Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Science and Materialism

Science is increasingly idolised these days. There really is no other word for it. It is seen as the only reliable means to knowledge, both of the world and of ourselves. It alone gives truth. It alone has the keys to the kingdom.

But what if it were a false idol and led not to an increased understanding of life but to a narrowing of vision, a loss of true values and eventual death? That is my view (see here and here) but it is definitely a heretical one according to the accepted canons of contemporary belief. It would not only be dismissed as absurd and ignorant by secular authorities but would also be rejected by most religious leaders too who fail to see that if you try to ride two horses going in different directions, one of them will inevitably have to follow the other.

So why is science so highly regarded and why do I reject its authority? To answer the second question first, it's very simple. I reject its authority because it is wrong. If science were not materialistic by default that would not be the case, but it is or certainly has become so. Therefore it denies all truths not open to its own limited means of research. It has identified itself so completely with materialism that it cannot break that connection without diminishing itself and its unique authority. Of course, individual scientists do not necessarily all think in this way but the discipline as a whole does.

So, to be clear, I do not reject science so much as its materialistic bias, but nowadays the two are locked so closely together that they cannot be prised apart. And I reject this bias on practically every ground I can think of, be it those one would expect such as tradition, revelation, religion, experience, intuition, imagination, faith, but also those that are regarded with approval by scientists such as reason and logic. For materialism is irrational in that it can explain nothing fundamental in itself but still won't accept the obvious, namely that the universe is set up and governed by intelligence. It has to deny this intelligence because to accept it would be to undermine its own position of pre-eminence. Thus when science looks behind the veil of existence at such root realities as life, consciousness and intelligence, never mind all those troublesome things not definable in terms of mathematics like beauty, love and goodness, all it sees is basically nothing. Literally nothing real in the latter case (i.e. these things are just subjective), and nothing existing independently of determining material processes in the former.

As for why science is highly regarded, I would say there are various reasons. Firstly, it is relatively new. According to our current way of looking at the world anything recent is likely to be regarded as more advanced than what came before. As, in some respects, it is. Then there is no doubt that science, through its practical application of technology, has changed the world radically and, in many ways, for the better. It has got results and made our lives much easier. It has also explained some things that were mysteries and corrected some ideas that were incorrectly understood. It has vastly increased our intellectual understanding of the physical and, to some extent, psychological worlds. All this is undeniable. But there is also the equally undeniable fact that science appeals to those who wish to reject God which means those who are motivated by pride in their own independent intellects. From this perspective, at least, science can be viewed as a product of the Fall, and one, if not directly inspired by, then certainly exploited by that being who was the agent of the Fall and the first to reject the authority of the Creator.

Even those who recognise that science has overstepped its boundaries from the 19th century onwards like to say that this is not the fault of science as such. It is simply a misuse of science. But I wonder if the aspect of misuse is not actually implicit in the discipline itself. Science, after all, is something that depends on the analysis of the material world and the use of the rational mind. It is fundamentally anti-spiritual in its conception from the outset so unless it submits itself to a higher authority, whether that be God, the soul, revelation or spiritual intuition, it will always end up in the way it has. And the majority of its adherents will always resist anything that threatens their hegemony and position on top of the intellectual pile.

What science fundamentally does is break things up in order to look inside them. That is the way it understands them. Now this is effective up to a point but something essential is lost that way. What it is is hard to define (particularly in scientific terms precisely because it is not open to the scientific method of exploration), but we can call it the spirit or soul or quality of the thing, and anybody with the slightest bit of imagination will know what that means. But science won't accept imagination as in any way pointing to reality because it operates outside of its domain. I am not dismissing the scientific approach but I am saying that, taken to excess, as it is now, it is highly damaging to the proper development of a human being. It must be accompanied by, even subordinated to, a more visionary mode of perception which approaches things intuitively and is able to look through and behind and beyond externals without chopping them up into their component parts but seeing them as wholes. For science may be able to manipulate matter but it cannot see the reality of which matter is only an expression.

This article is unashamedly polemical in nature. It is so because a proper view of life requires balance. God is truth and love, justice and mercy. At the present time we are dangerously out of balance and there is no law that says an extreme imbalance will naturally right itself. At least, none that says this will happen before dramatic consequences of imbalance come into play.


David Balfour said...

Excellent post. As you say, because of the overbearing nature of the scientific schema in modern times it can be difficult to articulate what it is exactly that is not being acknowledged as of fundamental importance in a *gestalt* or full view of reality.

It occurs to me that your reference to the neglect of the central importance of the "quality of the thing" (or subjective) by modern thinking that is exactly the profound insight which Robert Pirsig identified (in Zen and the Art of motorcycle maintenence) as having been excluded from modern thought as a result of an overemphasis on and eventual wholesale adoption of the Greek philosopher Aristotle's ways of thinking about reality (at the exclusion of metaphysics, Plato's ideal forms, the transcendent, etc.). Over the millenia this drift in thinking baseline has created a crazy world, a peculiar psychosis, in which the natural intuitive quality of things is denied or must be 'proved' (which is excluded as even a possibility as a result of the set-up) and therefore we get the full range of madness that we see unfolding around us in all arenas of life eg beaurocrats measuring and proving the 'quality' of health care, policies for education, strategies for managing and evaluating every minutiae of public life. All madness that could be avoided if common sense, intuition, imagination and pragmatism were reaffirmed as the way to navigate through daily life. But above all the importance of truth, beauty and virtue being the drivers if scientific activity and not science flying solo and being the God or idol of all things. Science should be a humble servant of greater masters and restored to a merely a branch of knowledge or natural science.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I quite agree with your last sentence (and the rest as well!). Science needs to learn that things seen (its domain) only exist because of things unseen. In fact science is like thought, an excellent servant but a bad master.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - Added to what you say, there is the horrible irony that modern 'science' is almost entirely a species of bureaucratic careerism, with only a tiny fraction of real science (i.e. research motivated by truth-seeking and truth-speaking, albeit within the narrow and positivistic metaphysical basis of science).

