Given the proliferation in the last several years of publications concerning the relationship of science and religion, it is hard to imagine that Simone Weil, writing sixty years ago, would have much to contribute to this important discussion. It is my aim in this essay to argue that Weil’s frequently expressed thoughts on the relationship between science and faith are not only important, but they also provide a timely contribution to the current debate by describing a metaphysical framework for the discussion entirely different than those generally preferred by current participants in the dialogue.
Writing during the last few months of her life, in the midst of World War II, Weil writes that “the modern conception of science is responsible, as is that of history and that of art, for the monstrous conditions under which we live, and will, in its turn, have to be transformed, before we can hope to see the dawn of a better civilization.” In our contemporary world science and religion have become almost entirely disconnected, producing not only a vacuum where values once existed but also an intense psychological and intellectual distress.
The absolute incompatibility between the spirit of religion and that of science . . . leaves the soul in a permanent state of secret, unacknowledged uneasiness. . . . The most fervent Christians express every hour of their lives judgments, opinions, which, unknown to them, are based on standards which go contrary to the spirit of Christianity. But the most disastrous consequence of this uneasiness is to make it impossible for the virtue of intellectual probity to be exercised to the fullest extent . . . The modern phenomenon of irreligion among the population can be explained almost entirely by the incompatibility between science and religion.
In Weil’s estimation, the response to many contemporary crises must be rooted in a reawakened understanding of the necessary connection between true science and religion. “The remedy is to bring back again among us the spirit of truth, and to start within religion and science; which implies that the two of them should become reconciled.”
Essay in Rozelle-Stone, A. Rebecca & Stone, Lucian, eds., The Relevance of the Radical: Simone Weil 100 Years Later, New York: Continuum, pp.107-122
in Rozelle-Stone, A. Rebecca & Stone, Lucian, eds., The Relevance of the Radical: Simone Weil 100 Years Later, New York: Continuum, pp. 123-138
Simone Weil is widely recognized today as one of the profound religious thinkers of the twentieth century. Yet while her interpretation of natural science is critical to Weil’s overall understanding of religious faith, her writings on science have received little attention compared with her more overtly theological writings. The present essay, which builds on Vance Morgan’s Weaving the World: Simone Weil on Science, Necessity, and Love (2005), critically examines Weil’s interpretation of the history of science. Weil believed that mathematical science, for the ancient Pythagoreans a mystical expression of the love of God, had in the modern period degenerated into a kind of reification of method that confuses the means of representing nature with nature itself. Beginning with classical (Newtonian) science’s representation of nature as a machine, and even more so with the subsequent assimilation of symbolic algebra as the principal language of mathematical physics, modern science according to Weil trades genuine insight into the order of the world for symbolic manipulation yielding mere predictive success and technological domination of nature. I show that Weil’s expressed desire to revive a Pythagorean scientific approach, inspired by the “mysterious complicity” in nature between brute necessity and love, must be recast in view of the intrinsically symbolic character of modern mathematical science. I argue further that a genuinely mystical attitude toward nature is nascent within symbolic mathematical science itself.
Providence College, Philosophy Department Faculty Publications
Beyond Power draws on the writings of Simone Weil (b. Paris, France, 1909, d. Ashford, UK, 1943) to construct a theory of authority that challenges conventional assumptions. Avery argues that neither science nor religion nor a political mandate can provide an adequate rationale for authority. Simone Weil’s electrifying insights, derived from her experience as a social activist, factory worker, and philosophy teacher, provide ways in which to think about the essential element of authority and take it into account more fully than usually seems possible. By focusing unflinchingly on what was sacred to herself and others in religion, politics, science, work, justice, and education, she achieved a kind of authority of her own. Avery devotes a chapter to each of these six subjects, as well as to an overview of the question of authority and a short account of Simone Weil’s life.
Beyond Power will be ideal for students and teachers of philosophy, politics, religion, and history, and the humanities. Those who admire the philosophy of Simone Weil will find a compelling overview of her work, while those interested in religious questions will find a fresh approach to thinking and talking about what makes human life meaningful. Avery offers new ways to examine the burning political, religious, and scientific issues of our time.
Lexington Books, 2008
Weaving the World uses Simone Weil’s philosophy of science and mathematics as an introduction to the thought of one of the most powerful philosophical and theological minds of the twentieth century. Weil held that, for the ancient Greeks, the ultimate purpose of science and mathematics was the knowledge and love of the divine. Her creative assimilation of this vision led her to a conception of science and mathematics that connects the human person with not only the physical world but also the spiritual and aesthetic aspects of human existence. Vance G. Morgan investigates Weil’s earliest texts on science, in which she lays the foundation for a conception of science rooted in basic human concerns and activities. He then tracks Weil’s analysis of the development of science, particularly of the mathematics and science of the ancient Greeks.
Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005
Richard Rees, trans., London: Oxford University Press