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DOES SCIENCE SAY THAT HUMAN EXISTENCE IS POINTLESS? ROBERT M. AUGROS St. Anselm College Manchester, New Hampshire I N AN ARTICLE published by Marine Biological Laboratory, historian of science William Provine claims that contemporary science imposes on us the view that human existence is meaningless: "Modern science directly implies that the world is organized strictly in accordance with mechanistic principles. There are no purposive principles whatsoever in nature. There are no gods and no designing forces that are rationally detectable.... Modern science directly implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society.... When I die I shall rot and that is the end of me. There is no hope of life everlasting.... Free will as it is traditionally conceived, the freedom to make uncoerced unpredictable choices among alternative possible courses of action, simply does not exist. . . . There is no ultimate meaning for humans."1 Provine's position can be reduced to five denials: no purposefulness in nature, no God, no ethical principles, no immortality, no free will. Are these denials scientific as Provine contends? No one would maintain that they are scientific in the sense of being proven. No experimental science claims to prove any of them. One occasionally finds one of the five denials, simply asserted without evidence, in the introduction to a textbook or in the popular writings of a scientist, but no scientific proofs are ever offered. Provine himself, in the article proclaiming these denials, neither offers nor refers to any such proofs. He seems to 1 William Provine, "Evolution and The Foundation of Ethics," MBL Science 3 (1988): 27-28. 577 578 ROBERT M. AUGROS concede that there are none when he says "modern science directly implies," not proves. If the five denials are not scientific in the sense of being proven, perhaps they are nevertheless indispensable as background assumptions to make the scientific method work properly . Must the working scientist adopt Provine's five denials to make discoveries or to explain phenomena? The founders of modern science did not think so, and did not assume the five denials in their work. On the contrary, they integrated into their scientific work the existence of God, purpose in the universe, free choice, the immortality of the human soul, and the reality of ethics. For instance, Copernicus argued that the cosmos must be harmonious because' it is made by the "best and most orderly Workman of all."2 By explicitly following the principle that nature is purposeful, William Harvey discovered the circulation of blood.3 Seventeenth-century chemist Robert Boyle wrote: "When I consider the rational soul as an immaterial and immortal being, that bears the image of its divine maker, being endowed with a capacious intellect, and a will, that no creature can force: I am by these considerations disposed to think the soul of man a nobler and more valuable being, than the whole corporeal world."4 It was the passion of Kepler's life to investigate the deeper harmonies of the heavens, for, in his words, the "fuller knowledge of God through nature."5 "Galileo never thought of denying an ultimately religious answer to the problems of the universe," writes E. A. Burtt.6 Galileo repudiated Aristotle's physics but praised and extolled his ethics. Isaac Newton con2 Nicolaus Copernicus, On the Revolutions ofthe HemJenly Spheres, trans. Charles Glenn Wallis, vol. 16 of Great Books of the Western World (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 508. 3 William Harvey, "An Anatomical Disquisition on the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals," vol. 26 of Great Books of the Western World, ed. Philip Goetz (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1990), 285. 4 Robert Boyle, The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, ed. Thomas Birch (London, 1672) vol. 4, 19. sJoannis Kepleri Astronomi Opera Omnia, ed. Ch. Frisch (Frankfurt and Erlangen, 1858), vol. 8, 688. 6 Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950), 93. IS HUMAN EXISTENCE POINTLESS? 579 sidered his Principia to be one great proof for the existence of God whom he describes in his famous General Scholium as living , intelligent, perfect, eternal, omniscient, and omnipresent.7 If the founding fathers of modern...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 577-589
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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