Against the Goddess of Science

Finally, I’ve run across an atheist, humanist critique of science that I can appreciate (from the Wikipedia article on Georges Sorel, since I’m too lazy to get the source texts):

Isaiah Berlin identifies three antiscientific currents in Sorel’s work.

Science is not reality

He dismissed science as “a system of idealised entities: atoms, electric charges, mass, energy and the like – fictions compounded out of observed uniformities…deliberately adapted to mathematical treatment that enable men to identify some of the furniture of the universe, and to predict and…control parts of it.” [1; 301] He regarded science more as “an achievement of the creative imagination, not an accurate reproduction of the structure of reality, not a map, still less a picture, of what there was. Outside of this set of formulas, of imaginary entities and mathematical relationships in terms of which the system was constructed, there was ‘natural’ nature — the real thing…” [1; 302] He regarded such a view as “an odious insult to human dignity, a mockery of the proper ends of men”, [1; 300] and ultimately constructed by “fanatical pedants”, [1; 303] out of “abstractions into which men escape to avoid facing the chaos of reality.” [1; 302]

Science is not nature

As far as Sorel was concerned, “nature is not a perfect machine, nor an exquisite organism, nor a rational system.” [1; 302] He rejected the view that “the methods of natural science can explain and explain away ideas and values…or explain human conduct in mechanistic or biological terms, as the…blinkered adherents of la petite science believe.” [1; 310] He also maintained that the categories we impose upon the world, “alter what we call reality…they do not establish timeless truths as the positivists maintained”, [1; 302] and to “confuse our own constructions with eternal laws or divine decrees is one of the most fatal delusions of men.” [1; 303] It is “ideological patter…bureaucracy, la petite science…the Tree of Knowledge has killed the Tree of Life…human life [has been reduced] to rules that seem to be based on objective truths.” [1; 303] Such to Sorel, is the appalling arrogance of science, a vast deceit of the imagination, a view that conspires to “stifle the sense of common humanity and destroy human dignity.” [1; 304]

Science is not a recipe

Science, he maintained, “is not a ‘mill’ into which you can drop any problem facing you, and which yields solutions”, [1; 311] that are automatically true and authentic. Yet, this is precisely how too many people seem to regard it.

To Sorel, that is way “too much of a conceptual, ideological construction”, [1; 312] smothering our perception of truth through the “stifling oppression of remorselessly tidy rational organisation.” [1; 321] For Sorel, the inevitable “consequence of the modern scientific movement and the application of scientific categories and methods to the behaviour of men”, [1; 323] is an outburst of interest in irrational forces, religions, social unrest, criminality and deviance — resulting directly from an overzealous and monistic obsession with scientific rationalism.

And what science confers, “a moral grandeur, bureaucratic organisation of human lives in the light of…la petite science, positivist application of quasi-scientific rules to society — all this Sorel despised and hated”, [1; 328] as so much self-delusion and nonsense that generates no good and nothing of lasting value. In essence, something of a Romantic like Blake, Sorel would say, “the artist creates as the bird sings on the bough, as the lily bursts into flower, to all appearance for no ulterior purpose.” [2; 196]

Above quotations from:

  • [1] Sir Isaiah Berlin, Against The Current: Essays in the History of Ideas, London: Pimlico, 1997
  • [2] Sir Isaiah Berlin, The Sense of Reality — Studies in Ideas and Their History, London: Pimlico, 1996

6 thoughts on “Against the Goddess of Science

  1. Though I am 18 I have spent a lot of my time with myself thinking of science and reality. Though I have expressed some of my thoughts in my last post, much remains to be said.
    I mostly agree with Georges Sorel in his view that Science with its doctrines and laws and hypotheses inhibits the freedom in analysing phenomena occurring around us, what I feel is that Science itself has enabled me to think in as free a manner as I do today.
    Not many men are capable of surviving all by themselves given they are not educated about survival itself !
    And many fewer men are capable of thinking of the world around them from a perspective other than their own.
    Still fewer men are capable of imagining a world with reality totally different from what they see / hear / feel / or sense in general.
    What then to say of the percentage of men who could realize the possibility that the supernatural for us may be absolutely ordinary in another domain ?

