If we are to ask what is the most characteristic feature of our epoch we might wonder whether it is science or technics which gives the distinguishing mark to our time. Whilst to-day there is an obvious dependence between science and technics which makes the latter appear as applied science it should be clear from the start that the unprecedented revolutionary development of technics in the middle of the 18th century had very little to do with science. Technics does not have its roots and origin in science neither is it the scientific spirit which gave modern technics its incomparable dynamism. Technics springs from the will to dominate nature and to extend the power of man. If we are aware of this character of technics it may become very doubtful whether it will be science or technics that will win the race that is taking place between the two in our time. It does not seem altogether impossible or even improbable that science may come more and more under the domination of technics which is to say that the independent quest for truth may be transformed into a quest for the useful as has already happened in countries where technocracy has become the state religion.
Whilst technics has been in existence in all times and in all countries—since man cannot but prove himself as homo faber—science is a late-comer in human history; and whilst all civilised nations of olden times reached a high standard of technics there are only a few of them that have produced science. Technics originates from the necessities of life; it is so to say vitality in the realm of intellect. Science however in its essence is a decidedly non-pragmatic “disinterested” activity and for that reason much more spiritual than technics. It originates from the will to know the truth. A certain amount of suspicion is aroused when in a particular epoch natural science holds the field unchallenged by any competition; for this may be an index that the interest in truth is already displaced or at least biassed by the technical will to dominate nature. What legitimises Greek science so unequivocally and proves its nature as a pure science is first the almost complete absence of any attempt to apply scientific results technically; and in the second place the astounding parallelism in the development of the Geisteswissenschaften alongside of natural science. In this sense the Renaissance may be called a true rebirth of the classical scientific spirit. In spite of a simultaneous sudden growth of technical interest the Renaissance scientists were moved by a pure will and a magnificent passion for knowledge of the truth; and some of this purely scientific impulse was preserved until quite recent times. Again this is proved by that astonishing parallelism in the development of the Geisteswissenschaften alongside and in competition with natural science.
This may be the right moment to draw attention to a peculiar linguistic fact which is not without importance from the point of view of spiritual history. Neither the French nor the English have a common word including both natural science and Geisteswissenschaften. History literature and linguistics do not come under the heading of sciences but under that of arts or letters. Psychology and sociology are classed with philosophy and jurisprudence stands by itself. The German mind has had the courage to make the concept of science cover all these fields of investigation evidently because that which is common to all of them—the quest for truth—has been felt to be more important than the differences. This synthetic or synoptic view includes both obligation and danger: obligation to scientific rigidity and objectivity and the danger of a false application of the categories of natural science within the field of Geisteswissenschaften. In itself however this synthetic concept of sciences is a precious heritage of the best Greek scientific spirit and an invaluable pointer in the direction of pure science which does not “squint” after practical use—a heritage which in the epoch of technics (when science is in danger of being completely dominated by usefulness) cannot be preserved too jealously.
Science takes its orders from truth; that is its deep you may even say its religious pathos and ethos. It is not by mere chance that in the period of positivist philosophy an attempt has been made to divert science from this orientation to truth and to discredit the very concept of truth. Even in the sphere of pure science—physics and even mathematics—the idea of usefulness or expediency was substituted for that of truth. The laws found by physics were no longer “true” but merely “expedient” formulations. It is one of the most gratifying developments within this most revolutionary science of our days that this compromise with the pragmatic mind of the time has been shaken off and so the temptation to betray the purity of the scientific mind has been overcome. Science has decided to remain in the service of truth and not to exchange truth for expediency. This decision must have the most far-reaching consequences.
Our era however has made us familiar with even more dangerous possibilities. The dynamic heir of positivist philosophy the totalitarian state has taken hold of science and succeeded in making it serviceable to its own purposes: science has to take its orders from political power. It has to start from its ideological presuppositions and has to prove that they are correct. Whether these are the racial philosophy of the Herren-volk or the Marxian doctrine makes no difference. In both cases it means the prostitution of science which in the long run would mean its end. For a science robbed of its freedom a science to which certain methods axioms and results are prescribed has ceased to be science; it is a mere caricature of science. The versatility however which so many scientists showed in letting themselves be won over for this new course shows more clearly than anything else that science has its ethical presuppositions without which it degenerates. It is dangerous to speak of science in the abstract. There is no science there are only men who do scientific work. Science therefore is a part of human life. That is why science has its ethical presuppositions.
