I’ve carried on thinking about Christianity today, and its gradual “denormalisation”. It’s something that’s really been going on for several centuries, and always seems to me to be due to the rise of science. Scientists of one sort or another – starting with Copernicus and Galileo – started to pick apart the mediaeval Christian cosmos, and in doing so began to construct a new picture of the universe. And as their new cosmos grew, so the Christian cosmos shrank. We understand almost everything differently from our forebears 500 years ago. And now there’s hardly anything left of the old Christian cosmos.
But there’s one difference between our new scientific cosmos and the old Christian cosmos. The Christian cosmos was above all a moral cosmos. I’m not entirely sure of its geography, but it had God in his Heaven above, and the Devil in Hell below, and mankind somewhere in between, trying to ascend the narrow path towards God, but all too often taking the superhighway to Hell.
Our new scientific cosmos is, by contrast, value-free. The scientist looks at what is the case, at the facts of the matter, and does not concern himself with what ought to be the case. Science is unconcerned with values. If you open a book of physics, you won’t find anything in the way of moral exhortation inside it. Same with chemistry, biology, and all the rest.
And the result, it seems to me, is that as science and scientific thinking have gradually become dominant, we have become an increasingly value-free society, with no ‘up’ and no ‘down’, no ‘good’ and no ‘evil’, no ‘right’ and no ‘wrong’. There are just the measurements. As Magnetic wrote in the comments earlier today:
As a poster on another board highlighted, we are no longer judged by depth of character, integrity, insight, trustworthiness, honesty, kindness, balanced perspective. Rather, we are judged by our urine chemistry.
We’re not judged by integrity, honesty, kindness, etc, because the scientists have no meters or scales to measure those things. All they can do is weigh us, find what temperature we are, measure our blood pressure, our blood sugar levels, and – as noted – our urine chemistry.
Integrity and honesty and kindness are values. And values have no place in a science which is concerned solely with what is the case, not with what ought to be the case. Values are things that belonged to the intensely moral (and almost entirely lost) Christian cosmos.
We have become value-free, de-valued and de-moralised.
And perhaps that’s why we’re witnessing the deepening corruption of almost everything. Politicians who should have principles seem to have none whatsoever, and are all out to line their own pockets. Bankers and businessmen everywhere are no different. Judges send smokers to prison, but set free knife-wielding hooligans. Even science has become corrupt, as fraud becomes endemic. And in schools (as far as I can gather) children are taught that more or less anything goes, and one sort of conduct is no better or worse than any other. Yet what else could happen once amoral science ousted Christian morality, and replaced it with nothing at all?
And the most corrupt class is the most scientifically well-educated class, the academic cream. If there still is any real moral sense anywhere, it’s not to be found at the top of society, but at the bottom, where ordinary working people in most cases retain a far more Christian honesty and integrity and kindness than their social superiors. The bank may be out to defraud me, but the butcher and baker are not.
And it’s only going to get worse. The smoking ban is the consequence of dishonest science (there’s no real health threat from passive smoking), undemocratic deceit (these bans are always brought in by the back door), and heartless authoritarianism. There is likely to be – in fact bound to be – much more of this sort of thing coming down the track.
All of this might read like some prelude to a revivalist call to rediscover the old faith, and restore its values, and put God back in his Heaven, and the Devil back in Hell. But unfortunately I don’t think that it’s possible to go back. I don’t think it’s possible, once having discovered something or realised something, to undiscover it and forget it. We are hopelessly stuck with our Copernican universe, and with our modern mathematical and physical and chemical and biological science. There’s no way we can retrace our steps to our mediaeval past, and to its Christian moral cosmos.
But I think we are going to discover very soon that we cannot do without morality – that we cannot do without honesty and integrity and kindness. Because we will probably find that without them societies completely disintegrate. In fact, if the Christian cosmos was primarily a moral cosmos, it was most likely because Christians had themselves learned the hard way that morality mattered, and perhaps mattered more than anything else.
We are, I think, going to have to rebuild the derelict Christian moral cosmos (or something very like it) using the tools and the understanding available to us – a bit like a modern engineer repairing or reconstructing an ancient stone cathedral using concrete and steel. There isn’t anything wrong with our modern science, as far as it goes. It’s simply missing a key moral dimension. It just hasn’t gone far enough. It hasn’t applied its wonderful rational critical abilities to thinking about ethics.
I don’t think this will be an easy task. In fact, it’ll be a task which will make putting a man on the Moon look simple and relatively trivial.