Interesting post today from Donald Sensing at Winds of Change: Science and Religion? No, Science is a Religion. Mr. Sensing says that in the West, science is taken with the same degree of blind faith that religion commanded in, say, 17th-century Italy.
There are many points of contention and conflict between Arab Islam and the West, but the chief religious contention between Islamists and the West is not really between Islam and Christianity but between Islam and Western scientific-materialism.
Mr. Sensing’s post was prompted by an article by Michael Polanyi, a chemist and an economics professor at the University of Manchester, on the role of belief and faith in science. By faith do scientists pursue their discoveries, says Mr. Polanyi (echoing the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews). By faith the scientific community denied the power of hypnosis for 100 years. By faith the West supports its scientific community:
In other words, our civilization is deeply committed to certain beliefs about the nature of things; beliefs which are different, for example, from those to which the early Egyptian or the Aztec civilizations were committed. It is for the cultivation of these particular beliefs – and these alone – that a certain group of people has been granted a measure of independence and official support in the West.
This is what we call academic freedom. … The Marxists are quite near the truth in saying that in demanding freedom we merely seek to establish our own orthodoxy. The only valid objection to this is that our fundamental beliefs are not just one orthodoxy; they are true beliefs which we are prepared to uphold.
Mr. Sensing and Mr. Polanyi (if I understand them) say that we in the West have lived so long believing only in empiricism, that we no longer believe in the other underpinnings of free society – such as that life in a free society gives citizens “occasion to a moral life from which men not living in freedom are debarred. That is why the free society is a true end in itself, which may rightly demand the services of its members in upholding and defending its institutions.”
Meanwhile, Joe Malchow posts a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about Anne Neal, the president of the non-profit, non-partisan American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Ms. Neal’s business is to “criticiz[e] faculty members for taking advantage of their academic freedom by offering what the council sees as ideologically tinged courses on race and gender.”
“Academic freedom does not mean anything goes in the classroom, and our concern is that increasingly that has been the message,” says Ms. Neal. “Professors have limited amounts of time, and they must stick to material that has met accepted scholarly standards.”
Here is exactly the same struggle of the free society to defend its fundamental values as truth, against orthodoxy.
UPDATE: The discussion continues in the comments.