Truth is a severe and jealous mistress. She suffers no squinting to the left or to the right she demands unconditional faithfulness. There is a scientific discipline which is much more a matter of character than of intelligence there is a scientific conscientiousness for which the control of others is a poor substitute. Maybe a scoundrel of genius might achieve important scientific results but he will do so only because he fits in with a structure of methods standards checks and tests which are produced and applied by a multitude of other scientists who are no scoundrels. It is true that personal ambition has played again and again an important rôle within the scientific process. But where it is not controlled and checked by the capability and willingness to sacrifice personal prestige for the sake of truth it has proved a severe hindrance to scientific progress. On the other hand one of the most awe-inspiring traits of the true scientist is his willingness to acknowledge as erroneous what hitherto he has maintained as true the willingness to subordinate personal fame to objectivity. Whilst it is true that ambition is a powerful stimulus of indefatigable research the greatest achievements of science do not spring from ambition. They are the result of a genuine passion for truth. Again the attempt has been made to substitute for this passion for truth mere curiosity. Certainly curiosity is an important motive within the field of science. But taken by itself it is not sufficient to explain all the sacrifices self-discipline and persistence which alone produce the great scientific achievements. Likewise it is impossible to explain in terms of egoistic motives the mutual trust between scientists which present-day scientific organisation makes necessary. Only the one who feels himself pledged to truth is himself capable of trusting his fellow scientists and he alone will prove capable of attaining the highest measure of scientific productivity. Without this practical idealism without the genuine love and reverence of truth science is doomed to sterility.
In our days this deepest spring of the scientific spirit is hidden by an immense scientific mass-organisation. Thousands of researchers are combined within a colossal plan of co-operation and division of labour for the purpose of developing our knowledge of nuclear processes. It is obvious that only a minority within these thousands are inspired by a genuine scientific ethos. The whole thing looks like an enormous business which the individual worker might easily exchange for another one. What is true of this specific section of physics is true to a certain extent of other branches of science. Organisation seems to take the lead. But if you look more closely you can easily observe that even this enormous “big business” within science is unthinkable without scientific ethos. You simply have to imagine that the majority of those taking part in these organisations are motivated by mere egoism and devoid of all truthfulness and conscientiousness to see the complete impossibility in such conditions of fruitful co-operation towards one end. Furthermore it remains true even now: Wenn Könige bauen haben die Kärrner zu tun1
i.e. it is the great individual scientist and not the organisation which does the pioneer work. After all science remains the domain of the great solitary truth-seekers who like Kepler Galileo and Newton are moved and inspired by a sacred reverence for truth.
It was St. Augustine who made the first attempt to relate the idealism of truth to the Christian idea of God. From the point of view of a genuine Biblical theology Augustine's system may not be altogether sound being a synthesis of neoplatonic pantheistic speculation with revealed God-knowledge. His basic idea however that the God of revelation is the origin of all truth had to be accepted even by Biblicists like Luther and Calvin. Whoever says “Truth” says “God”. It is the common conviction and tenet of all Christian theology that there is no other truth—whatever its content—than truth in God. Why is this so?
The first affirmation of the Christian creed is: “I believe in God the Father Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth”. True this first sentence like the rest of the Christian creed is spoken on the basis of God's revelation in history in Jesus Christ. The source of this knowledge of the Creator is the same as the source of the knowledge of God the Saviour. The first part of the Christian creed is not a sentence of natural theology. The Christian knows the Creator primarily not from creation but from His Word. However it is the specific character of this first part of the creed that its content includes objects of our natural knowledge—Heaven and Earth—which as such are also objects of scientific investigation. God has created that nature the forms and laws of which Natural Science investigates. He has created that man body and soul who is the common object of Natural Science and Geisteswissenschaften. He has created men and world in such a way that man is able by his God-given reason to know the world—and it is his God-given destiny to know it. Moreover God has created the world and is immanent and present in it in such a way that man in knowing the world cannot but know something of God's power and wisdom. Knowledge of whatever kind if only it is true knowledge is therefore never something merely natural and worldly; being the act in which something God made is grasped according to divine destiny it is in itself something holy sacred. In so far as true knowledge exists it is always at the same time natural and supernatural.
