Secret Credos of the Godless

Amit Majmudar
August 8, 2012
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Notice how scientists are always talking about laws. Laws with a capital L, no less. Einstein’s Laws, Poiseuille’s Law, Hooke’s Law, Fourier’s Law, etc., etc. This endless law-giving reveals something about scientific materialism (and its implicit atheism) that gets elided in the customary “science vs. religion” or “faith vs. reason” debates that occupy people. I would ask you to notice, also, the fixation on Laws in Mosaic religion. The divinely handed down moral Law and the scientifically determined physical Law presuppose, to qualify as universal Law, an oft-unmentioned, unproven assertion. Scientific materialism believes, as its sole article of faith, that the universe is not anarchic. (Conventional religions also believe this, but they add a whole slew of other credos.) This is what allows for the extrapolation from the specific to the general.

Science’s so-called laws are based on observations of (let’s be generous) less than 0.0001% of the total cosmos. Scientific method itself, in any other context, would not risk generalizations based on such a small sampling of the data. From this iota of the whole, statements about the whole are made, willy-nilly; this is done because the scientist’s central article of faith authorizes it. In the 19th century, the credo was of absolute certainty, much like any religious one. When it came to scientific knowledge, of Laws and Principles, progress-minded scientists believed, what applied here, would apply here forever (the assumption of stability over time); what applied here, would apply everywhere (the assumption of consistency over space); the nature of universe did not change arbitrarily, or defy or deceive reason (the assumption of a nonrandom phenomenal world). (This last credo was articulated best by Einstein himself when he declared that “God does not play dice,” a statement about quantum physics that fell back instinctively on religious language.) The work of Godel and Heisenberg introduced and proved Uncertainty; it doesn’t matter that the uncertainty in question was, on the scale of things, pretty minute (quantum-minute). For the scientific materialist, however–the philosopher of scientific triumphalism, as opposed to the man of applied science–the ramifications of Godel have never been truly internalized, the same way that science’s increasing knowledge of the physical world has failed to shake the monotheist’s insistence on the absolute infallibility of his scriptures, even where they include dated information about the physical world (as opposed to unaging concepts about the spiritual one). Faith is a rock, indeed! Dense and indifferent to kicks. The universal credo–the one thing taken on faith by anyone who claims the sovereignty of one system, of one way of thinking–is that There Is No Truth Outside This. The underlying Credo finds its baldest articulation in Islam’s “There is no God but God”–which is not circular, not tautological, but rather the direct transfer of felt truth into asserted truth, without any encrustation of reasons and testimonials. The scientific materialist and the intensely orthodox Sunni are both rigid thinkers: hedgehogs, in Isaiah Berlin’s famous formulation. The agnostic and the poet are many-truthers: Foxes.

By the way, on a side note, I feel the insistence that religious assertions constitute a “supernatural hypothesis” should go. “Natural” and “supernatural” are based in our assessment of probabilities. If an event or thing is in accordance with our location-, time-, and mind-limited experience of the phenomenal world, we call that event or thing “natural”–if not, we call it “supernatural,” “incredible,” “absurd,” and so on. In this vast, strange universe, many things are naturally possible that are simply not likely in our corner of the universe. When we dismiss something as absurd or supernatural, we’re simply saying it’s unlike anything we’ve experienced before, not that its existence is literally impossible. Improbability, as we all realize, is not the same as impossibility. Something’s being outside or above nature is not an argument, to my mind, against (or for) its potential existence.

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