Empiricism, God and the Search for Wisdom

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 2, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Empiricism, God and the Search for Wisdom


As a conservative, agnostic engineer, reading the Jan.19 Commentary section was an enlightening experience.

First Cal Thomas implied that entertaining the theory of evolution equates to a "materialistic worldview that is at the heart of communism." Then Robert Niewoehner states in the Forum that engineers like myself are naive empericists who have been duped. Kudos to Phil Kratovil who, in the same section, succeeded in presenting his view on religious faith without casting dispersions on those of us who disagree with his views. I fully respect his right to have, and express, his views. In fact, the quality of our lives is due in significant part to the values his beliefs promote.

However, being a lifelong pro-democracy, capitalist conservative, I find that Cal Thomas' remark illustrates why religious conservatives often rightfully earn the label "extremist." I never realized that those who believe in the Book of Genesis have always practiced and advanced democracy and free-market capitalism and are entitled to sole possession of the concepts. I guess organized Christianity's past participation in medieval serfdom, Renaissance era monarchies (often in a leading role), and today's activist, socialist leaning clergy are just clever propaganda ploys by those communist-loving Darwinists.

Get a grip Cal.

Even more outrageous (Cal, after all, is a columnist) is Mr. Niewoehner's assertion that Kant's 1790 era eradication of empiricism proves that today's scientists and engineers are "naive empericists" who have been "duped philosophically." Kant's claim to fame was to disprove the then popular premise that religion could be proven using the science then in vogue (the 1790s version of empiricism.) To apply this to today's science and engineering (the application of modern scientific knowledge) is rather quaint.

Other statements are beyond credibility. I'm sure Galileo would be relieved to know that Christianity made the Copernican revolution possible. Was it not just recently that the Catholic Church acknowledged Galileo was unjustly persecuted for refusing to refute Copernicus' theory that the Earth revolved around the sun?

Equally outrageous is his arrogance when he belittles the "you've just got to believe" Christians and then turns around and states that the reason to pick the Christian worldview is because it best answers the question "How then shall we live?" Is it really that different to place one's faith in Christianity because it explains how things came to be, vs. explaining how to live? His insecurity becomes evident when he then states, "I choose to forsake all those others which only portray our lives as destitute of reason, beauty, meaning and hope."

Although a test pilot, Mr. Niewoehner appears to have missed out on the observations many scientists and engineers have made regarding the reason, meaning, and even beauty of the interaction of mass, energy and the laws of physics. The fundamentals are so simple and clear. Yet the majority of complex problems defy today's limited mathematics. Most scientists and engineers fully understand that we will never even approach "exhaustive knowledge." The gathering of knowledge requires the expenditure of resources (time and/or money), and outside of limited expenditures on basic research, society is loath to spend money on solving problems unless it provides measurable economic benefit. As a result, man has never fully solved the Navier-Stokes equations governing the flow of all air around an airplane, yet airplanes still fly.

But hardly on a wing and a prayer. They fly because engineers have conceived approximate solutions to the equations that, in conjunction with test data, permit accurate, empirical design methods to solve the problem. An economically elegant solution that is pretty far removed from "naive." As engineers solve more problems, they gain an insight that reveals how many problems that at first appear to be very different can be solved by the same techniques.

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