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A Pagan Perspective on Science

posted by Gus diZerega

In a previous comment Rombald
called our attention
to the fact that science itself was powerfully influenced
by a Christian world view when it originated.  The desacralization of the world promoted by Protestantism
in particular made it easy to approach it in a detached ‘objective’
fashion.  Western science is
largely Protestant Christian in its origins. 

He is right, but I want to
emphasize something a little different. 
In doing so I necessarily simplify, but I hope not overly so.  In the process I will suggest how a
Pagan outlook changes our view, and that modern science is coming into harmony
with a Pagan perspective more than with a traditional Christian one.


Science had to start somewhere
and as it happened it developed from scientists who possesed a Christian point
of view. What is most important in my opinion is not where scientists started,
but the means they developed to evaluate one another’s work: by writing up
their work they enabled others to read it, evaluate it, and build on it. What
we loosely call the “scientific method” developed not through philosophy, but
through the process of seeking to persuade their peers.

Measurement, prediction, and
experiment developed as the most persuasive means to convince others of your
findings.  Reason followed closely
behind.  This was an epochal
development because it freed science from having to be based on a world-view,
other than one that allowed these relatively impersonal methods to determine an
issue.  It ultimately freed science
from dependence on its initially Christian assumptions about the world,
although at first it continued to be in harmony with them.  This is probably why scientists were
permitted to do their work at all.

By the time scientific findings
began straining against Christian dogmas, it had proven itself too useful
militarily and economically to be suppressed.  And because of this, certain vital principles entered into
Western thought.  The most important
was establishing a way of learning that emphasized discovering error as its
most powerful means of assisting in the discovery of truth.  While individual scientists are
motivated by their search for truth, as a social enterprise, science developed tests (its “method”) that were
good for discovering error but could never prove truth.  No theory could be proven, ever, but
any
scientific theory, no matter
how seemingly secure, could in principle be disproven without invalidating
science. 

Since then evidence has steadily
accumulated that a Biblical account of the physical world cannot explain what
we observe.  The case is is now
overwhelming and can only be argued against by relying on faith and a degree of
arbitrary skepticism that they do not come close to applying to their own
Biblical alternative.  In other
words, the Biblical account can only be supported by bad faith or a trusting
ignorance of the issues involved.

Even so, until recently science
has continued to be dominated by certain assumptions about the world with their
roots in Protestant Christianity. 
I will discuss two.  The
assumption that the world is essentially inert and valueless in the absence of
a valuer separate from it. Facts and values are forever separate.  Another key assumption that reflects
these Christian roots is reductionism. 
If God was an artificer, and the universe runs through His rules, once
we discover the most basic rules he employed, we can see how it was all put
together. 

Both these assumptions are now
pretty weak.  I will start with the
second and end with the first.

We are increasingly discovering
that many phenomena cannot be understood reductionistically. Stuart Kauffman
has written the best account
of this issue that I know of.  What this argument means is that from a scientific perspective the universe is
more than what can be explained by basic laws.  Maybe much more.

Why has it taken so long to get
here? 

First, we are all of us both
empowered and blinded by our theories about how things are.  (Look at Randians like “Alano” who agree
with my criticism while thinking they are rebutting it by discussing Rand’s views
on Indians.) We easily see what fits our theories and often have a hard time
appreciating what does not, particularly when they are important to us.  This is as true for scientists as for
anyone else. It’s true for me, and I try and be sensitive to it.

What helps scientists continually
enlarge the realm of new and previously unimagined knowledge is that they have
developed methods to try and minimize the power of this blindness.  But, being human, they have hardly
freed themselves from it completely. 
Many individual scientists are as theory blinded as anyone else.  To they degree they mistake their
treasured theory as “science” they might be even more blind.

Secondly, the early successes of
reductionist methods were very impressive in physics and chemistry.  These were long the most prestigious
sciences, in part because of these successes, which in turn strengthened the
prestige of the methods used.  It
was a feedback loop that focused attention on successes achieved through
reductionist methods and not on phenomena reductionism could not touch, like
awareness.

The most interesting evidence of
the price we have paid for this assumptions, from my perspective anyway, is in
biology.  For exmple, Darwin was
interpreted to justify a nature red in tooth and claw perspective.  He himself looked at the world a bit
this way, but those calling themselves his followers went much farther.  In doing so they ignored his pioneering
work in how ethics could arise through evolutionary processes.    Most of Darwin’s detractors were more than happy to commit
the same error because they were even more blinded by their presuppositions and
just knew that evolution led to treating
people as animals rather than, as Darwin argued, treating animals better.  Fallen nature was something optimists
thought we had risen above and pessimists thought we were condemned to suffer.

