Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why Science is not Enough

It seems rather premature to make personal commentaries on the Central Visayas earthquake disaster while there are still missing persons and suffering victims needing immediate help and physical and emotional healing. Talk is not the need of the hour but mercy and charitable deeds.

However, an article written by two faculty members of Ateneo de Manila (“Lessons from the Bohol Disaster: Part 1,” by Tony La ViƱa and Kristoffer Berse) brings up certain issues which promote “sweeping commentaries” related to the disaster which, if not addressed, will serve to diminish the spiritual values of individuals, of families and of communities.

First of all, the article refers to the idea that disasters are acts of God as an “old belief” – the unexpressed bias and alternative being that science is the “new” and “preferable” belief. Their claim that this “propensity to view disasters as a form of divine retribution for our misdeeds and failings, with God expressing his displeasure through nature…(is) often used to justify lack of action or intervention even in the face of known natural hazards.”

Admittedly, scientific knowledge has come a long way in abridging human ignorance in the ways of Nature and in developing technology to address matters of life and death – and, thankfully, all things in between. But the attitude of many who use their faith as a fatalistic way of living life in the face of such enormous life challenges as “natural” disasters has nothing to do with the apparent inscrutability of God, of Nature and of the exigencies of human existence.

When God established the laws of Nature, it was for the benefit of humans (“Eat good fruits in order to live.”). In the same way, when He established the laws of Morality or Righteousness (“Do not eat the bad fruit or you die.”), it was also for their protection. Knowing then the laws of Nature and knowing the laws of Heaven, therefore, go hand-in-hand.

Unfortunately, this “old belief” – often dismissed as a simple myth -- is no longer that believable or popular. The laws of Nature, appropriated by science, has become the “new belief” and the be-all for understanding life and processes of our earthly environment. Thus, the article states that “this is where science is critical.” The authors go on to say that “what happened in Bohol can actually be sufficiently explained by science.”

Does this mean that the deaths and sufferings of thousands of Visayans were mere results of the quirkiness of Nature which we are hard put to understand or predict as science has not completely deciphered its equally inscrutable system of physical-biochemical processes? Hence, the article claims that “the movement of the fault, regardless of its specific origin, is nobody’s fault -- it is part of the Earth’s natural geologic processes that take place day-in and day-out.” Are we then helpless victims of and hopeless slaves to Nature? Are we inevitably consigned to annihilation by the physiological or biological laws that engender sickness, old age and death?

Secondly, the article seems to tell us that disasters (hence, the evil in this world) could be “explained” but could not be “blamed” – or at least, attributed – on anyone (not on humans, not on Nature and, least of all, not on God). But why should we look somewhere to put the blame on, it may be asked? Is “explaining” life in a rational or scientific manner sufficient to make us truly human or to provide us the compelling reason to want to cling on to it? Or is there a more satisfying and ennobling reason for us to want to understand life and all its accompanying benefits and challenges beyond the scientific point of view?

As the prophet Amos said:

Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey?
Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has caught nothing?
Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth, where there is no trap for it?
Will a snare spring up from the earth, if it has caught nothing at all?
If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid?
If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?
Surely the Lord GOD does nothing,
Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.
A lion has roared!
Who will not fear?
The Lord GOD has spoken!
Who can but prophesy?
” (Amos 3:4-8)

Should we not speak out against this myopic view and juvenile pride of so-called science?

In response to the first point raised, belief in God is a perpetually renewing process. Science, and even religion, may see faith as based on old or traditional patterns of adoring a divine being through rites, feasts and other collective ceremonies. However, essential faith is the very powerful weapon humans need to face the depths of suffering and pain in this world. Earthquakes and floods may kill the human body; but they will not destroy a person’s trust in the mercy and hope in the salvation of God. Hence, whereas geologic realities may seem to attack blindly at any time in any place and throw the lives of thousands into utter chaos and destruction, the eyes of faith see order in God’s desire for justice, renewal and redemption based on His eternal plan.

That the whole Universe is but a dot in the infinite dimensions of divine realities should make us realize that our life is also but a glimpse of the eternal possibilities within God’s temporary finite Creation. Seen in this light, tragedies become stepping-stones and not obstacles toward our appreciation of our own divine nature.

Science seeks to observe and measure physical manifestations that affect human life -- a noble task that has served so much good to so many people. Seeking the truths of Nature has initially been the primary concern of learned people who also espoused the “old belief” in God. Somewhere along the way, the two became rather unwieldy and the new thinkers rejected faith and embraced and developed the growing popularity and practicality of science. Today, it is generally considered laughable for scientists to believe in a young Earth created in six days. Many people today prefer to believe in the Theory of Evolution. Belief in God has increasingly become unpopular.

And so, the world’s educational system and the media have succeeded in rejecting belief in God as the first and ultimate view for understanding Life and Nature. When disasters and calamities strike, the first official task is to measure the magnitude of Nature’s force (Intensity 7.2 or Category IV cyclone), the amount of damage done (in millions of pesos), the number of casualties or injured victims (in hundreds or thousands of people). Of course, there are the accompanying social, economic, medical and psychological rehabilitation tasks to be undertaken. And, not to forget, the spiritual caring that victims must undergo in order to return to normalcy.

The perceived “vulnerability” of humans to physical, emotional and spiritual damages arising from Nature’s forces indeed requires reinforcing all these dimensions inherent in our basic human characteristics – that of having body, soul and spirit. But discrediting the most essential and the most vital of these facets of the human person – the spiritual – and even discounting it as old and, therefore, useless or obsolete is a great disservice to humanity.

Let science do its work of providing what the body needs and satisfying what the eyes and the mind may desire. Let the human spirit accomplish its goal of reaching toward the infinite and the unseen. The corruption of this world is a clear prediction of the ultimate destruction of the physical condition. The purity of a person’s faith, on the other hand, is an immeasurable reflection of heavenly or spiritual realities and a strong evidence of the incorruptible nature of God.

The primary lesson from the Bohol disaster, as in most major catastrophes, is that the truly old ways of worship and faith done in ancient temples and buildings destroyed by the forces of war and Nature never to rise again, as well as the new incomplete ways of thinking which reject the encompassing role of God, must be replaced by the new, living and eternal Way conceived by our Creator before the beginning of time.

The Richter Scale measures seismic forces; the heart and the spirit measure eternal power. In the end, it is the spirit that will save the body from corruption and death – not science and medicine. This is the foundation and goal of an ever fresh and undying belief in God.

(Photo above: Damaged bridge in Bohol -- courtesy of www.philstar.com.)