Day: July 14, 2010

between delight and wisdom

I’ve been thinking a bit about the possible connections between science, delight and wisdom. And I’ve been particularly stimulated in this by two different lines of thought — although they’re yet to fully coalesce for me.

On the one hand, my attention has been drawn to Psalm 111, in which a celebration of God’s covenant provision for his people is bookended by a call to delight in the works of God at the beginning and the familiar biblical insistence that it’s the fear of YHWH that’s the beginning of wisdom at the end. Apparently, verse 2 is emblazoned over the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge.

In response to this I want to say something like: investigation of the natural world — or indeed of any of the works of God — ought to unfold in between delight and wisdom. It should spring from delighted attention to what God has made and done. And yet it can never be carried on in a moral vacuum — it must fall within the ambit of the wisdom that humbly acknowledges our place before the maker of heaven and earth.

On the other hand, I’ve been mulling over Oliver O’Donovan’s tantalising remark on the way Solomon provides the template for that key characteristic of modern experimental science, disinterestedness (from Common Objects of Love, p 12):

To detach oneself and one’s interests from events into which one enquires, to assume the posture of an impartial researcher, clambering into an eyrie of observation where one renounces an interest in affecting the course of events, that is an achievement of civilization, borrowed, we should note, by the sciences from the political skill of judgement. Solomon and the two women [in 1 Kings 3:16-28] is a paradigm not only for juridical discernment, but for every kind of experimental enquiry. (Emphasis added)

Once again, the moral (or God-ward) frame of reference that biblical wisdom brings with it seems to be crucial here. In Solomon’s case, his ‘impartial’ testing of the women was an investigative strategy that answered to his thoroughly interested and moral imperative to achieve a true and just outcome.

Lots more interesting thinking to be done…