Thursday, September 06, 2007

Consensus

I started this blog more than three years ago as a continuation of my Boston Globe column, with the idea that it might sell a few books. The name -- Science Musings -- was the same as for the column, dubbed by my original editor, Gerry O'Neill. The web site has become rather more broadly focussed and personal than was the column, and for me that has been the pleasure of it. Is the title still suitable?

The scientific way of knowing is at the heart of almost everything I write, fiction and nonfiction. It informs and enlivens my response to the world. It has guided my religious quest. It doesn't matter to me if the universe is big bang or steady state. It doesn't matter if the Earth is thousands of years old or billions. It doesn't matter if petitionary prayer works or it doesn't. Let the empirical chips fall where they may (for the moment: big bang, billions, no). What is important to me about the scientific way of knowing is that it is the best method yet devised for attaining reliable consensus knowledge of the universe. In a world dangerously fractured by "revelation" and cultural tradition, the scientific way of knowing seems to me our one best hope of sharing a civilized future.

I know, of course, that science is the driving engine of technology, and that technology is an imperfect blessing. Sunnis and Shias, Catholics and Protestants, Hindus and Muslims, kill each other with the same AK-47s and plastic explosives. But few of us would turn back the clock of technology. We will have a better chance of dealing intelligently with the gifts of technology when we rid ourselves of neolithic ways of knowing, and consign our fractious pantheons of anthropomorphic gods to the dustbin of history.

Agnostic empiricism may not be a perfect philosophy, but it has given us the closest thing yet to transcultural consensus. If my books make any modest contribution, it is to explore how agnosticism can be a suitable basis for art, poetry, environmental stewardship, charity, and spirituality -- indeed for all of those things that refine and elevate the human spirit. Look within the next year for When God Is Gone, Everything Is Holy: The Making of a Catholic Agnostic, to be published by one of the most distinguished religious presses in America.