That is from the point of view of faith the reason why knowledge of truth even the search for truth has in itself that deep “pathos and ethos” which we find present in all genuine scientific research and which we find before all a dominant motive with the pioneers of science. Therefore all science could be and ought to be a divine service a reverent following the traces—lineamenta as Calvin says—of God's creation. Behind the postulate of scientific objectivity we find nothing less than awe in the face of God's order. What the scientist discovers are materialisations of God's thought and will. Man is not mistaken but supremely right if he feels science to be a high divine vocation closely linked up with his human dignity a sacred cause which requires surrender loyalty and obedience a duty which is laid upon him and which he cannot forsake arbitrarily.
If we understand science in this fashion there can be no conflict with faith. It is the same God who has created this world which we penetrate by our scientific endeavours and who reveals Himself in history. The revelation of God in His Word does not make scientific research unnecessary or unlawful. The Word of God in Scripture is no divine text-book of astronomy or anthropology. God's revelation in His Word is given to us by men who lived in the pre-scientific ideas of their time. On the other hand no science can ever hope to give us what God reveals in His Word because the world can never disclose the secret of God's gracious Will forgiving man his sin and promising him eternal life. Science and faith are on different planes perhaps we may say on planes standing vertically at right angles to one another and having therefore merely a common intersecting line. The revelation in Christ takes place in that world which science investigates but this revelation cannot become an object of science. Therefore it is equally stupid not to believe in God for scientific reasons and to oppose science for reasons of faith. The battle between Christian theology and science which has aroused so much bad feeling between the two has proved to be a mutual misunderstanding caused by an overstepping of limits partly from the side of faith partly from that of science. In principle this problem does not exist any longer though in practice it may never cease to bother us.
But the world in which we live and which we know is not simply God's creation because we ourselves are not simply the men whom God created. Between God's creation and ourselves lies a gulf a catastrophe which Christian faith calls the fall of man into sin. Even the scientist within his own sphere experiences the repercussions of this catastrophe. He does so in his ever-repeated experience that the scientific man accomplishes his service of truth less faithfully and reliably than he ought to that he is often led by motives which are unfavourable to the knowledge of truth. Egoism vanity lust for power partisanship of all kinds are well known to have played an important rôle in scientific life. But the effects of sin within the scientific world are even deeper so that they are hidden from moral commonsense. Man as a sinner is estranged from God and so his sense of truth is poisoned at its very root. In the same place where St. Paul speaks of God's revelation in His created Work he also lays his finger on this sore spot that man in his sinful illusions confounds creation and Creator. He calls God what is not God. He absolutises what is not absolute. Again—and this is the aspect which is most important in the history of science—he simply forgets God and ignores the divine truth. All these possibilities of which we have merely sketched an outline have been realised in scientific progress and played fatal rôles: false absolutes—we might call them the pseudo-scientific myths—relativism the illusion of positivism that is independence of all metaphysics. From the Christian point of view all these are equally manifestations of the one deep perversion of the mind which must pervert and deflect the course of science.
With the last remarks we touch upon the problem which the German calls scientific Voraussetzungslosigkeit i.e. the postulate that the scientist must have no presuppositions. If by that we mean that scientific investigation must not be tied to any preconceived results but has to be completely open to the facts whatever the facts may be this postulate is identical with the idea of scientific inquiry as such. It is the postulate that science takes its orders from truth. But if by that postulate we mean to say that the scientist in order to be a true scientist must not have religious beliefs such an axiom proves to be a mere prejudice which has nothing to do with science. This kind of Voraussetzungslosigkeit just as the similar idea of indifference to value is neither possible nor desirable.
