• A Particular Collision: Arendt, CERN, and Reformational Philosophy

      Johnson, Matthew E.; Institute for Christian Studies (2014-03-27)
      In this paper, I will explore how recent discoveries in particle physics that are part of the pursuit of a so-called “unified theory of everything” play into a worldview that has the potential to poison ethical life. I will explicate Hannah Arendt’s critique of modern science’s pursuit of knowledge by means of (what she calls) “acting into nature,” and I will place the groundbreaking experimental research at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, as well as the theoretical search for a unified “theory of everything,” within the scope of Arendt’s critique. In order to maintain Arendt’s concept of unprecedented newness inherent in human action (or what she calls “natality”) as a response to a scientific reductionism that tends to accompany these claims and pursuits of theoretical physics and to expose what is at stake in Arendt’s critique, I will turn to the anti-reductionistic Reformational philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven, which offers a model that resonates with Arendt’s critique of modern science, while also allowing for a potentially viable way forward for considerations of the scope of scientific knowledge. Finally, I will conclude with the implications of this Reformational anti-reductionism on Arendt’s concern that human action, with its power to create new and unprecedented historical situations and natural processes, must be held accountable by reflection. What is learned from Arendt and the Reformational philosophers is that giving ground to the possibility of a unified theory of everything carries with it a determinism that disallows the recognition of both newness and irreducible complexity, both of which are essential to the ethical life.