The Childlike Faith of the Scientific Fundamentalist
The whole point of theology -- as opposed to revelation -- is to create a consistent and comprehensive system of spiritual, or metaphysical, thought. In order to do this properly, one must exclude nothing. There is no right superior to truth, so wherever we find truth, we must respect it and find a place for it in our theology. Otherwise, as mentioned yesterday, we will have unintegrated gaps in our being, when the whole point of spiritual practice is to become whole -- for thine I to become single. In the language of Godel, the I of the literalist (whether scientific or religious) will be highly consistent, but at the price of serious incompleteness.
As I have mentioned in the past, I regard religion as the science of the ultimate, or absolute, Subject, and science as the religion of the ultimate object -- the physical cosmos. Both are methods to gain knowledge, the former operating through faith, the latter through doubt. Another way of saying it is that religion involves the exercise of faith as applied to the vertical, whereas science restricts itself to doubt in the horizontal.
Looked at in a certain way, science is simply the systematization of doubt. Unlike animals, we can doubt the evidence of our senses and inquire into the true cause of things. But the universe is One, and whenever we try to draw a bright line between two manmade categories, aspects of one side will inevitably creep into the other. For example, we divide the world into categories of "matter" and "mind," whereas the underlying reality knows no such strict boundary. We have a problem understanding how truth can emerge from a nine pound piece of meat, but only because of our preconceptions. The cosmos does not have this problem.
We can easily show that science, especially in our time, has become a faux religion. This is because, in maintaining the bright line between religion and science, a lot of religion ends up on the science side. Thus, while the father of empirical science may be doubt, its mother is unabashed faith. For example, in the words of our Unknown Friend, "Newton doubted the traditional theory of 'gravity,' but he believed in the unity of the world, and therefore in cosmic analogy. This is why he could arrive at the cosmic law of gravitation in consequence of the fact of an apple falling from a tree. Doubt set his thought in motion; faith rendered it fruitful."
Now, that is a point worth dwelling on: Faith rendered his thinking fruitful. As I have mentioned a number of times, this has been one of the genuine surprises of my life. I think, based upon my understanding of Polanyi, I already understood that our implicit scientific models of reality are always rooted in a type of unarticulated faith about the nature of things. What I did not realize was the extent to which faith in traditional revelation could be such a fruitful and generative way to think about reality in its deeper sense. In other words, I allowed for scientific faith; it was religious faith that made no sense to me.
And what is scientific faith? What is the credo of the materialist scientist? Again, our Unknown Friend provides an excellent summation (which I have paraphrased) of the reigning dogma and catechism of science. Let us place our hand on a copy of Sam Harris's The End of Faith, and solemnly affirm:
I believe in a single substance, the mother of all forces, which engenders the life and consciousness of everything, visible and invisible. I believe in a single Lord, biology, the unique son of the substance of the world, born from the mother substance after centuries of random shuffling of material: the encapsulated reflection of the great material sea, the epiphenomenal light of primordial darkness, the false reflection of the real world, consubstantial with the mother-substance. It is he who has descended from the shadows of the mother-substance, he who has taken on flesh from matter, he who plays at the illusion of thought from flesh, he who has become the Human Brain. I acknowledge a single method for the elimination of error, thus ultimately eliminating myself and returning to the mother substance. Amen.
Now clearly, the scientist has faith that the unique mother-substance must be one beneath its superficial diversity. Furthermore, he must have faith that the human mind is capable of reducing this outward multiplicity to unity, which is how science proceeds. He must also believe that the mind, although a product of evolution, is somehow its master. In other words, in knowing it is a product of evolution, the human mind transcends evolution and stands outside or "above" it.
Wait, how can that be? I thought the mother substance was the ultimate reality? How can it be transcended? If it is true that matter is the ultimate reality, it cannot be true, because truth is superior to matter. If matter is the ultimate reality, then there is no way to get around Haldane's remark that "If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms."
But show a little tolerance. You must understand that the scientific literalist is a simple person of faith. Don't ask for his faith to be complete. Like the religious literalist, his faith is consistent, but at the price of completeness. It must exclude much truth in order to maintain its consistency.
There is a horizontal world of quantities and a vertical world of qualities. The scientific fundamentalist reduces quality to quantity and calls it "knowledge." The religious literalist subsumes quantity into quality and calls it "faith." Is it really necessary to reduce the one the to other, or can they coexist harmoniously?
Viewed from a certain angle, the story of Genesis can be seen as the chronicle of man's fall from verticality to horizontality. The serpent promises us that if we open our eyes to the horizontal, we will be as gods. With the scientific revolution, mankind fully opened its eyes to the horizontal, but at what price? It is at the price of obscuring the world's inconceivably rich qualitative aspects. "The more one has 'open eyes' for quantity, the more one becomes blind to quality. Yet all that one understands by 'spiritual world' is only quality, and all experience of the spiritual world is due to 'eyes that are open' for quality, for the vertical aspect of the world." And the supreme quality -- or value -- "is the supreme Entity -- God.
What does it require to be a religious scientist or a scientific believer? Easy. Just imagine a cross. The vertical axis is called religion, the horizontal axis science. To quote our Unknown Friend again, we must
"Crucify the serpent. Put the serpent -- or the scientific creed -- on the cross of religion and science, and a metamorphosis of the serpent will follow. The scientific creed then becomes what it is in reality: the mirroring of the creative Word. It will no longer be truth; it will be method. It will no longer say: 'In the beginning was substance or matter,' but it will say: 'in order to understand the mechanism of the made world, it is necessary to choose a method which takes account of the origin of matter and of that which set it in motion from above.' And it will no longer say: 'the brain produces consciousness,' but it will say: 'in order to understand the function of the brain, it is necessary to consider it in such a way as if consciousness is caused by it."
This will "neutralize the poison of scientific faith and transform it into a servant of life," perhaps making the way for some Raccoon to come up with "a light-filled vision of the world evolving through the impulse of the serpent towards a final aim set by providence."
One Cosmos, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberation and Joyousness for All!