By Steve Fleming
I spent a chunk of my time in this year’s Bushman seminar insisting that I would not make any attempts at an empirical case about the subjects I was writing on (Swedenborg and DC 76 and Joseph Smith and magic). I would simply state how I saw the issue as a believer. In fact, that’s sort of how I’ve approached my scholarship: I’ve published articles with “academic” language in academic journals (Church History, RAC) and articles with “confessional” language in confessional journals (the Religious Educator). Though the academic articles come across as more sophisticated they are easier to write since in academic journals one does not speak of absolute truth but in confessional journals one does. The article that just came out in the Religious Educator on Methodism took me four years and much pain, while the article that just came out in Church History took me two years and was painless.
A major focus of my future scholarship with be on Max Weber’s “disenchantment of the world” so it was time for me to read Weber’s “Science as a Vocation” where he makes his declaration that the world has become disenchanted (it just so happens that I missed photocopying that precise page so I can’t quote it to you). Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a huge Weber fan and have an article coming out using Mormonism to support Weber’s Protestant Ethic thesis. I’m fine with using empiricism to do Weber apologetics.
Anyway, I happened upon some gems. “Who…still believes that the findings of astronomy, biology, physics, or chemistry could teach us anything about the meaning of the world? (142)”. Later Weber quotes Tolstoy saying, “‘Science is meaningless because it give no answer to our question, the only question important to us: ‘What shall we do and how shall we live'” (143). And now for my favorite line: says Weber, “That science today is irreligious no one will doubt in his innermost being, even if he will not admit it to himself. Redemption from rationalism and intellectualism of science is the fundamental presupposition of living in union with the divine” (142).
But this I puzzle over: “Science ‘free from presuppositions,’ in the sense of rejection of religious bonds, does not know of the ‘miracles’ and the ‘revelation.’ If it did, science would be unfaithful to its own ‘presuppositions.’ The believer knows both, miracle and revelation. And science ‘free from presuppositions’ expects from him no less–and no more–than acknowledgement that if the process can be explained without those supernatural interventions, which an empirical explanation has to eliminate as causal factors, the process has to be explained the way science attempts to do. And the believer can do this without being disloyal to his faith” (147).