“The most important thing that science has taught us about our place in the Universe is that we are not special. The process began with the work of Nicolaus Copernicus in the sixteenth century, which suggested that the Earth is not at the centre of the universe, and gained momentum after Galileo, early in the seventeenth century, used a telescope to obtain the crucial evidence that the Earth is indeed a planet orbiting the Sun…
While all of this was going on, biologist tried and failed to find any evidence for a special ‘life force’ that distinguishes living matter from non-living matter, concluding that life is just a rather complicated form of chemistry.”
From the introduction to The Scientists: A history of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors by John Gribbin
Do you want to know why we decided to homeschool our daughter?
I checked the above book out of the library the other day. I am looking for a good history of science. One of the things I hope to teach my daughter is the arbitrariness of dividing up the world into subjects of study. While on the one hand this is a useful way to gain detailed information about subjects, on the other hand it belies the ideas that all of life is one big stream with many currents. At any given time what is happening in various fields is being determined by the overall direction of the current.
The idea that man has a unique place in the universe is not a scientific question. It is a philosophical question. It is not geography that makes man unique but the combination of body and soul. Walker Percy referred to man as Homo Symbolicus, the being that discovers symbols and uses language and art to communicate.
It is precisely the ability to communicate symbolically that disproves the idea that John Gribbin asserts: “life is just a rather complicated form of chemistry” Can someone explain the chemical chain of cause and effect that enables Mr. Gribben to assert that life is nothing but chemical reactions and my ability to understand his assertion and then disagree with it. Where does this chemical reaction take place?
As Mortimer Adler says in How to Read a Book- For the communication to be successfully completed, therefore, it is necessary for the two parties to use the same words with the same meanings-in short, to come to terms. When that happens, communication happens, the miracle of two minds with but a ...single thought. “
Where does this single thought reside. How can one thing be in two places at once? Is not this thought actually immaterial and if it is not material how can it be the result of chemical processes? This what Walker Percy called “The Delta Factor”. He wrote about it in his two great books, The Message in the Bottle and Lost in the Cosmos. The ability to communicate symbolically is an immaterial process not a chemical process. There is more to the world than chemistry.
Tom Wolfe in his book Who is Charlotte Simmons, attempts to show the effects of reducing the entire world to nothing but chemical processes. The main character, Charlotte, is studying neuroscience as a freshman in college. Although she comes from a bible believing Christian background she is soon convinced that the gospel of neuroscience is true: life is nothing more than chemical processes. If we are nothing but the sum of all our chemical reactions what is the role of choice in our lives? And if there is no such thing as choice or free will, then what makes choosing one thing better than another. The end result on college campuses is human beings acting like animals and engaging in drunken orgies, screwing everything in site. Charlotte proceeds to make some very bad decisions. Why are we surprised and why should we expect anything different is what Mr. Wolfe is asking. It is not just about sexuality as recreation but the inability to have meaning and purpose in a world of randomness. Ideas have consequences.
I have nothing against science in its rightful place. It is of great benefit to understand the physical universe, its causes and effects. But scientist and writers about science often overstep their bounds and engage in statements that are philosophical and religious as does Mr. Gribben. Who in the public school or in our public universities is going to challenge these egregious statements when philosophy and religion are not allowed in these settings- no one. The stakes are too high, the consequences to grave to allow a child to think that he or she is an animal, is not free to make choices and nothing more than the sum of their chemical reactions; that is why we homeschool.