Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Childlike Faith of the Scientific Fundamentalist

Today we will review the question of evolution in light of the antinomy of faith vs. reason. It's a subtle issue, so it's easy to misunderstand where I'm coming from. It is not quite accurate to say that I reject literalism -- in fact, not accurate at all, because the higher reaches of the spiritual life are built on a stable foundation of dogma, just as the ability to communicate requires fixed rules for spelling and grammar. You can eliminate the rules of spelling and grammar, but you won't be able to say much of substance. But at the same time, you don't just idealize good spelling as sufficient in itself to convey wisdom.

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!


julie said...

Hooray! More raccoon p0rn!

I loved that passage by UF about crucifying the serpent; I happened across it on the same day I read this passage in the Satprem, on the centers of consciousness:

" day we may feel an ascending Force which awakes at the base of the vertebral column and climbs from level to level right up to the top of the head with an undulating movement just like a serpent..."

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, if you think of the serpent as that which evolves in time -- such as scientific knowledge -- then the task of each generation is to re-crucify the snake, or reconcile temporal and timeless truth. Then everything's cool. Until the snake sheds his skin and escapes again.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I take issue with your definition of science, or your philosophy of science.

The whole of science is supposed to reject any supernatural explanation or non-natural explanation. If you have a complaint about the way science does things, you have an issue with science as a whole. You can't claim there is a verticality to science, because it's no longer science, by definition. It's a new study.

For example there is a history of mathematics, but there is no history in mathematics. The way math works is not affected by its history. Science is the same way, whether or not there is something beyond science, it doesn't affect the way science works or is supposed to, but in terms of what you expect of science, if it is putting in the supernatural, it's not science. That's a fundamental philosophy.

The whole point is to find explanations or patterns for the way the world works without God, because if there is an explanation for something that excludes God, we can change things or use the information to our advantage, because it is now on a level we can work with.

Gagdad Bob said...

I never question a man's faith.

julie said...

wv says esseses (in green, with a sinuous line, no less); I couldn't put it any better myself.

Anonymous said...

I guess for example I would pose a specific question as to how we could take advantage of something that is beyond our control.

If evolution, in specific natural selection, is false, what advantage does it give us to assume that the diversity comes from the supernatural? Even if it is supernatural, if we find a natural explanation that fits, it benefits us more regardless of the cause.

julie said...

Love the strategically placed apple, btw.

Joan of Argghh! said...

American Thinker has a nice essay about the "conventional" belief that Christians believed the world was flat.

Nah. there's enough law. be spirti.

Joan of Argghh! said...

And yes, Anon, I think you should read it and update your history lessons.


NoMo said...

Ultimately, Reality must consist of both Reason AND Faith. "One Cosmos...Under God".

" is a matter of absolutely crucial importance to the health of the Christian community."

Alvin Plantinga

walt said...

I believe the sun is shining just a little brighter in Arizona right about now.

julie said...

That it is, Walt, though I do feel a little bad that the Giants had to lose for it to happen.

Anonymous said...

To Anon I say you essentially echo Bob, that science is a method. It doesn't require the use of God to be useful.

I have noted that dwelling with God does not necessarily produce any benefit other than peace of mind. However, that's a pretty huge benefit. It can make all the difference in the subjective quality of life.

So, the crossroads that Bob refers to is where one might use science for useful ends, and use religion for them also, simultaneously. They are not mutually incompatible. However, between the two, religion is primary. Why?

Take heed of anomalies; sometimes the laws of physics are rescinded temporarily by the prime mover for various reasons. Look carefully and you can spot these events.

I have seen "impossible" things, usually quite small, where gravity, time, or other qualities are altered or abrogated. So, science can never be primary, because the principle by which it works are plastic in the hands of It that runs this place.

It is not a matter of faith, but a matter of fact.

Anonymous said...

Joan of Argghh I was already well aware that it was widely accepted the earth was spherical before Columbus. But I don't recall bringing it up, or stating that I thought otherwise.

I'm glad to know American Thinker remembered something from middle school. I'm sure people really like Washington Irving, but anybody with even just a GED should know the real story.

If you just found that out from that article, well... even public schools teach that.

Anonymous said...

"So, the crossroads that Bob refers to is where one might use science for useful ends, and use religion for them also, simultaneously. They are not mutually incompatible. However, between the two, religion is primary. Why?"