This ultimately Protestant rooted
bias led to ignoring enormous evidence for symbiosis and cooperation being
widespread in nature.  Peter
Kropotkin’s
Mutual Aid  was the first argument I know of that questioned this purely competitive model from
a scientific point of view, but hardly the last.  More recently we have discovered that the very cells of our
body are the result of symbiosis, a symbiosis that continues getting more
complicated and amazing
.  Cooperation may well be
more important
than competition. 

So far as I know, no one has
seriously thought of the philosophical implications in that even the pure logic
of a computer program leads to cooperation over competition as a superior
strategy for flourishing.  This was
the finding that grew out of a series of experiments to find the solution to
the “Iterated Prisoners’ Dilemma”
game. 

Most spectacularly as a case for
theoretically induced blindness, economists marvel at competition in the market
and are almost completely blind to the fact that competition only arises
after
people have formed cooperative
relations.  They then discover they
are pursuing independently chosen goals not all of which can be realized.  (A starts a business and sells to B -
cooperative entirely.  C does the
same with D.  Then E desires a
product and has to choose between A and C.  Voila! Competition emerges.)

To the degree that the universe
is biased towards cooperation over competition we have a universe that has
values intrinsic to it and that emerge out of the non-reductionist relations
between entities within it.  Both
key assumptions I have critiqued are challenged at their core. This different outlook
is in harmony with a Pagan perspective far more than with a typical
post-Reformation Western Christian one.

I think one important dimension of this shift in outlook by many scientists is that it offers a secular point of view an out from the nihilism that is slowly, relentlessly, devouring it. By coming to see the universe, or at least life on earth, as having certain values intrinsic to what it is, and that complex organisms are more than simple constructions fro nonliving components, science itself can play a role in re-esteablishing a moral sensibility at the heart of secular culture.  A sensibility it currently has lost.

What is most wonderful about
science to my mind is that it enables beings blinded by their assumptions and
theories – us – to gradually uncover our errors by subjecting them to careful
challenge by others, and so discover ever more reliable knowledge, and do so on
the basis of peaceful persuasion. 
And to do so at the level of humanity as a whole participating in this
project.  This is something new and
wonderful in human life.



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Comments read comments(15)
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AJ

posted March 12, 2010 at 3:57 pm


Seems more like a Anti-Christian rant than an article about science from a Pagans perspective. I was hoping more for the latter.



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Sheherazahde

posted March 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm


Reason preceded the scientific method, and I disagree with you that modern science is world view neutral. Modern science definitely requires a particular worldview.
I would also argue the the desacralization of the world that allowed for the emergence of the scientific worldview originated in Catholic Christianity (before the Protestant reformation). Although the Scientific worldview rejects the Biblical worldview it shares many traits with Protestant Christianity.



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Gus diZerega

posted March 12, 2010 at 4:59 pm


AJ- I fail to see any sense in your comment. Maybe some details would help. Science grew from a Christian culture, early scientists were believing Christians, they carried their attitudes with them, and their discoveries eventually brought science as a whole into conflict with Christians who believed the Bible was a reliable source of information about many things where scientists found evidence to the contrary. Sorry if that bothers you, but it’s hardly a unique point of view. But tat;’s more your problem with reality than my problem with a rant.
Where I offered something sort of unique was when I argued that two other scientific attitudes – reductionism and the lack of moral value in physical reality – were ultimately rooted in Christian assumptions, were now often challenged within science itself, and a Pagan view of reality offers a good way to make sense of it. Hardly a rant.
Sheherazade – Of course reason predated science. Whatever gave you the idea I thought otherwise? And one major point of my piece was that modern science is NOT world view neutral. But it IS neutral insofar as the world fits scientific methods of investigation – which it does not, entirely. I think you misunderstood me. Blogs are written relatively quickly and there might have been a lack of clarity – but I am innocent of what you think I am guilty.
Whether Catholic or Protestant Christianity was most responsible for desacralizing the world in the West is a scholarly debate that will probably never be universally settled. I am persuaded from my reading that the big transition came during the Reformation, and was predominately Protestant inspired, which is why early scientists were disproportionately Protestant.



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Marlon C. Hartshorn

posted March 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm


This reminds me of what I read from Seth (Jane Roberts) that it is biologically dangerous to hold negative beliefs, as in beliefs that highlight that life is meaningless, senseless, random. Rene Descartes contributed a lot to what we now know as the scientific method, and the data came to him in a dream! The rationalistic scientific brain-centered world view discounts telepathy out of hand, or the reality of dreaming and how it has contributed immensely to all reality. We wouldn’t even have the contributions of Descartes to the scientific community without dreaming, nor would we have most inventions. I’ve been Wiccan for many years now (since 2004 officially) and I didn’t realize at first how important of a shift that was 4 me. Your own subconscious is composed of many subpersonalities, as is the God personality, IMO. True science is study of consciousness. I agree with Gus here, he’s right on target.



