Because It’s There

by Jason Braaten

When George Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, he said what has now become the most famous three words in mountaineering: “Because it’s there.” This used to be the reason for science.

In Book IV of his Ethics, Aristotle sees three ends–three purposes–for science. He called these three kinds of sciences (1) productive science,  (2) practical science and (3) theoretical science.

Productive science studies the world to learn about it so that we can change it, improve it and make things out of it. In other words, productive science produces things. It includes things that we would today call engineering, medicine, auto-making and repair, cooking and the like. 

Practical science studies ourselves so that we can change and improve our own lives, our own behavior, our own activities. Practical science puts knowledge into practice, into action. This includes things like ethics and politics and economics.

Theoretical science seeks to know simply in order to know, that is, to become bigger on the inside. Theoretical science wants to see more fully, to expand our understanding, to contemplate our place in this world. This includes things like physics, biology, mathematics and astronomy, but it also includes theology and philosophy. Theoretical science cares not whether what is learned is practical or productive, even though it may very well be. It is aimed at simply knowing and understanding what is true, what is good and what is beautiful, even if it has no immediate practical or productive application. Theoretical science fills us with wonder as we behold not only the order of the universe but also its beauty. It fills us with awe as we catch shadows and glimpses of the One who called into existence everything that exists.

The Church is the only place where theoretical science still exists. Pastors, teach it to your people. Parents, teach it to your children. Go outside and behold the cosmos and be filled with wonder as you gaze at the truth, the goodness and beauty that the Trinity has imprinted upon it. Why? Because it’s there, and God has made it for us.

The Rev. Jason Braaten is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Tuscola, Ill. 

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7 Responses to Because It’s There

  1. June 28, 2017 at 1:32 pm #

    The challenge is the movement between the three categories of science. We are seeing that in the rapid advancement in understanding the genome and particularly the human genome and our ability to quickly sequence and produce large volumes of modifiable DNA. This scientific knowledge can be used for great good in medicine, biology and botany, food resources, substitutes for oil-based products and energy, and even art.
    However, the making of moral, God-pleasing decisions regarding the use of this science is not being addressed adequately, I fear, in the public discourse. I believe the Church has to step to the forefront, lest we find ourselves standing again as the human race before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil as well as the Tree of Life (which, of course, we stand at with every ME-focused choice in our earthly journey).

  2. Rev. Mr. David M. Burge July 6, 2017 at 9:32 pm #

    “The Church is the only place where theoretical science still exists” What is the basis, please,for this statement? As it stands, it implies that theoretical science is not being done in non-Church institutions. Do you really mean to say that? I would assume that theoretical physicists and planetary and stellar scientists, among other scientific disciplines, are still doing carrying out their various experiments and calculations, still sending out their various probes, and still carrying out their various studies “to see more fully, to expand our understanding,” and, “to contemplate our place in this world.” Granted, they are doing these things, most of them, at institutions that are not God-centered and that most of them, but not all, are doing them from the perspective that God does not exist. So, we can debate the appropriateness of their starting principles. Nevertheless, to say that what they are doing is not “theoretical science” is to fail to appreciate how they are still seeking to know and to understand “what is true, what is good and what is beautiful, even if it has no immediate practical or productive application.” The statement, as it stands, also implies that the Church has some monopoly on theoretical science. Surely, given all the activity going on in the theoretical sciences at present, you do not mean to say that. You need, please, to clarify what you mean by such a sweeping statement, especially if theology and science, in all its forms, are to have a fruitful and positive dialogue

    • Jason M. Braaten July 17, 2017 at 7:04 pm #

      Pastor Burge, thanks for your reply. I’d point you to Pastor Cwirla’s post below, and my reply.

  3. Resha Caner July 11, 2017 at 11:58 am #

    I must respectively disagree with Rev. Braaten. In Luther’s essay, “On War Against the Turk,” he is careful to note that the Turks were “faithful and friendly and careful to tell the truth.” In other words, they are just as capable of leading an upright life as a Christian. In the same way, those outside the Church are just as capable of wonder as are we.

    The difference is that we acknowledge God as the ultimate source of our desire to know and of our wonder. It is a way to know God better – a way to worship him. The heavens declare the glory of God!

    I can’t know what led Rev. Braaten to write his essay. However, it seems to me the Christian community has become extremely frustrated with the success of the secular community in seizing control of science – further with the public impression that this means they also have access to the truth. As such, they are seeking ways to take back some authority for the Church.

    I, too, wish Lutheran organizations were better engaged with the Kingdom of the Left, but first we need to decide who it is that should lead that effort or all our hopes will be for naught.

    • Andrew Fields July 12, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

      I agree with Resha Caner, based on my own experience with people seriously engaged in theoretical science who are not Christian. Rev. Braaten overstates the case when he says that “the church is the only place where theoretical science still exists,” which is unfortunate, because it is the kind of statement that leads people outside the church to disregard what the church has to say.

  4. William M. Cwirla July 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm #

    Aristotle’s understanding of what he calls “science” in his Ethics is not the same pursuit that we call “science” today. By “theoretical science,” the author of this piece actually means “natural theology,” that is, the glimpse of the supernatural and spiritual that is afforded by observation of the natural world, particularly in its order and beauty. This is not what we term “theoretical science” today.

    We in the church need to heed St. Augustine’s warning carefully lest we bring the teachings of forgiveness, eternal life, resurrection, and salvation in Christ into disrepute on account of our mishandling and misunderstanding of science as it is practiced today. The church is hardly the only place where theoretical science takes place. In fact, it is not the place at all. The church is where the mysteries of God are revealed to fait, not where the mysteries of the universe are studied.

    • Jason M. Braaten July 17, 2017 at 7:03 pm #

      Thank you, Pastor Cwirla, for clarifying what Aristotle meant by the term “theoretical science.”

      I understand the confusion over my choice of the word “Church” in the last paragraph. I did not intend that the church institutionally is the only place where this type of science takes place. And if that is how it is being taken, I wish I had used a different term. You are right, in that understanding of the term, it is not what the Church does.

      My intent was the broad understanding of the word “Church” as all those who believe in the one, true God. In that sense, though I can be persuaded otherwise, I think it is the only place it exists, and I do think that the church in this sense should engage in it. Even though the heavens and the earth pass away, even though the form of this world will pass away, there will be a new heavens and a new earth. While then we will see clearly, face to face, we are given the joy of seeing dimly as in a mirror now. Nevertheless, this is not a replacement for those things that will never pass away: the Word of God which remains forever.

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