This, indeed, is what initially propelled me out from a long term scientistic atheism and (by many steps) into Christianity less than a decade ago.

So, nowadays we have the inexcusable situation that as well as religion (specifically the Christian) having been excluded as a valid assumption/ argument from all public discourse; religion now being eliminated as a voluntary institution, association or way of life (eg the forbidding, regulating and attacking of Christian schools, treating of traditional Christian views as 'hate crimes' and/or employment disciplinary offences etc)... in the name of nothing more than *pseudo*-science.

I wrote a little book about this a few years ago:

David Balfour said...

@ Bruce and William - how do you feel about my sharing of your blog posts and books with other people including on social media? I have not done so (yet) and am wary to do so as I do not want to attract attention which would be unhelpful or negative to either of you. But, my feeling is that this is the kind of discussion that we should be having with other people as Christians, even though that would make us vulnerable to (potential) negative evaluation from others.

I have found that I have been able to speak about these kinds of spiritual matters with work colleagues who have expressed an interest in spiritual matters and my hope is that by sharing some of these blog posts or materials, they may kindle a positive influence for them personally as fellow seekers for answers to life's important questions. I feel almost feel God wants me to do this to reach out to others.

As far as larger media forums are concerned, such as Facebook, I am even more wary about sharing or posting links or items on spiritual topics. At Easter, I posted a video from LDS church, quite nervously anticipating some kind of horrifically negative response and I had some positive responses but was largely ignored and given some strange looks (almost fearful that a madman has sprung up amongst their ranks totally unexpectedly) in the work place after my break (this may be my paranoia, however). I have also posted an article about quotes from famous scientists affirming their personal beliefs in deity. This was also largely ignored but did receive a few 'likes.'

My feeling is increasingly that I have a duty as a Christian to not just keep the gospel to myself and that I must defend and be bold enough to be clear to the world that religion and theology are good things that deserve serious consideration. I do this at my own risk but would not wish for my actions to impact on others negatively and so I will not do so if either of you would prefer that I did not.

I have shared William Arkle's website with a few people, however, as he is no longer in any danger from unwanted anonymous spammers or bloggers. I have found that a few people have been very pleasantly suprised to find such a warm and gentle conception of the divine and of Christianity. I find it hopeful that even though the impact may not produce immediately 'road to damascus' conversions, it does at least soften people's hearts and reorient them to the currently unmet spiritual yearnings of their hearts.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - I am quite happy for you to do this. After all, I screen all comments and will delete and block anybody who is trolling or offensive.

My blog is already listed (and gets views from) various neoreactionary and hence usually atheist blog accumulators - in practice I only get an occasional response or comment.

(Probably the most aggressive negative reaction was when I once criticized body-building as often/ tending-towards being wrongly-motivated and anti-Christian. The responses to which, as it happens, confirmed my point!).

David Balfour said...

"Probably the most aggressive negative reaction was when I once criticized body-building as often/ tending-towards being wrongly-motivated and anti-Christian. The responses to which, as it happens, confirmed my point!"

Haha! It is my experience that most stereotypes have a Grain or indeed a boulder of truth. I made a similar mistake when I commented on a Facebook post by a muscle-bound personal trainer posting semi-nude torso shots of himself *and* claiming his body building actually makes him a better person (a friend of a friend). I told him quite soberly that his self-indulgent egoism is harmful to himself and others and why he should stop doing it and encouraging others to do so. The response from this remark was very aggressive. We are no longer friends on Facebook :-)

William Wildblood said...

I actually bought your book recently, Bruce, but have not got round to reading it yet. I must remedy that shortly!

David, I too am quite happy for you to share anything of mine. I don't mind any negative feedback. Heat and kitchen, you know! As you say, it's more important to get through to people with 'unmet spiritual yearnings' than to worry about what the hard of heart might say.

David Balfour said...

"Living in a world based on a materialistic conception of life is like living below permanent cloud cover with no understanding that there is sunlight behind it."

Just bought your book. So far so good but I have a good feeling it has a lot to teach me. I will give you more feedback as I progress and/or after finishing it. Perhaps Bruce is right, there are fewer coincidences than we might sometimes imagine. As a former Buddhist of sorts en-route to Christianity I found/find this spiritual traditions insights into 'interconnectedness' profound and also increases a sense of closeness to seemingly distant aspects of the world including other people's apparently separate or distant situations. We live in a world full of strangers. But underneath the superficial appearance of a world full of strangers are unexpected shared experiences and insights and a shared journey of the human heart and soul.

William Wildblood said...

Thank you for buying my book, David. I would certainly be interested to hear any feedback you might give about it. I do think that things that happen are meant to happen. Perhaps not absolutely everything though who knows? But definitely things that matter or make an impact. Free will comes in with our reaction to what happens.