Atheism (and Theism) vs. Reality: The Church of Scientific Realism II
The experimental method of inquiry aims at establishing regular events which can be repeated. Consequently, unique or rare events are ruled out of account. Moreover, the experiment imposes limiting conditions on nature, for its aim is to force her to give answers to questions devised by man. Every answer of nature is therefore more or less influenced by the kind of questions asked, and the result is always a hybrid product. The so-called “scientific view of the world” based on this can hardly be anything more than a psychologically biased partial view which misses out all those by no means unimportant aspects that cannot be grasped statistically. —Carl Jung
In the previous installment of this here blog I began bashing the metaphysical philosophy of scientific realism, alias scientism, because my main point, as indicated by the first words of the title, is to point out the ultimate invalidity of atheism—that is, the belief that there is no God, with a secondary point being to point out the invalidity of theism as well—and since most atheists in the west consider scientific realism to be a valid means, or rather THE valid means, of understanding reality and the world, I am bashing that too. So this installment will continue to point out the empirical fact that scientific materialism is not so certain or so stable a foundation for real knowledge as materialistic atheists would like to believe.
I observed last time that science in general, and scientific realism in particular, are based largely on axioms considered to be self-evident, but which really are questionable and ultimately unprovable. A big one is the very idea that science describes a physical universe external to the mind of the observer, which continues to exist as science describes it even if no conscious mind is observing it. It seems obvious…until one realizes that all we can really be aware of, directly, is our own mind, and that anything lying out there beyond our own mind is merely inferred, a kind of educated guess. It may seem obvious, but many things that seem obvious really aren’t true.
The fact is that science is in no position to make metaphysical claims about the nature of ultimate reality. This is a major philosophical error made by most scientists, and by all followers of scientific realism or scientism—they think science is dealing with external, objective reality, when actually it is dealing with our own subjective human mental states. Science deals with what scientists perceive; and believing that the universe acts, in highest truth, in accordance with the perceptions of scientists, even brilliant ones, is essentially a matter of superimposing human ape psychology onto an assumed external universe. Thus another one of the fallacies of scientism is this very belief that science deals with the nature of ultimate reality, when actually it deals with the mental states of some semi-rational beings of very limited intelligence, wearing white lab coats. Metaphysics by definition lies beyond the scope of physics, and thus also of scientific empiricism; and yes, some questions lie beyond the scope of what is discernible through the practice of scientific method. And anything that is not clearly perceptible, let alone quantifiable, like an Absolute or “God,” is beyond the scope of empirical science as well as of scientism.
Another fallacy, let alone article of faith, of scientific realism—the theoretical basis for most atheism in the modern world—is that truth, or rather reality, can faithfully be expressed in symbols. Science, and indeed human perception, deals entirely with symbols rather than with any actual objects that the symbols mean to represent. Even our own sensations are symbolic: For example, the color blue is, even according to science itself, merely a symbolic, subjective interpretation of a certain wavelength of (ultimately colorless) electromagnetic radiation. Even the differentiation of figure from ground in visual perception begins at the retina, and much more sensory processing begins before one is conscious of any object, even according to science, so that raw sensory data is truly a myth. Science goes beyond this fundamental illusion of sensation in our worldly experience by dealing in intellectual concepts…with no way of demonstrating that intellectuality, no matter how rational, can really get anyone even one tiny step closer to ultimate reality. Not only are the letters T-R-E-E radically different from an actual tree, but by the same token so is the entire body of botanical knowledge about trees, their biochemistry, their ecology, their physics, and all other human scientific knowledge about them. A botanist doesn’t know trees in reality; all he knows is symbolic models about what he perceives and identifies as trees. And as Kant pointed out long ago (and I’ll be getting back to him eventually), the reality of a thing is absolutely, qualitatively different from a human perceptual awareness of it, no matter how intelligent the human is.
