Bill Nye and the Loss of the Liberal Arts

Bill NyeThis past week, Bishop Robert Barron published a critique on a recent video posted by Bill Nye, known to us millennials as The Science Guy. In the video, Nye answers a question from a philosophy student (full disclosure: I have a degree in philosophy) who asks whether or not philosophy is still relevant. Nye answers in the negative, and while he provides one or two salient points (such as the fact a career in philosophy is not exactly lucrative, but most people going into it know that anyway), for the most part, he misses the point entirely; it’s quite clear that he is outside his field of expertise. While I think that Bishop Barron does take some of Nye’s examples too seriously, I whole-heartedly agree with the Bishop’s main point: Nye fails to realize that in order to truly flourish as a society, we need philosophy, and the other liberal arts, to teach us about beauty, truth, and the intrinsic value of the human person. As Bishop Barron points out:

Father BarronThe physical sciences can reveal the chemical composition of ink and paper, but they cannot, even in principle, tell us anything about the meaning of Moby Dick or The Wasteland. Biology might inform us regarding the process by which nerves stimulate muscles in order to produce human action, but it could never tell us anything about whether a human act is morally right or wrong. Optics might disclose how light and color are processed by the eye, but it cannot possibly tell us what makes the Sistine Chapel Ceiling beautiful. Speculative astrophysics might tell us truths about the unfolding of the universe from the singularity of the Big Bang, but it cannot say a word about why there is something rather than nothing or how contingent being relates to non-contingent being. How desperately sad if questions regarding truth, morality, beauty, and existence qua existence are dismissed as irrational or pre-scientific.

Science is, indeed, a critical and necessary part of our lives. Without science, we would still be in an age that equated astronomy with astrology and chemistry with alchemy. We cannot, however, throw out philosophy and the other liberal arts. As Bishop Barron points out later in the article, without these disciplines, we wouldn’t “know anything about how to live a decent life, how to differentiate between the sublime and the mundane, how to recognize God.” I have great respect for Bill Nye. He taught me a lot about investigative science when I was a kid, and now as CEOt of the Planetary Society, he has done a lot of good work to increase awareness of the need for planetary exploration. That said, he certainly does not understand philosophy or the value of the liberal arts.

While our lives would be dark and perhaps even more dangerous without science, so too would they be dreary, boring, and meaningless without philosophy, without literature, without a study of the human person in all its glory and brokenness, without a recognition of the good, true, and beautiful.

Science, specifically astronomy, pointed me in the direction of faith, but it could only go so far. In the end, it was these other disciplines, and most of all Divine Grace, that carried me the rest of the way. I suppose Bill Nye would see that as trite and perhaps a bit deluded. That’s OK.

Come to think of it, Grace carried me the entire way from the beginning, because it was probably by His grace that the first book I ever checked out from the library was a book on the solar system, initially piquing my interest in the larger universe. Then, years later, He would draw me closer to Him through the recognition of that same beauty I could see through the telescope was created by Goodness itself, with His Son by my side the whole time, waiting for me to open my heart to the promptings of the Spirit so that I might come to faith and trust in Him.

Pax.

You can see the original video here. 

Find more from Bishop Barron and his Word on Fire Ministries here.

The Problem of Evil

In time I will post a proper introduction, either here or I have posted a proper introduction on the About page, but now there are far more important matters to deal with…

All of you have no doubt heard about and felt the effects of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary. In the wake of that horrible day, there is discussion about gun control and mental health issues. The victims, those brave adults and innocent children, are being remembered. But how can God allow something like this to happen?

I don’t know. There. I said it. I simply do not know. Things like this are mysteries, with a capital “M”. The mystery of iniquity is a reality which humanity has been struggling with since our race came into existence. While I do not know the answer to these questions, I do know that our Lord is a loving God. We may not understand the world, but He truly is in control. I think that it is said particularly well by C. S. Lewis, in his book A Case for Christianity:

God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.

Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.

And so there we have it: free will, our greatest gift, can also be our greatest burden, and in some cases, curse. How do we utilize our free will? Love of self, or love of others and God? Do we see it as the gift that it is, or do we abuse it, tossing it away, like so many other forgotten gifts?

In these final days leading to the Nativity of the One that brings peace to all, let us remember all those victims in our prayers. May they rest in peace in the eternal light of the Father. May the families have consolation, and eventually, come to peace and see God in all of this, a difficult task to be sure. Let us pray for all of those that struggle with mental illness, as well as their care-takers. Finally, and I realize that some people may not appreciate this sentiment, but let us also pray for the soul of the attacker, who was created by God just like the rest of us.

We may not have answers. But we do have Him, and that’s the best possible thing we can have.

Pax et bonum.