07 April 2011

Science and Scientism

Can Scientists Overreach? Yes, says theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser in an article of the same name on NPR.org. He summarizes (in an extremely brief manner) the work of Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Gilead, in her book-length essay Absence of Mind


I bring this up because in a blog post I wrote in January titled When Modern Scientists Get Hold of Astrology, I concluded by asking Why would modern astrologers care much about what scientists say about astrology? My point was that most modern scientists are hostile to astrology, and any comments they make on the subject are uninformed (meaning that they haven't taken the time to study the subject) and are aimed at debunking it (which completely contradicts even their own methodology, but they won't admit that).


I received a lot of very hostile comments (which I did not allow to post on the blog) insisting that everything should be subject to science and the scientific method if it one claimed that it were "true." Now, I have always been clear on this: I am grateful for modern science and medicine. I am grateful to live in a society where diseases like polio and smallpox are virtually non-existent. I am grateful to be writing this post on a computer, rather than on a typewriter and then having to publish it in print version. I am also glad for simple scientific knowledge like the fact that my garden might need more or less nitrogen, etc., (and we can now measure this) for growing the types of vegetables that I want to grow. My very pointed complaint was about the hostile of interference of scientists in astrology. The argument, which I thought I made pretty clear, was that not everything in life can or should be subject to the scientific method. Well it seems as if at least one Pulitzer Prize winner agrees with me. 

To reduce everything to science and its methods impoverishes humanity. We need cultural diversity and that includes the culture of religion.
What makes some scientists so sure of their science? The practice of science, after all, relies precisely on uncertainties; a theory only works until its limits are exposed. In fact, this is a good thing, since new theories sprout from the cracks of old ones.
For science to advance it needs to fail. The truths of today will not be the truths of tomorrow.
(Marilynne Robinson as summarized by Marcelo Gleiser)
Gleiser quotes directly Robinson's criticism of renowned atheist and scientism cheerleader Richard Dawkins from an article she wrote for Harper's Magazine:
So bad science is still science in more or less the same sense that bad religion is still religion. That both of them can do damage on a huge scale is clear. The prestige of both is a great part of the problem, and in the modern period the credibility of anything called science is enormous. As the history of eugenics proves, science at the highest levels is no reliable corrective to the influence of cultural prejudice but is in fact profoundly vulnerable to it.
The philosophical pinnings of Traditional astrology are Neo-platonic. It posits that first comes Soul, which gives rise to Consciousness, which in turn gives rise to Matter. This allows for the belief that non-physical causes can ultimately have an effect upon the physical world. The modern world view is that if enough matter is brought together, it may give rise to consciousness. And it pretty much stops there. Notice that these are diametrically opposing points of view, which is why it makes evaluating one of these world views in terms of the other very difficult.

Note that the Traditional (pre-Enlightenment) world view does not deny any of modern science's evaluation of material things on their own terms. That is, allowing science and the scientific method to measure the physical effects upon physical objects is not incompatible with a more Traditional/Magical/Spiritual world view. However, it also allows for the interaction of the physical world with the non-physical world, and for the idea that we don't really know everything that there is to know about how even the physical world works. 

To re-quote Robinson "For science to advance it needs to fail. The truths of today will not be the truths of tomorrow."

1 comment:

Christopher Warnock, Esq said...

Excellent post! To really understand what is going on here is quite complex. First, we have the issue of worldview, not just our conscious philosophy, but our unconscious views, in fact, our reality. It is very difficult to accept that there could be other views of reality and that the modern world view is just one possible reality. http://resurgence.opendemocracy.net/index.php/Modern_Worldview
http://renaissance-astrology.blogspot.com/2008/12/modern-world-view.html

Science is rooted in an atheistic/materialist philosophy but to make things even more complex, doesn't realize it! Again it is just "reality" that nothing exists except matter and energy.

Finally there is the unspoken truce between science and mainline religion. Science gets to define reality and the mainline religions get to sort of believe in the non-material even though it is irrational.

All of this makes even thinking and discussing these issue very difficult. Thanks for advancing the conversation!