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.