By Rev. Bernard O'Connor, OSFS
Every semester, I teach "Introduction to Philosophy" at DeSales University. Almost always the class contains 35 freshmen and it is great fun. Not only do I meet wonderful young people, I also get to reflect upon fundamental philosophical ideas that have fascinated thinkers for centuries.
St. Anselm was a French monk who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. He is studied today in philosophy class because of a famous argument that he developed showing that reason alone is adequate to prove that a god exists. His ontological argument tells us a lot about the notions of reason that were developing in medieval Europe. Scholars were fascinated with the relationship between faith and reason. They were intrigued by the interplay between the divine and the human. They sought to identify the boundaries between heaven and earth, god and man, eternity and temporality. They also had the wonderful advantages of having texts from the Greek philosophers who existed before Christianity. These texts of Plato were available to Anselm. Two hundred years later, the texts of Aristotle would be re-discovered and shared with St. Thomas Aquinas. This provided even richer fields of study concerning the relationship between faith and reason.
The terrain of reason mapped out by the medieval monks is vast. While faith remained the most prevalent guide for the living, human reason was seen as a powerful ally. Once this partnership was firmly established, the church began to support large monasteries with universities attached to them. The monks emancipated reason from the dominance of faith and constituted its appropriate domain of activity.
Modern science was born in the 1600s. It began as a small sub-set of reason. Soon it became clear, however, that it had wonderful possibilities. If reason employed a certain method, it could produce results. It could exercise power over the material world. This was a magnificent achievement. Whole areas of life could now be understood in a way that offered manipulative possibilities for advancement. Reason was no longer simply for wonder; it now could control.
Reason and its child science have had a rocky life together. Scientist after scientist chipped away at the areas where reason held dominance. They insisted that only science could legitimately be called knowledge. Eventually science filled the entire arena that used to belong to reason. Science became the very definition of knowledge. Any other claim was one of belief. Instead of the three possibilities created by the monks and in practice well into the 1700s (faith, reason, and science), only two remained by the 1900s (faith and science). St. Anselm's wonderful achievement had been eclipsed. Reason was reduced to empirical science.
This leads to our dilemma of today. The founding fathers operated upon the conviction that faith, reason, and science were legitimate avenues for human activity. They sought a nation that did not establish any specific faith tradition as the national religion, but one that did honor the notion of a deity that can legitimately be established by reason. In this sense the founding fathers clearly endorsed the accomplishments of St. Anselm and the medieval monks. Many of the judges in America today, however, espouse the nineteenth century restriction of reason to scientific materialism. For them it is either faith or science. This creates a serious problem.
What do we teach our children about the origin of the universe? The various faith traditions present in America have wonderful stories about the origin of the universe. These are clearly religious claims. Science, on the other hand, has certain claims determined by the methodology of its materialistic inquiry. By definition, modern science must produce a secular answer.
My "Introduction to Philosophy" course has a brief section on logic. One of the chapters speaks about inductive arguments. One of the strongest types of inductive argument is the dilemma. A dilemma shows us that the initial framing of the statement is too narrow because each of the two options leads to problems. If we apply this to our issue, we think that we only have two options: religion or science. Both of these, however, are seen as problematic. If we teach religion, we will not be inclusive enough to honor the stories of the different religious traditions. If we teach science, we will exclude any references that transcend the material world, and we will create only secular humanists. But our nation needs a rich diversity of humanists. Our school systems must produce citizens, real live people who care, cry, hope, dream, believe, etc.
Maybe St. Anselm had a good suggestion: faith, reason, and science. This reason was once called philosophy. It is the type of reason that people use in art, politics, pragmatic living, and the general ordering of their lives. It is also the type of reason that is used when we say "one nation under God" or "in God we trust." These clearly are not religious claims.
The founding fathers shared a common philosophy of life. They had a common vision of what they wanted their new nation to become. They did not want a specific religion established. But they also were not interested in imposing a purely secular ideology. They weren't against people being religious. They wanted diversity of opinions in the marketplace. They wanted the give and take of political compromise.
Materialistic science is too narrow to become the only acceptable representative of reason. Let us encourage our political leaders to forge a new common philosophy for America. Intelligent design arguments are one attempt to accomplish this. A common philosophy is surely better than a war between religion and science. We have certainly had enough of that.
Rev. Bernard F. O'Connor, OSFS, is the third President of DeSales University and has served since July 1999. He joined the faculty of DeSales University, then known as Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, in 1974.
Press Release: Intelligent Design By Rev. Bernard O'Connor, OSFS | Posted on: 1/10/2006
For more info:
Tom McNamara, Executive Director of Communications
DeSales University | 2255 Station Avenue | Center Valley, PA 18034
610.282.1100 x1219 | Tom.McNamara@desales.edu