erudite scholars of the twentieth century.
Believes religious experience is the vital part of human existence.
Not the consensus of the academic world.
He wrote in the Preface to this 1925 book, “The present book embodies a study of some aspects of Western culture during the past three centuries, in so far as it has been influenced by the development of science. This study has been guided by the conviction that the mentality of an epoch springs from the view of the world which is, in fact, dominant in the educated sections of the communities in question… The various human interests which suggest cosmologies, and also are influenced by them, are science, aesthetics, ethics, religion…I have avoided the introduction of a variety of abstruse detail respecting scientific advance. What is wanted… is a systematic study of main ideas as seen from the inside.” (Pg. vii-viii)
In the first chapter, he makes a famous (and widely-quoted) statement: “the greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement … [is] the inexpugnable belief that every detailed occurrence can be correlated with its antecedents in a perfectly definite manner, exemplifying general principles. Without this belief the incredible labours of scientists would be without hope. It is this instinctive conviction … which is the motive power of research---that there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled. How has this conviction been so vividly implanted on the European mind?... there seems to be but one source for its origin. It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality… In Asia, the conceptions of God were of a being who was either too arbitrary or too impersonal for such ideas to have much effect … There was not the same confidence as in the intelligible rationality of a personal being… My explanation is that the faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology.” (Pg. 12-13)
He summarizes, “In my last lecture I developed a … line of argument, which would lead to a system of thought basing nature upon the concept of organism, and not upon the concept of matter. In the present lecture, I propose in the first place to consider how the concrete educated thought of men has viewed this opposition of mechanism and organism. It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression.” (Ch. V, pg. 75) Later, he adds, “In the previous lecture, I was chiefly considering the relation to space-time of things which, in my sense of the term, are eternal. It was necessary to do so before we can pass to the consideration of the things which endure.” (Pg. 87) And then, “My previous lecture was occupied with the comparison of the nature-poetry of the romantic movement in England with the materialistic scientific philosophy inherited from the eighteenth century. It noted the entire disagreement of the two movements of thought. The lecture also continued… to outline an objectivist philosophy, capable of bridging the gap between science and that fundamental intuition of mankind which finds its expression in poetry and its practical exemplification in the presuppositions of daily life.” (Ch. VI, pg. 95)
He argues, “we must provide a ground for limitation which stands among the attributes of the substantial activity. This attribute provides the limitation for which no reason can be given: for all reason flows from it. God is the ultimate limitation, and His existence is the ultimate irrationality. For no reason can be given for just that limitation which it stands in His nature to impose. God is not concrete, but He is the ground for concrete actuality. No reason can be given for the nature of God, because that nature is the ground of rationality… Among medieval and modern philosophers, anxious to establish the religious significance of God, an unfortunate habit has prevailed of paying to Him metaphysical compliments. He has been conceived as the foundation of the metaphysical situation with its ultimate activity. If this conception be adhered to, there can be no alternative except to discern in Him the origin of all evil as well as of all good. He is then the supreme author of the play, and to Him must therefore be ascribed its shortcomings as well as its success. If He be conceived as the supreme ground for limitation, it stands in His very nature to divide the Good from the Evil, and to establish Reason ‘within her dominions supreme.’” (Ch. XI, pg. 178-179)
He observes, “In the first place, there has always been a conflict between religion and science; and in the second place, both religion and science have always been in a state of continual development.” (Ch. XII, pg. 182) He suggests, “Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development.” (Pg. 189) He adds, “religion is the expression of one type of fundamental experiences of mankind: that religious thought develops into an increasing accuracy of expression, disengaged from adventitious imagery: that the interaction between religion and science is one great factor in promoting this development.” (Pg. 190) And “The fact of the religious vision, and its history of persistent expansion, is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience. The vision claims nothing but worship; and worship is a surrender to the claim for assimilation, urged with the motive force of mutual love. The vision never overrules. It is always there, and it has the power of love presenting the one purpose whose fulfillment is eternal harmony… The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure.” (Pg. 192)
Those who simply quote Whitehead’s statement in the first chapter are “missing out,” not to mention taking his words out of context. (See his “Process and Reality” for a fuller development of his ideas about God, etc.)