For the scientist it is no gain but a loss if he does not believe in truth the quest for which is a sacred service. That practical idealism which makes the scientist capable of sacrifice that deep religious “pathos and ethos” which as we have seen is the characteristic of the greatest pioneers of science is a potent motive and a directing force. It is the best and perhaps the only sufficient guarantee for an unconditional genuine search for truth and therefore for true scientific progress. Let us remember how in the era of positivist philosophy the substitution of utility for the idea of truth has endangered scientific activity. Much more do we see in our era of technocracy and totalitarianism how destructive the effect of utilitarianism and the loss of scientific ethos must be. There is however no truer no purer “pathos and ethos” than the one which flows out of the Christian idea of God. Only those who cannot grasp the profound difference between faith-knowledge and scientific knowledge will believe that Christian faith anticipates replies to scientific questions and thereby destroys the necessary openness of the scientific mind.
But the positive contribution of faith to science is more than that. On closer inspection that metaphysical Voraussetzungslosigkeit or “neutrality” or “indifference” which the positivist postulates is no real possibility. He who does not believe as a Christian cannot help believing in something. That assumed neutrality proves to be a phantom something which neither is nor can be. The metaphysical dimension of the mind never remains empty but must always have a content. If it is not the Christian faith then it is some kind of alternative metaphysics which is much more dangerous for science being unconscious. Metaphysical neutrality simply does not exist because neutrality in itself is a kind of sceptical metaphysics.
It is not surprising then that during the last centuries when rationalistic philosophy and materialism took hold of the Western mind we see within the field of science the appearance of certain axioms which seemed to be self-evident but which were nothing but hidden unconscious metaphysics: partly idealistic partly materialistic. Such an axiom was the pan-causalism of the 18th century the idea of Laplace of a universal world-mechanics. A similar axiom took hold of the 19th century science: pan-evolutionism i.e. the extension of the Darwinian principle of selection to the totality of phenomena particularly to history. In general we see a tendency to apply certain categories which have proved helpful and even necessary in certain areas of science to others by the sheer impetus of a monistic conception of Truth and Being. Wherever Christian faith was alive these tendencies were powerfully resisted but this was the exception the movement of the time going in the opposite direction. At no time has this pseudo-scientific monistic tendency dominated in a more dictatorial and uncritical way than in the era of positivist philosophy under the disguise of the slogan of metaphysical neutrality. What presented itself as metaphysical neutrality was as a matter of fact blunt naturalism not to say stupid materialism: a preconceived axiom of the unity and uniformity of all phenomena. Of course this is metaphysics metaphysics of the worst type. Instead of a true openness of mind not prejudicing the character of Being we have here a metaphysical dogma of the uniformity of all Being which proved to be genuinely harmful in the field of Geisteswissenschaften and contributed no little to the sad condition of the present world. I only mention a naturalistic sociology which abolished the notion of justice and introduced instead the principle of the survival of the fittest.
The postulate of the Voraussetzungslosigkeit proves to be misleading also from the point of view of epistemology. No science can work without Voraussetzungen (in Greek: hypothesis). Science gets answers only if it asks questions and questions are alternative presuppositions. True scientific openness of mind does not consist in having no presuppositions but in having intuitively the right presuppositions in the form of questions or hypothetical answers. Only where the right questions are asked that is where the right hypotheses are intuitively introduced into the field of research is new knowledge gained. Natural Science failed to progress as long as it was dominated by Aristotelian categories taken from the realm of man. On the other hand where man and his history are subjected to the categories of Natural Science the results will be meagre and in part pseudo-scientific. It so happens that man is different from his surrounding nature. Similarly whoever were to use merely mechanical presuppositions in his study of organic life would miss his object because it so happens that the mechanical and the organic are different. Whoever works with a preconceived dogma of the uniformity of Being cannot but do wrong to some part of reality.