With regard to the limits of intellectual theories, consider vanilla. Let’s say a person has lived in a remote area his whole life, or maybe his parents were allergic to vanilla and never had it around the house, or something, and this person has never before experienced what vanilla tastes like. So he comes up to you and says, “If you please, what does vanilla taste like?” Well, how could you possibly answer that question? You could explain and explain till your brain and mouth are exhausted and still the poor fellow would not have the foggiest idea of what vanilla tastes like. He could go to the world’s leading authority on the chemistry of vanilla, and on its biochemical interactions with the taste buds of humans and its transformation into sensory data in the brain, etc., and the authority would certainly fare no better. No amount of intellectualizing about the flavor of vanilla is going to explain what it tastes like in such a way that someone who has never tasted its like would have a clue as to what it tastes like. The best way by far of answering the person’s question would be simply to explain to him that in order to find out he should go find some vanilla and taste it himself. And if this is true with something as mundane as vanilla, it is infinitely more the case with regard to something as non-mundane and non-perceptual as God or the Absolute. Which is why a philosophical system like early Buddhism spent very few words trying to describe Nirvana, but rather explained a method for tasting it for oneself, without relying on words and intellectual explanations which could not possibly be effective. The moral of the story: scientific empirical theories and observations do not faithfully describe reality.
A somewhat similar article of faith is the very idea, accepted as true, that the human intellect, presumably an epiphenomenon or side effect of electrochemical processes going on in a lump of soft grey meat, has any hope whatsoever of really understanding reality or the world. Even assuming Charles Darwin to be correct, the purpose of our brain and our intellect is NOT to understand reality or highest truths, but rather to keep us alive long enough to make babies…preferably in such a way that our babies stay alive long enough to make babies of their own. A true awareness of ultimate reality might even counteract such a Darwinian purpose to our intelligence.
But a scientistic atheist might argue that our brain can indeed understand reality even if it is not designed by nature for it, sort of like a shoe can be used for pounding nails, or like a crappy computer can be used to perform elegant mathematical operations if operated by a prodigy. So consider the following case. Consider a frog. So: Do you think that a frog has any hope whatsoever of understanding the world and reality? I think most intelligent people would agree that a frog has so crude of a perceptual system that it can have only the most simple ideas regarding its environment. It knows the difference between water and dry land, for example, and can differentiate between small objects moving nearby (potential food) and large objects moving farther away (potential dangerous predator, triggering a jump into the water); and it can learn that certain types of insects sting or are noxious and should be avoided, and it has enough perceptual capacity, presumably, to find a mate and so forth. But when it comes to really understanding the essential nature of its environment I’m pretty sure that a frog, even the most brilliant of frogs, is a hopeless case.
Now: Let’s assume that in this outrageously vast universe there are beings somewhere (maybe closer than we realize) that are as far above us intelligence-wise as we are above frogs. This should be possible in theory, and I do not see why a scientific materialist would assert its impossibility, even theoretically. The most likely scenario like this that I can imagine is a person so totally locked into an anthropocentric universe that he believes we have maxed out our character traits, like in a video game, and that the highest possible IQ even in theory, for any being at all, wouldn’t be much higher than ours…but I consider such a view to be mundane wishful thinking and not particularly realistic. So if out of courtesy we give a frog an IQ of 3, then would a being with an IQ of around 3300 consider us humans to be able, even at our best, really to understand our environment? Hell, we’re only aware of three and a fraction dimensions! Hopeless! But a materialistic atheist makes just such an assumption in his belief that if we humans are oblivious to some Absolute Being, then that Being does not exist.
For all we know we could be like an ant crawling over a person’s bare foot, totally oblivious to the fact that it is literally in contact with a higher being, simply because of the crudity of its awareness. Or for that matter, and perhaps getting closer to the case, we may be like fishes that are totally oblivious to the fact that they are wet, having no concept at all of wetness. Relative to a hypothetical being with an IQ of three million, we are blind worms, or maybe even amoebas.
Or in other words, how is an epiphenomenon or side effect of brain biochemistry, which followers of scientism do say our mind is, how is that going to understand or figure out the nature of reality?
There are more examples of articles of faith of the church of Scientism, which are convenient assumptions but turn into fallacies if insisted upon, for example: that the laws of nature are static so that the future will necessarily behave like the past, or that there is only one correct or valid way of describing or explaining reality, or that nature always, NECESSARILY follows regular, understandable rules. But I’ve written about this sort of thing elsewhere, like here, and direct the reader to that. The main point I have been trying to make in the last two installments of this here blog is that scientific realism, or scientific materialism, is really nowhere near to being a certainly correct and valid interpretation of capital R Reality; and since most atheism, especially in the west, is an appeal to science as well as an appeal to ignorance, I poke at it. If one falls, the other may fall with it. In the next installment I will get back to a more direct critique of atheism, using ideas well known to western philosophy.