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Marlon C. Hartshorn

posted March 12, 2010 at 5:29 pm


Also, reading this article, think of how little regard science in the 20th century alone paid to the lives of animals, monkeys, and other mammals. We are going to learn more about reality by going inside ourselves than we will in 5000 more years of studying exterior reality. It’s all just brain stuff and that is not very exciting! What is exciting is the inner workings of consciousness and the dream university and the subconscious and electrical reality that is as real as your front yard.



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Sheherazahde

posted March 18, 2010 at 9:12 pm


Gus,
You said: “Measurement, prediction, and experiment developed as the most persuasive means to convince others of your findings. Reason followed closely behind. This was an epochal development because it freed science from having to be based on a world-view, other than one that allowed these relatively impersonal methods to determine an issue.”
That is what gave me the idea that you were saying “reason followed closely behind” the development of modern science. And that science was free “from having to be based on a world-view”.
But I accept your statement that that was not what you meant.



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Maggie Beaumont

posted March 25, 2010 at 3:10 pm


Someday, perhaps, a book about nature’s amazing generosity. Rather than ‘nature: red in tooth and claw,’ how about an examination of altruism in nature.
* The member of the ape family, caged in a zoo, whose cage was suddenly entered by a human child who had climbed the fence and fallen in, receiving injuries. The adult ape gently lifted the child and carried it to the door where keepers normally entered the cage, handing it over to human caretakers at once.
* The huge number of succulent apples that fall from the tree each season, even though the apple race could be perpetuated by a tiny fraction of their number and the chief result of this largess is to feed the deer and pigs.
* Evergreen trees in deep snow shelter a safe, warm space around their trunks — which the deer know about, and use, all winter.
And so on and on.
I would love to see this book — want to write it?
–Maggie



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Gus diZerega

posted March 25, 2010 at 5:54 pm


The first book on altruism in nature was Mutual Aid by Peter Kropotkin.
Lynn Margulis has initiated a lot of fascinating recent work with her insight that the cells tat make up all higher organisms are in gace symbiotic combinations of simpler cells.
But the book you want, important as it is, needs to be written by a professional biologist, not me.
Thanks Sheherazahde- I can see how I could be read that way. Blogging has one big disadvantage for me – you usually end up reading second drafts – occasionally third ones revised soon after I wrote the first. For me to do my best (like for a journal article) I need many drafts over many days, at least. It’s frustrating.



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I agree with you regarding what I understand you to be saying of “official” Christianity vs. science.
However, the Bible itself was not written to be a science book. There are things in the Bible such as premonitions, psychic dreams, ESP skills, remote influence / healing that science has laughed at for decades, and yet now with breakthroughs in physics, it has been demonstrated that thought affects photons, even at a distance.
Evolutionary process and the Bible are not in direct contradiction with each other, if one solely uses the Bible (and not what Theologians have added in after the fact). The word translated “day,” for example is a period of time, not a literal 24 hour period of time. The Bible does add the statement that “in the beginning God created…”
Of course that is a statement of faith, however the word “God” was not defined in the Bible, and everyone has their own subjective ideas regarding who or what “God” is. The psychic Edgar Cayce who was a devout Presbyterian found many things in his psychic readings that did not seem to fit with his Christian beliefs – one of which was a definition of “God” as “energy force”.
Now if you imagine some original force of energy is what started the evolutionary processes, it is still possible to believe in a Higher Power or Intelligence or Energy Force that we don’t as of yet completely understand. (For instance, we function perfectly well with Newtonian physics, even those of us who do not yet understand Quantum physics. Yet Quantum physics explains a whole bunch of things we wouldn’t normally have answers for – such as magick, principles of how the mind works, mind – body – energy interaction, psychic experiences such as ESP, and so on.
Anyway, I do agree with you (as does HISTORY) that the Church did much to oppress science, including burning people at the stake for believing the earth was round and revolved around the sun. Science (or those in the scientific community) also has done its part to suppress or ridicule anything that current scientific knowledge was not able to explain.
One such example is the psychic skills of Besant and Leadbeater (ignoring for the sake of this topic Leadbeater’s socially unacceptable behaviors) where they identified the atomic structures of the known atomic elements and some that were also NOT known at the time of their writing of Occult Chemistry – findings which were verified later by the use of the electron microscope.
So, yes, I agree with you that the “Church” has gone out of its way in the past to suppress scientific discovery. However science has also many times gone out of its way to discredit anything it can not “test” or “understand”.
Thanks for the article; I enjoyed reading it.
Sincerely,
Jim Knippenberg
Former preacher (lol) ESP, Telepathy, and Psychic Influence Trainer