If once the false metaphysics lying at the root of this monistic conception and the axiom of metaphysical neutrality is seen as erroneous the road is open for a further insight which throws a new light on the importance of Christian faith for true science. I am speaking of the knowledge of man who is evidently a very specific unique object of knowledge. He is unique for the reason that he is at the same time both the object and the subject of that knowledge being the subject of all knowledge and science. Man is not merely one amongst the objects because all knowledge everything which we know of the world and nature has its seat within man's mind. If I am not mistaken it is exactly the most objective of all sciences—mathematical physics—which has reached a point where this indissoluble connection of subject and object has become evident in an overwhelming manner. Amongst all objects man is the one who is always both object and subject at the same time. That is the deeper reason why the so-called Geisteswissenschaften since they have to do with human history and the products of the human mind have a structure so different from Natural Science that as we have seen Frenchmen and Englishmen prefer not to call them sciences.
The more deeply we penetrate into the being of man the more clearly does it appear that the specifically human—that which is his alone—is the fact that he transcends himself. What we call culture is a product of man's self-transcendence. So is science. Man wants to know the truth; that truth reveals itself to him only in parts in fragments and therefore he must remain critical with regard to the results of his investigations; he must be ready to correct them. The mainspring of all this self-criticism is his passion for absolute truth; not a single fragment of knowledge is gained as Planck has reminded us if absolute truth is not aimed at. All science lives on this perspective of absolute truth. It is by this perspective that we can say: this is merely relatively true. Whoever says “relative” must first have said “absolute”. This is the self-transcendence of man as it manifests itself in science.
Now the most important manifestation of this self-transcendence is that act by which man transcends not only all he knows but his very being in subjecting himself to the judgment of ultimate truth. That he does this is one thing how he does it is another. Which is that Truth to which he subjects himself in the totality of his being? This question inevitable as it is carries us beyond the range of mere knowledge into the sphere of faith. It cannot be answered without personal decision. The Christian believer does this in a manner different from the rest. The truth to which he subjects himself and by which he feels himself judged is unique in two features: in the radical nature of this judgment and in its thoroughly personal character. The believer knows that only by knowing God truly does he know himself truly. That is why the Christian believer has a knowledge of himself different from all the others: he knows himself as a creature which is responsible to the Creator and which at the same time lives in contradiction to his God-given destiny. Furthermore he knows himself as a creature whose destiny it is to live in the Divine Love offered to him in the revelation of Divine Truth.
It is easily understood that the exploration of human history and of the specifically human manifestations such as language culture state law and so on must lead to different results according as the explorer uses as his working hypothesis this Christian conception of man or does not use it. Within the scientific process he uses this Christian view of man merely as a working hypothesis ready to correct it if his object makes it necessary. But the conflict between him as a believer and as a scientist never takes the form of an ultimate alternative because it so happens that the Christian view of man proves itself to be the only realistic one that is the only one which stands the test of experience and does not falsify the picture of human reality. Whilst it is true that the Christian view of man gets its accurate form only in the process of critical scientific research and many of the traditional formulations have to be sacrificed it proves itself a key opening doors which remain closed to any other.
The Christian conception of man produces also a certain view of the place of science within the totality of human existence namely that science however important has no legitimate claim to the first place. Science knows what is it does not know what ought to be. Science is a part of human destiny but it is not this destiny itself simply because it refers to what is and does not refer to what ought to be. Science is human but it is not the
human. Isolated from the totality of human destiny or put into the first place dominating the rest it kills the human centre making men inhuman. It destroys personality responsibility and love. Science is not bound to have this fatal result; it does
have this result only if it usurps the first place which does not belong to it.
Speaking in general science in our day claims more room within the totality of human life than it is entitled to. Instead of serving it dominates; instead of subordinating itself it wants to subordinate the whole of life; that is why it has in part dehumanising effects. This is not the fault of science but of man misunderstanding the function of science and giving it an importance which it should not have. It is not from science that we have to learn what is the task of man and what is the meaning of his existence. These are questions which lie outside the range of science in the sphere of faith. Science is related to truth but science is not the only way to truth. What science can know is a certain aspect of truth. The all-including Truth is God and God is not an object of scientific knowledge. He is not an object at all being the absolute subject the one who has destined us created relative subjects for Himself and made us responsible to Him. Being the absolute subject He never can be grasped by us. If we know Him it is because He reveals Himself to us. When this happens—when the light of His truth enlightens and grasps us—then we begin to understand Him as the meaning of human existence and as the source of that deep “pathos and ethos” which is the life of genuine science.