The Hypothesis Science Shuns

"An imp of demonic triviality inhabits the imperial regime of the sciences. It could be that music knows better, although there is nothing more intractable to definition than the nature of that knowledge." -- George Steiner

The passages below have been excerpted from the conclusion of George Steiner's Grammars of Creation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), pp.335-338. Steiner is a respected essayist, literary critic, teacher, and polymath whose scholarly contributions span the better of half a century.

To most scientists throughout history the term of reference has been "discovery"; technology has aimed at "invention." The new cosmologies regard "creation" as being ambiguous, mythological, and even taboo. To ask what preceded the Big Bang and the primal nanoseconds of the compaction and expansion of our universe is, we are instructed, to talk gibberish. Time has no meaning prior to that singularity. Both elementary logic and common sense should tell us that such a ruling is arrogant bluff. The simple fact that we can phrase the question, that we can engage it with normal thought processes, gives it meaning and legitimacy. The postulate of unquestionable ("not to be questioned") nothingness and intemporality now made dogma by astrophysicists is as arbitrary, is in many regards more of a mystique, than are creation narratives in Genesis and elsewhere. The reasoned intuition of a coming into being which we do not understand, but whose efficacy suggests itself via the analogies of human creativity, has lost none of its challenge...The God-hypothesis will not be mocked without cost.

But as the great mathematician and astronomer Laplace caustically put it, it is just of this hypothesis that the sciences (and technology) have no compelling need. It is scientific discovery and technological invention which will, more and more, marshal our sense of social history and of the idiom appropriate to that history...Yet human exultation and sorrow, anguish and jubilation, love and hatred, will continue to demand shaped expression. They will continue to press on language which, under that pressure, becomes literature. The human intellect will persist in posing questions which science has ruled illicit or unanswerable. Though perhaps condemned to ultimate circularity, this persistence is thought made urgent, which is to say, metaphysical. An imp of demonic triviality inhabits the imperial regime of the sciences. It could be that music knows better, although there is nothing more intractable to definition than the nature of that knowledge.

"We Owe To Our Host The Courtesy Of Questioning"

Until now, authentic atheism has been rare. Nor does it mock the God-hypothesis. It can bear witness to somber deprivation. "He doesn't exist, the bastard" (Samuel Beckett). Atheism can exact moral discipline and altruism of the severest kind. It imposes on the writer or thinker a solitude even more austere than that which our way of life has, at present, dissipated. The true atheist's assumption of the black zero in and after death makes his acts at once immanently responsible and, in a sense, hopeless. Let us suppose that a genuine atheism will come to replace the aspirin-agnosticism, the "blowing neither hot nor cold" now awash in our post-modernity. Let us suppose that atheism will come to possess and energize those who are masters of articulate form and builders of thought. Will their works rival the dimensions, the life-transforming strengths of persuasion we have known? What would be the atheist counterpart to a Michaelangelo fresco or King Lear? It would be impertinent to rule out the possibility. Or to deny the fascination of the prospect. Currently, the search for contact with intelligent beings in outer space is close to obsessive. Is it a premonitory attempt to lighten aloneness? To forget, through the amplified whisper of the radio-telescope, the now too distant thunder-clap of creation?

We have long been, I believe that we still are, guests of creation. We owe to our host the courtesy of questioning.

Also Of Interest:

Darkening of the World. "The 'darkening of the world' is Heidegger's constant theme. So, for example, in Holzwege ("Woodpaths," 1950), he tells us that we live in the age of research, of the planned, systematic coordination of intellectual tasks. And what sort of tasks can be planned and coordinated? Neat, limited, manageable tasks -- tasks, primarily, that demand inventiveness rather than understanding, tasks for engineering know-how rather than theoretical insight."


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