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Gus diZerega

posted July 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm


You are welcome. The scientistic types who argue science somehow rebuts spirituality are what I term “irrationally committed to their version of reason.”
Science gives us public and reliable knowledge, not access to Truth. Its methods focus on what is repeatable by anyone, which virtually guarantees it cannot easily address phenomena very well when qualities of mind are a part of the experience. (though some imaginative work does remarkably well) That is why science tries to be as impersonal as possible.
Because its criteria is essentially reliability rather than truth, the path of development is not so much inching towards a single correct world view as it is expending the realm of phenomena we can control or predict. Good stuff, but not as all inclusive as the scientistic ideologues claim.



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Michael Ellis - Free-Numerology-Report.com

posted August 29, 2010 at 12:53 am


Very interesting take on the whole science vs. religion subject. I have to say that as a professional numerologist I find myself occasionally put on the defensive when someone accuses me of practicing a “pseudo-science” and that I am somehow misleading others. The scientific community has had its share of false claims and inaccurate models over its 500 year history. yet scientist still will make sweeping generalizations about people who believe in the occult as being stupid, deluded, or even outright frauds. It would be refreshing to see an exploration of the scientific nature of the occult. the occult is part of our reality. Our reality is governed in large part by the subconscious mind and even if the occult is only a belief, that belief in and of itself serves to effect reality. Numerology for instance is frequently described by skeptics as a pseudo-science that can manipulate the means of number to fit whatever circumstance you want it to. The fact is that numerology as well as astrology, tarot, crystal gazing, etc are not meant to be window into the future but windows into our own subconscious. The occult should be recognized for what it really is, the for-runner of the behavioral sciences.



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Authentic Psychic Readings

posted December 16, 2010 at 7:11 pm


“First, we are all of us both empowered and blinded by our theories about how things are”
I like this sentence. I found this article interesting, and it reminded me of what i had forgotten about how religion has influenced not only science, but many areas of the world. Which affects our viewpoints, insomuch as we are taught in school according to what has been passed on from the beginning of civilization, as a sort of “unconscious” stream of knowledge that had it’s roots in outdated knowledge!
Thanks for the great reminder Gus! What a wonderful article.



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Bob

posted December 5, 2011 at 11:46 am


i think why not as pagans we believe to respect other religions so why can we respect the views of scientists because as far as the lady and lord go they could have created us in an scientific experiment. so that should hopefully make sense



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john doe

posted February 11, 2014 at 5:24 pm


BIBLE AND SCIENCE AGREE…EINSTEIN’S RELATIVITY EQUATION SAYS 13.7 BILLION YEARS AND 6 DAYS ARE BOTH TRUE DEPENDING ON SPACE-TIME COORDINATES; T1=T2/(1- (v^2)/c^2) ½;13,700,000,000 x365 = 5000500000000 days;5000500000000 = 6/sqrt 1-.999999999999999999999999999­­99999% velocity of photons (farthest photons);5000500000000 = 6/sqrt .000000000000000000000001;5000­­500000000 = 6/1.19988001199880011998800119­­988e-12; PLACING YHWH 1/2 a millimeter from the farthest photons YHWH is in all reference frames.
distance of YHWH from farthest photon inthe estimated size of the universe=46500000000 LY radius; 299792458 m / s x60 x 60 x 24 x 365 x 46500000000=439,622,855,430,19­­2,000,000,000,000 meters;439,622,855,430,192,000­­,000,000,000 meters x .99999999999999999999999999999­­999= 439,622,855,430,191,999,999,99­­9,999.99956 meters distance;439,622,855,430,192,0­­00,000,000,000 – 439,622,855,430,191,999,999,99­­9,999.99956 = .0005 meters difference, YHWH half a millimeter from farthest photons
space time stretched 1000,000,000,000 times since first matter (something slower than light survived, hence time kicks in), this means time has slowed 1000,000,000,000 times, 5.1 days genesis x 1000,000,000,000/365=13.9 billion years, YHWH looking into the universe would experience 6 days while the universe experiences 13.9 billion years; 6 OF OUR DAYS ARE STRETCHED OUT AND CONTAIN 14 BILLION EARLY YEARS OF THE UNIVERSE………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
the expanse was not made in 1:2 where YHWH is hovering above the waters….therefore since he was above the waters above that were above those below and there was no expanse therefore only one face… he was above the universe…the hebrew words for heaven are mayim (waters)…and shamayimn(fire and waters)



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