This book is an astonishing achievement. The author is a chemist by profession and a priest in the Anglican Church of Scotland. Anyone interested in and troubled by our “dementing civilization”, as he calls it, which includes, in some measure, a “dementing Church”, will find here, through the keen mind of a Christian scientist, a wide-ranging study of what it means to be a human being, along with an in-depth assessment of how we have come to our current civilizational confusion and demoralization. Scott issues a prophetic call to a re-discovery—a recollection--of the Judeo-Christian inheritance we have largely dismissed and forgotten. He does not deny its failures, but his aim is to point to its essentially liberating and civilizing truth and power as these have transformed the world in the last four millennia. “Civilizations do not lose their memories,” Scott writes. “They just stop remembering.” He believes that by uncovering the Judeo-Christian roots of our civilization, which we continue to ignore and belittle at our peril, we can build up our foundering culture again and re-orient modernity where it has gone tragically astray.
The author insists that the Church must lead in this and recover its call to holiness and obedient faith. His early chapters examine the nature of knowledge, faith, and memory, using, broadly, a heuristic method in which he first sets out a socially constructed dimension of these entities and then considers evidence for their coherence in light first of the physical/material causality underlying them and then of pertinent metaphysical causality that can be inferred from Scriptural revelation and from religious experience.
The Greek philosophical inheritance is illuminatingly juxtaposed with the Judeo-Christian inheritance, and Scott makes a cogent case to show how the development of science is the fruit of the Judeo-Christian revelation, in the biblical Word and in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. He analyses the contrast between Greek epistemology, in both Plato and Aristotle, with its foundational concept that things were necessarily the way they were and could be understood by intellectual activity alone, and the Judeo-Christian understanding that knowledge comes to us from outside ourselves, from a source—objective, independent reality and its Creator, God—that is beyond our control. Scott cites the 7th Century physicist John Philoponus, who perceived, on the basis of the Judeo-Christian revelation, that reality, created by God ex nihilo, is not necessary at all but is contingent, and that observation and experimentation were required to know it--mere thought could not establish true knowledge. Philoponus further asserted, on the basis of the biblical revelation that the universe was created and was not an eternal existent, that an intrinsic unity existed between the celestial and the sublunary regions and made all things cohere, an assertion that, by overthrowing the Greek view of the cosmos, affirmed the goodness of material reality and opened the way, in time, for scientific investigation into all of its aspects. “What we have observed,” writes Scott, “is the profound redefinition of what knowledge actually is. The overall impact of the Judeo-Christian tradition is to move the centre of gravity of knowledge from the human mind to the object to which it refers. To use Thomas Kuhn’s language, this is the greatest of all paradigm shifts and has provided the platform not only for seemingly limitless research and achievement, but also for an entire rational edifice of understanding of the human being.”
Scott’s argument in this connection puts paid to the fluffy-headed but current notion that science and Judeo-Christian faith are opposed and that Christian faith is irrational and so irrelevant. To the contrary, he insists--and many philosophers of science agree on this point--that science as we understand it today is the fruit precisely of that faith-tradition. Science rooted in observation, theory, and experiment is found in this faith-tradition and nowhere else. Scott underlines the irony that in every other aspect of the modern world, a subject-generated epistemology, similar in this regard to Greek epistemology where the human mind by itself discerned and established truth, has, ever since Descartes’ cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am) and then the 18th Century Enlightenment and in particular the philosophy of Kant with its subjective, a-priori starting point, taken over Western thought-patterns. Modern man starts with himself, not with an objective, independent reality, in his effort to understand and control the world. Indeed, he is un-naturing nature, in area after area. Consequently—and disastrously--he is losing contact with the real world and forcing it into a subjectively conceived and utilitarian Procrustean bed, where meaning is, in the end, simply what the individual—either the scholar or the man in the street—says it is. In this respect, science alone, rooted in the Judeo-Christian vision of reality, is, in principle if not always in reality, holding the line, while on every other front our culture is collapsing into individualistic chaos—nihilistic and narcissistic--with no external, objective, or metaphysical reference to guide us toward ultimate truth, meaning, purpose, or common ethics. The very notion of such ultimate truth is mocked by feckless, reductionist materialism and the irresponsible ideologies of relativism and egalitarianism, to the point that even the natural law tradition is undermined and rendered virtually powerless to illuminate the common good and order society.
In succeeding chapters Scott explores a variety of aspects of the human being, always using his heuristic method of the social, the physical/materialist, and the metaphysical constructions of reality: human being as such; human dignity; human interiority; human liberty; human endeavor; human error; human relations; human time. He concludes his analyses with a brief chapter on the extraordinary textual evidence for the veracity and reliability of the New Testament Scriptures, another area where modern skepticism and the primacy of doubt and suspicion with respect to everything has, with hardly any justification whatsoever, flatly denied massive textual evidence and the events recorded simply because our reigning belief system, subjectively derived and, philosophically speaking, based on a totally unwarranted refusal of any authoritative metaphysical reference, declares presumptuously that this evidence cannot be what it says it is.
The range of Scott’s analyses, and his mixture of erudition and common sense, make for a tremendously stimulating read. Following the author’s particular methodological approach, we learn, from multiple angles, about employment and taxation and private property issues; about suffering and dignity and human stature; about education, prayer, and the mystery of iniquity; about Nicolaus de Cusa and Copernicus, Grosseteste, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Faraday and Lord Kelvin; about human error, sin, holiness, and human sanctity; about marriage and family life, the raising of children, and the narcissism of modern culture, which Scott analyses through the lens of the parable of the Prodigal Son in the Bible, whom the gracious Father welcomes back joyfully after the son, at last, remembers his heritage and returns home, as Scott would have us remember our Judeo-Christian heritage; and, finally, we learn about time—time that tumbles away into the past and time that is sustained eternally, and resists all privation of being, by the Resurrection of Christ, in whom, and in whom alone, any realistic hope we can have, resides. All these subjects are treated with sensitivity, depth, and wisdom. Scott has a common touch, coupled with a wealth of knowledge and experience as a scientist and priest, which puts before us clearly and practically whatever he is talking about, as if these complex issues were accessible objects in our living room calling quite naturally for our consideration.
Kevin Scott’s The Re-inherited Mind is an excitingly original, captivating, and immensely thought-provoking book that I urge all of you to consider reading who are troubled by the ominous disorientation and the moral and spiritual emptiness of modern life. He is calling us to remember who we are and where, as inheritors of the Judeo-Christian tradition, we come from, so that we may recover ourselves and forge a more just and satisfying future, marked by a renewed sense of meaning, purpose, hope, and joy.