Edited Transcript:

If you take the sunset, for example, science has a perfectly good description of why the sun looks orange or yellow as it is setting, why the colors are graded in the sky (because of the scattering of dust that is in the atmosphere), and so on and so forth. There can be a perfectly comprehensive description of the scientific basis for why the sky looks the way it does. But once that scientific description has been offered, you realize that it has missed the point. It has missed the beauty. It has not described the beauty. The illustration that I like to give of this question of clarity and the example of things that do not possess that kind of clarity is music. So here is an example… Ask yourself the question: what is this event?

[Symphony plays.]

Well, a scientific description of this event might consist of saying: we have certain pieces of an alloy – metallic alloy, mostly copper – that are brought together in such a way that electrons in the surfaces interfere with one another. This generates a momentum impulse, which is then transferred to the atoms of the lattice. It propagates as a sound wave through the lattice. It then couples to the air roundabout in compressional ways, which are launched out into the outside world. That is a scientific description. It is actually a perfectly correct scientific description of what that young lady was doing.

So that is one way to describe it. Another way to describe it would be to say: she took cymbals and crashed them together. Or he took the hammer and he crashed it down on the anvil. That is another way to describe this.

But of course, that is inadequate because these are not people on their own doing their own thing. No, they are actually part of a symphony orchestra. So they are actually very important parts of the whole. There are a bunch of other people doing things simultaneously with them. But the things they are doing simultaneously at another level have a very important significance. This is actually the hammer blow from the finale of Mahler’s sixth symphony.

Then there is the audience out there, and they are hearing this symphony, and actually, music itself. Its meanings are not present in any kind of scientific description of the sound waves. They are actually elicited only by the act of listening or hearing the music, and the connection to the music. Perhaps for some people in the audience, they are a kind of reminiscence. They have heard this piece before, or it relates to something in their human lives and evokes that reaction. Of course, all of that is fraught with ambiguity and uncertainty and mystery. And in a certain sense, it is completely impossible to convey that in scientific terminology.

Now, those two characteristics which science insists upon I assert limit its scope of application. It cannot be used usefully to describe comprehensively things that do not have reproducibility or do not have clarity. Certain parts of our knowledge and our lives are ruled out. One very important part is the question of purpose.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Ian Hutchinson argues that science cannot fully explain certain events because it cannot capture their inherent beauty. Do elements like beauty constitute important facts or knowledge about these sorts of events?
  2. Ian Hutchinson notes that a scientific explanation fails to capture the multiple levels of explanation for events like playing a symphony. What does this illustration of different levels of explanation – including personality and purpose – demonstrate about how we can think of the relationship between God and scientific explanation?
  3. Ian Hutchinson argues that science cannot offer a description of our purpose. What do you think your purpose is? Does science shape how you think about it?