Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The End of Ends

On this fine Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the end of eternal death, it is perhaps appropriate to think about some ends of another sort. Lately, it has become fashionable to pontificate about the end of this and the end of that.
Just last week David Brooks wrote in the New York Times about “The End of Philosophy.” According to Brooks, the Socratic Method that relies on reasoning to arrive at moral truths has been shown to be faulty.

In a new book called simply Human, Michael Gazzaniga writes that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.” The conclusion right out of Evo-Psycho is that morality is an evolved trait.

Notice that intellectuals so easily overlook the most obvious solution: Morality is the most fundamental law of human nature. C. S. Lewis wrote books about it: “Human beings,” he said, “all over the Earth (and for all times), have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.” In Mere Christianity, Lewis explains that God’s hand in the universe is evident in the “moral law that is urging me to do right, and making me feel uncomfortable when I do wrong.”

There is no “end of philosophy,” only a mistaken way of looking at the world.

In his 1989 essay “The End of History?” Francis Fukuyama argued that the triumph of Western liberal democracy signaled the end of worldwide human conflict. "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

Events, including especially 9-11 and the rise of Islamo-Fascism, unfortunately, interfered with Fukuyama’s utopian vision. History is very much alive. We are besieged by pirates, for heaven’s sake.

In 1968 (and several times since) Paul R. Ehrlich predicted the end of civilization. His book The Population Bomb predicted disaster for humanity due to the "population explosion". Ehrlich forecast that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death” unless radical action was taken to limit population so as to avoid mass famine greater than any in history. History proved Ehrlich wrong. World food production grows at a rate much higher than population growth due to advances in farming technology, chemistry and biology.

Before the turn of the 20th century the scientific world was convinced that the end of physics was nigh. At his Munich high school, Max Planck’s physics professor advised his student against a career in physics. “In this field,” he said, “almost everything is already discovered, and all that remains is to fill a few holes.” After all, Newton and Maxwell had done all the really interesting work. Then came Einstein, and the world of physics was stood on its head. The first half of the 20th century were the most explosive decades in the history of physics.

Yet scientists and other pundits persisted in their predictions of the end of this and that.

The great Paul Dirac, who combined relativity and quantum mechanics, and predicted the existence of anti-particles, was convinced that the end of chemistry was imminent. Recognizing that quantum physics was the basis of chemistry, but that quantum mechanical calculations were formidably difficult for molecules of even moderate size, he wrote: “The fundamental laws necessary for the mathematical treatment of a large part of physics and the whole of chemistry are thus completely known, and the difficulty lies only in the fact that application of these laws leads to equations that are too complex to be solved.”

That was in 1933. In the intervening seven decades enormous progress has been made in finding solutions of Schrodinger’s equation for complex multi-atom systems with accuracy sufficient for explanation and prediction of chemical properties. The end of chemistry was grossly overstated.

Aside from a lack of imagination, it seems to me that the pundits who foresaw the end of this and that missed two important factors. One is the boundless ingenuity of human beings. Given a scientific genius and the technological advances, eg lasers, computers and such at his disposal, it is foolhardy to set limits on scientific achievement.

The other mistake is to underestimate the creativity of the Divinity, Who has made a world of infinite variety for our enjoyment. As long as humans do not give up the quest to know God’s mind, the future is boundless.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice blog..love CS Lewis..hey are you or any one you know going to a "tea party" this Wednesday the 15th? I'm going to the one in Playa del Ray at 1:00pm and maybe the 6:00pm one at Torrance City Hall.
Love in Jesus, the reason for morality,


12:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! I'll read it slower the second time so I can absorb all the finer points, but I agree that with God having given man igenuity and a spirit of adventure to pursue whatever he wants to attempt, coupled with God's surprises for us, anything is possible - even that which we cannot yet imagine.

Best regards,

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Bill,
What an enjoyable read! And your apt metaphor for civilizations failure to eliminate the global human pests that seemingly in perpetuity plague us, caused me to laugh outloud in the kind of ironic appreciation that many of Norman Rockwell's magazine covers used to evoke.

"We are besieged by pirates, for heaven’s sake."

The absence of an exclamation point makes it art. You should be more widely published, Bill !


12:45 PM  

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