Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Practical Value of Cosmologies


    The way we view the world (the earth, the universe, the cosmos) has value but the real question is just how much value does our cosmological view have? As we have seen, the geocentric cosmology had great practical value because our world and humankind were thought of as the central focus of the universe and of the Creator’s attention. In contrast, the heliocentric cosmology not only displaced this human-and-earth-centered view with a new cosmological view which held that our world was a mere bit of matter in the infinite void of space filled with similar bits of matter. The heliocentric cosmology did not hold for long and it soon became obvious that our sun, just another ordinary star, may be the center of a solar system of planets but it is hardly the center of the universe. Newton developed his theories of gravity and celestial mechanics which provided the natural physical law basis upon which all later cosmological thought was modeled. Scientists later discovered that our solar-system is located within the arm of a spiral galaxy and is itself in motion around the center of that galaxy and scientists now theorize that our galaxy (the Milky Way) is itself in motion due to the expansion of spacetime since the big bang.

    If you stop to think about it, just what sort of practical value does modern scientific cosmology have for humankind? How is your life different knowing that the earth rotates on its axis or that the earth revolves around the sun? Modern science uncovered the mechanics of the solar system but was the Copernican Revolution’s heliocentric cosmology of any real value except to astronomers who were seeking to better explain and calculate the movements of the stars and the planets? We now know by what mechanical means the earth has night and day, summer and winter, but does that change the way we live out our daily lives? In fact the modern scientific revolution brought about by the Copernican heliocentric cosmology did affect the way in which people saw their place in the world. The revolution had a detrimental effect upon people by proving the Bible to contain inaccurate and faulty knowledge of the world and by introducing a new view of the world based upon reason as a more certain basis for knowledge than was faith in God’s revelation.

    We accept the heliocentric model of the solar-system as being true, or as being a true explanation of what the world is in reality, yet no one has ever seen the solar system as it is presented to us by modern science. We have all seen artists’ as-seen-from-a-distance conceptions of our solar-system illustrated in science books and perhaps we have seen models of the solar system in museums, but no one has ever actually perceived the solar system in this way; it is an abstract intellectual-play mathematically deduced concept of what the world must look like if we were able to perceive it in this way. We are able to perceive the sun, earth, moon, stars and planets from our earth-bound perspective and because we have learned the heliocentric model of the solar system we are able use it as a framework by which to make sense of the motions of the heavenly bodies, we are able to perceive the motion of the earth rather than the sun more by intellectual concept than by real sense perception. The data is the same for both the geocentric and the heliocentric models, it is only the interpretation or explanation of the data that alters our view or perspective of the data and allows us to fit the data into whichever model appears to be more correct to us.

    The fact that there is no valid reason to reasonably doubt the accuracy of the heliocentric model of the solar-system has lent credence to other abstract intellectual-play scientific theories and models of the cosmos that are likewise imperceptible to us (such as the theories of evolution and the relativity of time, as we will be examining below). The heliocentric model of the solar-system was a successful use of scientific and mathematical knowledge that was able to provide humankind with an accurate description of the world we live in and because of this the old geocentric model of the universe was eventually discarded, even by the Church and the Reformers. This victory of reason and science over faith and religion concerning the place of our world in the cosmos has, for the most part, been forgotten by most Christians, but has never been forgotten by those who trust in science and reason alone.

    The Copernican Revolution gave birth to the modern era which has been characterized by reason over religion, science over superstition, individual liberty over hierarchical authority, intellect over emotion, the objective over the subjective. Modern science has played a major role in shaping the modern world in which we live and it is hard for us to imagine a world without the modern scientific advancements and technologies that are a part of our everyday lives. But is scientific knowledge the only valid knowledge we can have of our world?

    Phenomenology can be helpful to us by providing us with a way of new way of thinking about our world and about ourselves. Whereas modern science concentrates almost exclusively upon discovering objective truth about our world phenomenology concentrates almost exclusively upon discovering subjective truth about our world. Scientific knowledge is not totally objective, scientific theories are subjectively based intellectual constructs developed as possible explanations of objective phenomena as experienced by the scientist. When modern science tells us that it has discovered a certain objective fact about the world what it is really telling us is that scientists have experienced the perception of a certain phenomenon in a certain way and they have decided that this scientific perceptual experience is the only valid experience that we can have of that phenomenon. Modern scientists, just like everyone else, have presuppositions which they bring with them to their experiences of phenomena and these presuppositions influence both their experiences of phenomena and their conclusions about their experiences of phenomena. In short, modern science is not as neutral and or as objective as it claims to be.

    Phenomenology can help us to recognize the role of the conscious observer who is an active participant in the ongoing synergy between objective phenomena and conscious experience. The subjective truth and reality of our experience of the perception of phenomena is just as true for us as is the objective truth and the reality of the of the scientific community’s experience of phenomena. As we saw above, the objective nature of phenomena as well as the subjective perception of phenomena works together in order to present our world as a unity of experience, as a universe or a cosmos. The world does not consist of an assortment of bare facts collected and catalogued by science, the world is an active synergy between the observer and the observed; the phenomena of the world is at all times being lived in and experienced by conscious beings who are themselves consciously experienced phenomena. Ultimate reality cannot be discovered and classified by science; knowledge of ultimate reality is beyond the capabilities of human reason and human knowledge. Truth and Reality can only find an ultimate basis in God the Creator who is eternally both objective in his existent being and subjective in the perception of his being. The world, the universe, exists, or has reality, because he created it and it exists, as he does, both objectively and subjectively; both simultaneously and continually.