What is it in us that seeks the truth? Why do we seek the truth? How do we find the truth? What is the truth?
What? Why? How?
I have heard many esteemed positivists who are far more educated and intelligent than I am proclaim that most “why” questions that we ask are really “how” questions and that we would do ourselves a great service in the name of progress and enlightenment to put aside questions of why as into the dustbin of of our evolutionary history, along with our prehensile tails.
For example, they say that when we ask, “Why is the sky blue?” what we are really asking is not for the meaning or purpose of the blue sky, but rather, how is it blue, what causes it to be blue, for which chemistry and physics hold the answer. Positivists like to point this out because the how questions of the material world around us succumb well to the development of physics – so well, that some would desire to see that everything succumb to physics.
But is this a reasonable position to take? Is it even possible? Of all the matters most dear and most important to humanity, and to the heart of each individual, can physics really provide the ultimate answers and consolations we seek?
In short, is positivism enough?
I will quote someone with better credentials on this matter than I: It was William J Broad after all, the 2-time Pulitzer Prize winning science writer of the NYTimes who rightly says, “The scientific process is unable to answer the most important questions in life.”
And so to the positivists, we present a counter proposition and hold that the deepest yearnings of the human heart – that ethereal predicate for which we refer to when we use words like “humanity” – are never satisfied with the answers that the “how” provides.
The Teacher of Israel
Nicodemus makes the exact opposite mistake our positivist friends have accused us of when he comes to Jesus and asks him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn 3:4). Nicodemus asks “how” but for what Jesus is describing there can be no how. When Nicodemus repeats his question, “How can these things be” (Jn 3:9) Jesus responds, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?”
In this reference to Israel Jesus indicates that he is describing something more than “earthly things” (physics), something that transcends the physical. Just as you cannot ask “why” of love, you cannot ask “how” of the supernatural. You can deny love, and you can deny the supernatural (“heavenly things”), but you cannot ask these questions of them. The positivist is simply one who denies the reality of all things not bound to his question.
“We speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” (Jn 3:11)
Philosophy, Science, and Religion
Philosophy wants to know the “what” of the world. Religion wants to know the “why” of the world. Science wants to know the “how” of the world.
- What is it: philosophy
- Why is it: religion
- How does it work: science
Of these, is the God question a what, a why or a how? Is God a truth (a what) that you find, or is God why you look for truth in the first place?
According to the Catholic Church, the search for truth – the desire for truth, beauty, justice – is the very presence of God and this desire is what connects man to God and the things of this world to heaven.
According to the Catholic church, the world is both ordered and mysterious. It is both comprehensible and incomprehensible. It is both of these at once. Just as we are to ourselves. No amount of knowledge of how will ever answer why. Science will never discover God. This discredits neither science nor God. It merely states facts as they are. We can and cannot understand at the same time.