OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
A fifth phenomenon of modernity is the loss of the gods [Entgötterung]. This expression does not mean the mere elimination of the gods, crude atheism. The loss of the gods is a twofold process. On the one hand, the world picture Christianizes itself inasmuch as the ground of the world is posited as infinite and unconditioned, as the absolute. On the other hand, Christendom reinterprets its Christianity as a world view (the Christian world view) and thus makes itself modern and up to date. The loss of the gods is the condition of indecision about God and the gods. Christianity is chiefly responsible for bringing it about. But loss of the gods is far from excluding religiosity. Rather, it is on its account that the relation to the gods is transformed into religious experience [Erleben]. When this happens, the gods have fled. The resulting void is filled by the historical and psychological investigation of myth.
What conception of beings and what interpretation of truth lies at the basis of these phenomena?
We confine the question to the first of the phenomena mentioned above, natural science.
In what is the essence of modern science to be found?
What conception of beings and of truth grounds this essence? If we can manage to come upon the metaphysical ground which provides the foundation of science as a modern phenomenon, then it must be possible to recognize from out of that ground the essence of modernity in general.
As we use the word science these days, it means something essentially different from the doctrina and scientia of the Middle Ages, different, too, from the Greek ἐπιστήμη. Greek science was never exact precisely because, according to its essence, it neither could be, nor needed to be, exact. Hence, it makes no sense at all to assert that contemporary science is more exact than the science of antiquity. Neither can one say that Galileo's doctrine of free-falling bodies is true while Aristotle's teaching that light bodies strive upwards is false. For the Greek understanding of the nature of body and place and of the relation between them rests on a different interpretation of beings. It determines, therefore, a correspondingly different way of seeing and questioning natural occurrences. No one would presume to say that Shakespeare's poetry is more advanced than that of Aeschylus. It is even more impossible to say that the contemporary understanding of beings is more correct than that of the Greeks. If, then, we wish to grasp the essence of contemporary science we must first free ourselves of the habit of comparing modern with older science — from the perspective of progress — merely in terms of degree.