samedi 24 décembre 2011

From Story to Science

In the beginning was not just the Word, but the Story. Many stories. A story is something where events, facts are not necessarily connected. After A not only B, but also C, D, E, etc. can happen. Bill can marry Alice, but also Jill, Eve or Melanie. At first our understanding of the natural world was not different, our knowledge of Nature was expressed as a story, Nature story or Natural History. It was an account of an enormous multitude of events loosely interconnected. Step by step, science began to diminish the number of such events, introducing more types of logical connection between them. The great idea of early scientists and philosophers was to establish a rule of rules, a "mathesis universalis", a set of equations or formulas that would permit to calculate everything from everything else, to predict every event from every other event. This was still the belief of Laplace. Now we know that the world we live in is not Laplacean but rather Bohrean. Freedom, banished from the world by Laplace, is still there. Freedom, non-necessity is necessary. Stories cannot be abolished either, stories are still there, history is still there. But we understand better the difference between what is strictly interconnected and what is not, between logistics and story. It is interesting that such a difference between stories and logistics has been discussed by theologians already in Middle Ages. Did God create everything by necessity, is the creation a necessary outcome of his essence, his divinity or of his free will? Catholic theology has inclined to the first view, Islamic theology to the second one. I have read that some fundamentalist Islamic scholars have demanded that e.g. in chemistry textbooks the explanations mention the will of God. God willing, the result of burning hydrogen is water... Here, the world we live in is still a story  being continuously written by Allah, a story that he can write otherwise that follows no other rules than his free will. Is it a reaction to the beginnings of the scientific world view, to the emerging vision of the world as a mathesis, logistics that was developing in the Islamic world long before the golden age of Western scholasticism and the Renaissance? Is the conception of the world ruled by God's will giving people more feeling of security, more comfort than the conception of the world as a logical system with much less space for God's will or God himself? I don't know.

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