    And these kinds of things are not supposed to be taught in schools or colleges I believe.
    They are for a person to realize all by himself.
    In the absense of Science, would Einstein have thought of General relativity which takes away the uniqueness of the various Gaussian frames of reference ?
    In the absense of Science would we have known as much we know(which is pathetically negligible !) of the Universe we know today ?
    Would we then have realized the similarity between light and heat ?
    Let alone then the dual nature of matter and radiation or the unanimity of matter and energy.

    If man is inhibited in his quest for exploration of the world around him by his extremely limited senses through the advances of Science and Technology,
    is any Kandy man however famous or popular he may be justified in discrediting Science itself ?

    Long live Science and its practitioners !!!

    Warning: I arbitrarily change swearing and obscenities into silly names! This one is from Doctor Who. –Dave

  2. How, indeed, could man possibly survive without Science? She has given us everything we have, and surely we must bow before her, or she will strike us down in righteous wrath.

    Was there really life before Einstein? Darwin? Gauss? Galileo? No, no kind of life worth living . . . only meaningless eating and having babies and dying; even as so many of the hopeless, uneducated masses throughout the world still live today. Shall we simply slaughter the infidels? NO! Go forth and convert them to the true faith, so that they may also live in Science, and she may live in them! Sic semper scientia!

  3. Solid vivid cracks there in the ‘science’ wall presented there. The whole knowledge is never a ‘final’, but just a ‘trial’. Everybody is peeping something from his or her pipe, and that can not say everything.

  4. I’m not quite sure why it is necessary for science to command the piety that many give it. It is just a means to an end, and all of its knowledge is provisional.

  5. Provisional is right. I have long said that determining just when life begins depends entirely on our level of knowledge. At some point, the science world will catch up with the Christian world and realize that the beginning is at conception.

  6. I don’t think it is a scientific question, because that would be too reductionistic. It would require identifying the “essence” or “ideal” of humanity, which is functionally the same project as in eugenics.

    The desire to make “the beginning of life” a scientific question is the result of human vanity; that is, it is the desire to justify one’s decisions after the fact. (This is also seen in the justification of homosexuality as “genetic.”) The bottom line is that the individual wants to shirk responsibility for his or her decisions by appealing to some kind of determinism.

    I say, just be honest about what you are doing, and then move on from there to assess the ethical consequences. Many other cultures are more straightforward about this and they just openly advocate infanticide. Anyone who is for abortion and against infanticide is either dishonest or purely utilitarian, but pure utilitarianism is generally frowned upon nowadays.

    The desire to equate humans with animals, and human embryos as equivalent to animal embryos, fits squarely within the evolutionist paradigm. Of course, the conclusions are contradicted by the effort to extend human rights to animals, but not to human embryos. It also contradicts the 19th-century understanding of the evolutionary imperative to perpetuate the race (excepting, again, eugenic considerations).

    In the final analysis, abortion rights are always justified by proponents as political activism in the name of feminism, which means giving the individual woman complete freedom of choice with no social context and no responsibility for consequences. Like most progressive political philosophies, it is corrupt and self-defeating.

    At the state or local level, it should be regarded as a question of medical ethics, not civil rights. As a medical procedure, it is either necessary or not. If it is not necessary and it is elected by the mother, then she should be examined for sociopathic tendencies and treated accordingly. Even if a medical regulatory authority determines that they are going to allow it as an elective procedure, I think they are obligated to consider the mother’s state of mind, as with other extreme elective procedures, and offer various alternatives and social support.

    With all that said, I still maintain that it is none of the federal government’s business, pro or con. Even if it is called murder, it is still a state or local matter.

Instigate some pointless rambling

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