I didn't state that they are mutually incompatible for ones own belief system. Anybody can take what they want from science and religion and combine what they want of them.

And I don't really attribute something I find "impossible" to God, because I don't know enough to know if it is God. If I knew of no principles of aerodynamics, a jumbo jet would seem pretty impossible wouldn't it?

But today, outside of what was once man's limits, we fly. Would your stance not change with further developments? Would you find a jetliner to be the work of God if traveled to now from 500 years ago?

hoarhey said...

"And I don't really attribute something I find "impossible" to God, because I don't know enough to know if it is God."

Is it possible you don't know enough to attribute what is possible to God? That a rise in consciousness of your primitive view of religious faith (cargo cult) might help with the attribution?
God is the jetliner, then as now.

Magnus Itland said...

Science requires experience within that domain (and subdomain). If you don't have the experience yourself, you better find people who have, and learn from them. Even then it is hard to replace actual experience.

It is not all that different with religion. Before you have faith, you need to find who and what to have faith in. No amount of faith will give a genuine insight if it is faith in a random collection of rumors by inexperienced people.

wv: sonic

Anonymous said...

Well, I get what anonymous is saying: anomalies cannot automatically be attributed to God, as perhaps not all the workings of the standard laws are completely understood.

True, true, true...correct discernment is essential.

There was the plaster head of Mary that cried the human tears in copioius quantities last century..this example was well documented and tested scientifically. The Catholic church was forced to concede that this anomaly was "worthy of belief for those who desire to do so."

Anomalies that I have witnessed were less clear cut than that and I should probably factor in the possiblility that I was mistaken.

Even so, in the absence of reliable anomalies one falls back on faith and the project still yields the all-important peace of mind.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous gets what anonymous is saying, fancy that!

maineman said...


Sometimes, your posts are like Beethoven -- i.e. sturm un drang.

This today, is like Mozart, crystalline.


River Cocytus said...

"God is the Lord and has revealed himself unto us."

This is an extremely common proclamation in Orthodox services. I've been thinking about it, and while to most Christians it will seem like a kind of nonsensical phrase, redundant and repetitious, I believe that it is actually very important.

Since we as Christians implicitly assume that God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us, I.e. in the Christ, the statement itself might seem meaningless.

But, 'Lord' - Adonai, Yahweh, refers to the Lord who revealed himself in the Old Testament, as a person and as interested in the affairs of man. He is seen as both merciful and as a stern judge. The proclamation simply is saying, this Adonai, is the very real and only God. Secondly it says that he has revealed himself to us, and how? The line following explains:

"Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord."

Specifically the Christ, but also generally a saint or holy man. That is to say, The supreme being and principle is this person, who reveals himself to us by those who come in his Name, including himself. In the Tao Te Ching there is a line that says something like, "When the bearer of the Tao comes, it will be given a name." (Something like that... Walt can probably find the part.)

It seems that in humans there is a fundamental belief in a 'supreme thing' - whether it be a principle, person, being, idea. Secondly we seem to be aware of unusual and felicitous events (unless we kill our mind) like those which revealed Yahweh to the Jews, and finally we recognize exemplars, heroes, sages, etc. This simple verse deftly connects the three.

Thus saying, ultimately the supreme thing must be the source of the felicitous events, and those who are real sages are those who reveal it to us. We go further and then lay this mold onto the Scriptures to illuminate it.

You become a materialist or literalist when you're forced to remove or discount anything in one of the three categories (the absolute, the grace, the holy ones.) The most complete faith then would be one which recognizes God anywhere he is, whether in his absolution or immanence, in in immanence through events or people.

The final bit is to balance consistency and completeness; for that we require transformation and comprehension of the degrees of things and of the duality present in the temporal sphere. That is, the real distinction (though less Real than the Real) between good and evil, light and dark, and so forth.

Er, ramble over!

Anonymous said...

hoarhey said...

" "And I don't really attribute something I find "impossible" to God, because I don't know enough to know if it is God."

Is it possible you don't know enough to attribute what is possible to God? That a rise in consciousness of your primitive view of religious faith (cargo cult) might help with the attribution?
God is the jetliner, then as now."

It is as possible as it is that you would not know something and attribute it to God when God has nothing to do with it. In that sense, you know as little as I do.