THEOSOPHY, Vol. 27, No. 9, July, 1939 (Pages 385-386; Size: 6K)
SCIENCE AND TRUTH
IN the seventeenth century, John Smith, one of the Cambridge Platonists, wrote: "The reason why, notwithstanding all our acute reasons and subtile disputes, Truth prevails no more in the world, is, we so often disjoyn Truth and true Goodness, which in themselves can never be disunited." This criticism, made at a time when scientific modes of thought were just beginning to be formulated, is still an accurate and succinct commentary on modern theories of knowledge.
The idea that scientific knowledge needs to be conjoined with a sense of moral obligation, -- or, to use words meaning the same thing but more in keeping with the modern spirit, with a sense of "social responsibility" -- is now a conception of wide-spread expression and increasing emphasis. The destruction wrought by men with the powers of nature placed in their hands by science has shown the supreme importance of this need. Thus we are faced with a problem to which scientific men, as scientists, have given little thought. How is this sense of social responsibility to be aroused?
For generations philosophers of science have held that ethical considerations are a distracting intrusion in the sphere of "pure" research. Facts, they have asserted, are one thing, and values (if, indeed, values exist at all) quite another. Because Plato refused to separate knowledge from the moral scheme of human life, he has been condemned as having interfered with the progress of "exact science." But although today the acuteness of our moral or social problems is increasingly evident to the scientific mind, Plato is far from being vindicated. The knowledge of science is still thought to be knowledge, and that it needs only to be joined with ethics. But that this would be no natural union is not perceived; we have yet to learn that truly scientific ethics is more than a mere emotional infusion of uninstructed "good will" to dilute the materialism of our civilization.
The real problem has to do with the nature of the "facts" with which science attempts to deal. No fact is simple and single, but stands in relation to all other facts. In a sevenfold universe, there must be seven major relations for every fact. Unless these are known, our understanding of the facts is partial, and is therefore deceptive if believed to be complete. Let us reduce the problem to simpler terms. If the world is regarded under three aspects of reality, Spiritual, Psychical, Physical, then all things and beings stand in threefold relation with all other things and beings.
Almost all the facts of science are "physical" facts -- descriptions, that is, of the forms and the movements of matter. Physical science has formulated laws which give an account of the dynamic play between the objects thus described. With these laws as the basis of speculation, theories of cause and effect and of the fundamental nature of things have been deduced -- theories forming the rambling structure of metaphysical materialism, i.e., the doctrine that the first principles of things are exhibited in the properties and attributes of visible phenomena. The Psychical world, insofar as it is granted any real existence, is described in refinements of the terms of physics; psychic happenings are "epiphenomenal"; their self-existent reality is only seeming and has no being apart from the physical world. The Spiritual world is terra incognita to science.
What kind of knowledge, then, is scientific knowledge? Is it conceivable that a true ethics can be joined with science, so long as the principles of science remain a negation of the concepts of universal purpose and moral interdependence? Is it not self-evident that a true understanding of the physical world includes also the knowledge of Mind and Spirit, and the interrelation of all three?
Both the scientist and the student of spiritual philosophy see the same facts, but here ends the unity of their perceptions. The entire grammar of science -- its ways of describing phenomena -- is organized in terms of materialistic assumption, so that even the bare account of the appearance of the physical world little resembles the philosopher's description of the same phenomena. The extremes of opposition between the two views are reached when facts are discussed with reference to their meaning.
The science and ethics of Theosophy are not divided ways of thought; they are two aspects of the same truth: Compassion is no attribute; it is the Law of Laws. The Bhagavad-Gita and the Voice of the Silence are as scientific as they are ethical. The world of knowledge and the world of right action are one, and until this is seen and acted upon, there will be no Truth in the world of men.
The Silent Partner