Contemporary Scientific Orientations

The subsequent development of science has modified, or at least brought into question, the monistic and materialistic paradigm generated by the early enthusiasm for a purely positivistic approach. For one thing, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing into the twentieth, the sciences of organic life have matured, thanks largely to placing the conception of evolutionary change at the very center of biological thought. This resulted in the view, which has been already noted, that death is biologically normal for individual members of evolving species.

A second and more recent development has been the maturing of the sciences of action. Although these have historical roots in the humanistic tradition, they have only recently been differentiated from the humanistic trunk to become generalizing sciences, integrating within themselves the same conception of evolutionary change that has become the hallmark of the sciences of life.

The development of the action sciences has given rise, as already noted, to a viable conception of the human person as analytically distinct from the organism. At the same time these sciences, by inserting the person into an evolutionary sociocultural matrix analogous to the physico-organic species matrix within which the individual organism is embedded, have been able to create an intellectual framework within which the death of the personality can be understood to be as normal as the death of the organism.

Finally, the concept of evolutionary change has been extended from the life sciences (concerned with the organism) and the action sciences (concerned with the person-actor) to include the whole of empirical reality. And at the same time we have been made aware—principally by the ways in which Einstein's theory of relativity modified the previous assumptions of the absolute empirical "givenness"

of physical nature in the Newtonian tradition—of the relative character of our human understanding of the human condition.

Thus there is now a serious questioning of absolutes, both in our search for absolutely universal laws of physical nature and in our quest for metaphysical absolutes in the philosophical wake of Christian theology.

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