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The Value Of Dialogue

November 18, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

Being a university professor brings me into contact (and sometimes into friendship) with men of science. Now I realize that not all scientists have the same view of science. Nonetheless, some scientists, who are part of my circle of friends, pose a rather formidable problem when it comes to dealing with controversial issues within the fields of morality, poetry, politics, and religion. They are happy to talk endlessly and knowledgeably about science, but their range of interest seems limited to that area.
As a consequence, they regard me as something of an oddball because I am not only willing, but eager, to voyage into controversial waters that have little or nothing to do with scientific methodology. My attempts at dialogue are frustrated since I am obliged not to wander outside of their arbitrarily constructed controversy-free environment.
Dialogue, in the best sense of the term, is an intellectual engagement between parties who have different opinions on things in order to discover which opinions are closer to the truth. It is truth that binds people together, not science, formidable as it is in the modern world. Dialogue is valuable because it can bring people together, united more firmly by a common truth.
Dialogues With the Devil (1980) is a novel by Taylor Caldwell that made the #1 New York Times best-seller list. It is about a correspondence, a series of letters or “dialogues,” between Lucifer and the Archangel Michael about science and spirituality, among other things. What begins as a civil discourse ultimately degenerates into a heated trial of wills.
Their non-dialogues are characteristic of the confrontations we witness between various opponents such as Republicans and Democrats, theists and atheists, pro-lifers and pro-abortionists. Can there be a genuine dialogue between good and evil? This is a point that Caldwell investigates with insight and literary brilliance.
In one of his letters, Lucifer describes the activities in the afterlife of scientists who have rejected God. The room these scientists occupy does not conform to the traditional vision of Hell. There is no fire, torture, or discomfort of any kind. It is devoid, even, of demons. These scientists have at their disposal every aid they could possibly want to continue their scientific research. As a matter of fact, they have easy access to unlimited data and no end of reference books.
It would seem like a scientist’s paradise except for one thing. They must labor eternally without purpose. Because they have rejected God, they have at the same time rejected the One Being who could give meaning to their work. They are comparable to Sisyphus who was condemned to spend eternity rolling a rock up a hill, only to see it fall back again, and again, and again. For him, like the scientists in Caldwell’s novel, Hell was activity without purpose.
Allan Sandage, one of the fathers of astronomy, stated in a 1998 issue of Scientific American: “The inability of science to provide a basis for meaning, purpose, value, and ethics is evidence of the necessity of religion.”
Another scientist, who, like Sandage, turned from atheism to theism in his later years, also acknowledges the severe limitations of science: “The reasons for the existence of the universe, the existence of any physical laws at all and the nature of the physical laws that do hold — science takes all these for granted, and so it cannot investigate them.”
Albert Einstein once remarked that the most incomprehensible thing he found about the universe is that it is comprehensible. How did the universe get to be comprehensible in the first place? There must have been an agent that created this astonishing harmony between the mind of man and the nature of the universe. Einstein’s remark is consistent with the basis for St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs for the existence of God. Einstein was willing to embrace wonder, the realization that there is something beyond the fringe of science that bears the ultimate secret of the universe. Remaining trapped within the walls of science does not lead to wonder but to bewilderment.
Man is, by nature, meaning oriented. Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl developed his logotherapy on the basis of his recognition that man cannot function properly without meaning. His book Man’s Search for Meaning has sold more than 11 million copies in 20 different languages. It is Frankl’s conviction that the primary concern of human beings is not pleasure, enjoyment, or status, but to find the meaning and purpose of their existence. His logotherapy has been applied beneficially in the fields of medicine, psychology, and in the business world.
The eternal question, “What is the meaning of life,” the great Socratic inquiry, echoes repeatedly through time and appears at the beginning of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Fides et Ratio. Frankl emphasizes the “existential vacuum” that people experience who have not found meaning in their lives. This is the “hole” that people try to fill with superficial things — pleasure, material goods, knowledge, status, power — that do not satisfy them. The need for meaning and purpose is built into the nature of man and abides no substitute.
Logos is the Greek term for “meaning.” Dia-logos from which is derived the word “dialogue,” refers to a conversation that hovers around that which has meaning. The ultimate meaning for man, of course, is God. Life without this ultimate source of meaning is Hell, even it were amply furnished with scientific equipment and research data.
Conversations about morality, poetry, politics, and religion ought not to be deemed as controversial. They should be welcomed since that can lead to greater enlightenment. As science alone does not provide meaning, the ultimate meaning of things must be found elsewhere. We should be eager to invite any dialogue that will help us to know more about God.
(Dr. Donald DeMarco is a professor emeritus of St. Jerome’s University and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College. He is a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. His latest book, Apostles of the Culture of Life, is posted on amazon.com.)

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