The Book of Arthur

The Ghost in the Machine

by Arthur Koestler
Macmillan, 384 pp., $6.95

Arthur Koestler
Arthur Koestler; drawing by David Levine

What do we demand of Science? Vitamin-reinforced bread and astronautical circuses; Genesis according to Hoyle and the Revelations of Teilhard the Divine; piecemeal, tentative theories about those aspects of nature that we can now bring into focus; or a bit of all three? That question must not be answered in a hurry. For all three ambitions—technological, theological, and philosophical—have been operative throughout the development of scientific thought, and its history could be written with an eye to the changing balance between them.

Certainly, technology has been the junior partner in the alliance. The mask of Francis Bacon has always concealed the face of Isaac Newton, and has been used by scientists to catch patrons for their excursions into philosophy and theology. (Recall how the newly hatched Royal Society elected as its Secretary Samuel Pepys of Charles II’s Admiralty, and how today’s National Science Foundation was incubated beforehand within the Office of Naval Research.) Though always a selling point, technology has, intellectually speaking, never come near to the heart of science. For that one must look rather at the other two strands: the piecemeal, tentative aim well captured in Karl Popper’s formula, Conjectures and Refutations, of conceiving and criticizing hypothetical solutions to specific theoretical problems; and the more comprehensive, speculative aim, of fitting these theoretical concepts together into an all-embracing—and, if possible, a humanly significant—view of the world.

Many tough-minded scientists (it is true) dislike having science linked with theology even more than with technology, regarding their tender-minded colleagues’ effusions about Creation, or design, or freewill, as a mark of soft-centeredness for which Science herself (Hagia Sophia) is in no way responsible. Still: from the time of Newton until barely a century ago, the theological aims of science were accepted as co-equal with its theoretical aims, so that “natural theology” was an institutionalized element in the scientific enterprise itself. When, for instance, the Royal Society sponsored publication of the Bridgewater Treatises (on “the Power, Wonder, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation”) nobody questioned that this was a proper function for a scientific academy. Natural theology has become wholly “disestablished” from the kingdom of Science only in the twentieth century.

Even now, there are those who deplore the new order of things. In different ways, such men as Michael Polanyi and Julian Huxley, Arthur Koestler and Teilhard de Chardin all express regret at the severance of “natural philosophy” from the discussion of Weltanschauungen. All of them let their intellectual imaginations roam beyond the established results of disciplined scientific research, into cloudier regions of speculation—about Personal Knowledge as a clue to the Divine, about a religion based on Science rather than Revelation, or about a “Christogenesis” which shall be the apotheosis of both biological and human history. The appearance of the final installment of the vast trilogy that has occupied Arthur Koestler for the last ten years, or more, is an occasion…

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