Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Fundamentalist Scientism

[I recently read these books that speak out against what Haisch called, "Fundamental Scientism."]

I love science!

The scientific method is one of the greatest discoveries ever made on planet earth!

However, I am about to be very critical of this same great science that I love so much.

First, I want to try to restate the mainstream scientific paradigm in one paragraph. Ready? Here goes:

Since Isaac Newton (the last 300 years) the world has adopted a Newtonian, mechanistic, materialistic, or reductionist view of the world. That is, the world behaves like a machine that must be taken apart to be understood (aka reductionism). All effects can be understood by studying their causes. Reality is built up in layers of complexity. For instance biology emerges from chemistry which emerges from physics. Or alternatively, biology is reducible to chemistry which is reducible to nuclear physics, atoms and their particles. Subatomic particles are reducible to energy. All is cause and effect. All causes come from below. There are no causes from above. No God. Consciousness is an illusion, albeit an emergent property of matter, another layer of complexity caused by the particles. We are not really conscious. Consciousness and everything else will be explained just as fast as the elusive particles can be understood. There is no free will. People are essentially automatons. There is no purpose or meaning in the universe except for what one makes for his or her self. We all must stoically face the abyss without flinching. We must all wait for physicists to discover the grand unified theory of everything.

I am not kidding. The above paragraph is the prevailing scientific paradigm, though it can be spiced up with talk of awe and wonder à la Carl Sagan (which I do like). (Did you catch the incompatability of the Uncertainty Principle and Determinism?)

Frankly, I don’t see much difference between believing that all causes come from a nothingness that resides below all things, than in believing that all causes come from an ambiguously defined God that resides above all things.

The Newtonian paradigm is unquestionably powerful though; The industrial revolution was a direct result of this new scientific way of thinking. But this same science that has so benefited the world has gotten itself in a feud with the religions of the earth and, sadly, is eating their lunch. Science has exposed so many of religion's teachings as ridiculous dogmas that it is no small irony that science has developed its own orthodoxy and dogmas which hamper its own progress (aka scientism). Yet while arrogant-uncertain science is on the rise and stubborn-certain religion seems to be in decline, there is a paradigm shift occurring in science that is not being digested by the materialists...It is that at the "bottom" there is no material, only energy which we do not clearly understand. This energy is reducible to…nothing at all. It vanishes. Or perhaps it turns into something called a zero-point field or a quantum field, a vast ocean of annihilated matter which is undetectable since it is in a state of zero charge, invisible, unmeasurable, seemingly gone, but out of which matter can come into existence ex nihilo fashion as long as a corresponding amount of anti-matter is also produced thereby conserving energy on the whole.

Furthermore, at the quantum level there is no materialistic certainty, no certain causes (see Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle) I'll say it again. No certain causes at the quantum level. And just to be clear, we are not talking about a mere inability of human beings to see and measure the causes and effects at the quantum level, rather, existence at that level is random...or so I'm told.

Paul Davies and John Gribben, in their book, The Matter Myth, state on page 13 that Richard Dawkins is an “eloquent champion of biological materialism” which is a dead paradigm, or in their exact words: “materialism is dead.” Richard Dawkins, then, is the champion of a dead paradigm. I would hate to have to explain that to Dawkins. Davies and Gribben also wrote on page 29, “The paradigm shift that we are now living through is a shift away from reductionism and toward holism; it is as profound as any paradigm shift in the history of science."

Holism is a theme of eastern religions. And it is with a little amusement (and a little frustration) that I have witnessed at church a derisive and dismissive attitude toward some of the “pseudo intellectual” members that show an interest in eastern ideas of wholeness by some of the more dominant types . I have heard them essentially categorize this kind of member as new agey, trendy followers of “every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). While there is much in the "New Age" genre that is hocus pocus (probably mostly hocus pocus), one should ask what it is about it that could be true and useful, such as the interconnectedness of all life, and even non life. Anyhow, it is no surprise that the religious world is slow to include new ideas and language.

Thomas Kuhn has brilliantly described how scientists are subject to the same dogmatic paradigms as religionists.

Stuart A. Kauffman, in his book, Reinventing the Sacred, says that modern society suffers from four injuries and he implies that the first three are somewhat caused by the current reductionist paradigm of science. The first injury is the rift between science and the humanities. Second is that science gives us facts without values. And third, the “secular humanists have been quietly taught that spirituality is foolish or, at best, questionable.” I could think of more injuries but I am happy at least that some scientists are beginning to speak up about the shortcomings of science and their effects on society.

I want to close this blog entry by including several quotes from Bernard Haisch’s recent book, The God Theory, which book I do not completely agree with but I laud Haisch for thinking outside the scientific paradigms and risking a loss of professional respectability for publishing his ideas. My favorite parts of his book were when he pointed out the weaknesses in “Fundamentalist Scientism.”
P.36 “It is acceptable today, even fashionable, to publish scientific papers that propound theories of invisible universes that may be adjacent to our own in other dimensions…[But] If a religious person talks about transcendent spiritual realities, however, he or she is scoffed at. For some reason, the eleven-or-twenty-six-dimensional string worlds of scientific theory are plausible, but the supernatural realms of mysticism are judged to be mere superstition.”

P.39 “ The logical consequence of a pointless universe is ugliness and destruction. No matter how you try to hide such a philosophy under a mantle of stoic nobility, it remains no fountain of hope, but rather a poison brew of pessimism.”

P.40 “The most vehement proponents of reductionist materialism, such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, point with almost ghoulish glee to the fear, pain, and terror that are part of the process of evolution, thereby making an emotional but cogent argument for atheism and aspirituality.”

P.47 “I incline toward Teilhard’s spiritual hope rather than the cosmic pessimism for the ultimate state of a universe of maximum entropy.”

[Haisch also mentioned Guy Murchie, who along with Teilhard de Chardin are in my personal Great Thinkers Hall of Fame. Whenever an author drops these names I perk up.]

P.131 “Let’s face it. The reductionist view of human destiny is bleak. I am constantly baffled by the fact that a majority of my colleagues seem to prefer a philosophical view of human beings as short-lived, chemically-driven machines that evolved by accident in a random, remote corner of the universe and whose existence is a pointless and utterly transient curiosity.”
Yes, science is great but it also has weaknesses. Science cannot give purpose and meaning to people’s lives. Not yet anyway. Dogmatism exists in science as well as religion.

The new paradigm might include concepts that are currently being discussed under the title "Emergence." I particularly like the idea of mental causation, and the idea that causes can come from above as well as from below, e.g. consciousness imposes downward causation. (More in other posts.)

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