St. Paul and science


Funny guy, this Paul. Flawed, sickly, a fool and not afraid to admit it. Kept changing his mind. I don't think there's anyone else in the bible who does that as often as Paul except God. Starts out by persecuting early Christians. Changes his mind on the road to Damascus. Then something happens that really floors him: gentiles can receive the holy spirit too. The uncircumcised. Which means circumcision is not necessary to receive God's blessing. This is really the point on which history pivots and heads off in a wholly new direction. This puts the whole of the law into doubt.

Not even Jesus took things this far, but Paul, he just keeps going to the destination logic demands. He believes what he sees, formulates theories to account for these observations, and preaches these theories as best he can. And he writes stuff down. His chapters of the Bible are actually written by him. They lack the chewed-over fairy-tale quality of other chapters. If the ghost of Jesus tells him to not "kick against the pricks" he doesn't presume to paraphrase it into something more dignified.

So anyway, instead of the law he starts preaching that one should listen to the Holy Spirit and try to ignore the temptations of flesh and the whispered lies of the Deceiver. I'm sure he didn't invent duality, but he sure made it a lot more personal. A funny introspective doctrine, effectively a way of separating objective Truth from wishful thinking and desire.

Would science have been possible without Paul? Could it arise in any culture that was less thoroughly fucked up, self-hating, and self-denying than the one he created?

Seems to me it couldn't. Learning, philosophy, and mathematics certainly could and did occur in other cultures. Intricate beautiful mathematics. Ornate cosmologies of satisfying perfection and symmetry. But not science. Science, it seems to me, is something that could only occur in the Christian civilization Paul created. Science is an ugly brutal thing. Science is the falsifier, the destroyer of knowledge. Science is the gnawing suspicion that you've gotten it all wrong. Science is something that could only occur in a society willing to believe that it was capable of fucking up totally. It could only occur in a society that believed its past was a "dark age", that the greater part of its carefully constructed and time hallowed doctrine was wrong, and cope with that belief. Science is the product of people and cultures with low self-esteem.

So then what is science? A collection of procedures for arriving at truth? No, that bears no relation to science as actually practiced. Science is more deeply rooted in intuition than we care to admit. Maybe it is best described as a sort of mental self discipline, a way of listening to the voice in your head that tells the truth, and ignoring the voices of wishful thinking.

Addendum: Another thing that seems to be stronger in Paul's chapters than in others, and which is much stronger in Christianity than in most other religions, is the non-metaphorical conception of the spiritual (C.S. Lewis has some good writing on this view of Christianity). Certainly he speaks of people as being "members" of a "body" but it is fairly clear that this is not a human body. It's like all the worthy get joined together (after certain bits are lopped off) in the giant Voronoi diagram in the sky. I sort of get the sense that hell is not so much a place as simple destruction, and that heaven is likewise not just some pleasant place to spend eternity but rather far weirder. Compare this with the Islamic heaven with gardens and streams and honey and sherbert, the Buddhist higher planes with their human-like deities, or the old Greek and Roman Gods with their distinctly human attributes and stories.

Seems to me the shift from thinking in terms of "is like a" to a more austerely mathematical "is a" is a necessary step before beginning mathematical modelling of the world.