Volume 16, Number 1 (January 2020)
Author: Ben Trubody
As Walters (2012) points out ‘Baudrillard never directly addressed theological concerns’, but his lack of directness can be understood as merely a detour via the metaphysics of the ‘Real’, which for this author is the concern of any fundamentalist position, theological or otherwise. It will be the aim of this paper to outline the fundamentalist position that religious fanatics and science apologists share. Using Baudrillard’s (2005) term ‘reality fundamentalist’ it will be argued that the seductive pull of saying or knowing reality as it really is comes with the symbolic inheritance of ‘reversibility’, where everything seeks to become its opposite. Here everything becomes its other or what Kellner (2003) calls the ‘immanent reversal’ (2003, p.326). One way of explaining this is through another fundamentalist position that of ‘literalism’. The more a word, concept or idea is pushed to be identical with the actual world, the more it begins to stand apart as the ‘Real’. As Butler (1999) says a ‘system pushed too far in its resemblance to this other begins to produce the opposite effects from those intended [and] begins to resemble the other less and less (1999, p.97). Baudrillard (1990) refers to this ‘reversibility’ as ambiguous and endless, which for this paper will apply to the metaphysical confusion the two fundamentalists find themselves in. One is a religion that wants to be and acts like a science and the other is a science that wants to be and acts like a religion; ironically neither represents a useful version of either, but a hyperreal construct. However, as these representations of both religion and science have come to predominate in popular culture, be it the literal readings of holy texts, theological arguments as to why the universe is not 13.7 billion years old, or how science can produce an ultimate ‘theory of everything’ or an answer to the question why there’s something rather than nothing (Krauss, 2012), it is these that produce their own simulacrum. This has a number of features with which it can be identified. As both are based on a fundamentalist commitment to reality they in effect use each other as their model for what one can say about reality, and in doing so each moves further away from any authentic notion of what it might mean to be religious, ethical, scientific or critical. At the point that science becomes scientism and religion becomes fanaticism, both based on a ‘literalist’ commitment to reality, they become what I will call ‘pseudo-practices’.1
A pseudo-science or cargo-cult science, as the physicist Richard Feynman (2001a; 200b) pointed out, is a simulation of science proper, where it mimics every aspect of science, its format, its contents, its methods, except for one crucial element. It overlooks the fact that historically science is actually the overcoming of its format, contents and methods (Feyerabend, 1993). It seeks to alter or transcend them in producing new ways of practising science. As Kuhn (1996) points out Newtonian and relativistic physics are incommensurable as they refer to and were developed in different ‘worlds’. As the fracture and repair of historical dis-continuity is irrelevant to the development and practice of pseudo-science they tend to be anachronistic. Simple copies of how science or even natural philosophy use to be done in a world no longer meaningful or a reality no longer occupied. The aggregation of simulation and anachronism comes to legitimize the hyerreality they not only speak about but actively try to create, be it the paranormal for the fanaticist or the promise of artificial consciousness and transcendence of the human form for scientism.2 Both offering their own version of a literal ‘after-life’ be it in paradise with God or spread-out across the cosmos in quantum-digital form. The reality of an actual ‘after-life’ is not only irrelevant to being religious, but empirical arguments trying to prove its or God’s existence are ill-conceived, like a medieval scholastic that does not know about science. Equally, taking up ancient ‘Eastern’ mystic tropes such as panpsychism as a models for mind and how we might ‘survive’ death are just as ill-conceived, like a neuroscientist who does not know about existentialism. Trying to reduce the meaning of human experience to that of bio-chemical descriptions of the brain is not science or good science at any rate. It is this seeking of a utopian ultimate reality in the present world that is what is meant by ‘immanentize the eschaton’. Both fundamentalist science and religion fight for sovereignty over this final state of affairs. Other pseudo-practices such as homoeopathy reference ancient theories of ‘vitalism’ as well as a postulated ‘law of similarities’ that dates back to at least the 15th Century (Rampes, Sharples and Fisher 1997). The very category of homoeopathy as an ‘alternative medicine’ hints at the hyper-real and simulacrum of medicine, in which the more dilute an active substance is the more potent it becomes. Where a substance that simulates the symptoms of another illness in a healthy person can in fact negate similar or the same symptoms in a sick person. The concentrating effect of dilution where the poison becomes the cure are themselves symptomatic of Baudrillard’s ‘immanent reversibility’.
Whilst I will not focus on homoeopathy in this paper it actually makes for a neat model for what I will be discussing. Not only does it attempt to simulate the symptoms of another disease, but the belief is that the more dilute and further away from the original active substance we move, the more potent it becomes. Eventually we end up with ‘pure’ water in which none of the original substance remains, but the medicinal essence is somehow captured and heightened. Homoeopathy persists as a practice partly because we are immunised against the effects of such practices made possible by actual science, whereby taking a placebo in most cases will not kill us, the types of illness that homoeopaths can treat are usually GP referred and that homoeopathic misconduct is almost oxymoronic.3 This goes for other anachronistic practices that we endorse, be it astrology or historical re-enactments. They persist because, in a sense, it does not matter whether they are true or false for they are not referencing reality anymore. Moreover, the ‘immanent reversal’ that is at play in homoeopathy where the further away from the original substance we move, the more insipid and watered down it gets, the more potent and powerful it becomes. This, I argue, is a feature of what fundamentalism is, where science becomes scientism, and religion becomes fanaticism, we get a kind of homoeopathic dilution, where each looks to simulate something the other has. Where the more adulterated they get, either in what they claim to be in their remit to explain or what they know, the more seductively powerful they become.
A pseudo-religion we may lazily associate with new religious movements, whereby if it does not meet a standard definition or criteria of older more established religions then it is somehow not genuine e.g., Jedism is not a real religion like Judaism is. I do not want to say what a religion or the religious is in terms of an objective criteria as this is to miss the point of what it means to be religious. For me the most useful or sensible notion of religion is that it does not put itself in competition with science, as it is not attempting the same sorts of things. Rather, religion is not about generating knowledge through empirically accurate descriptions of nature, but in essence is ethical and about living through faith (i.e., not knowing or doubt). A pseudo-religion, however, like pseudo-science, does exactly the opposite. It takes as its model an objective criteria and then attempts to replicate it, which for both in this instance is a fundamentalist commitment to ‘reality’. A metaphysics for accessing reality as it really is. What happens here is that as we no longer need to distinguish between levels of symbolic reality and truth, where all things are fair game and explicable, pseudo-religion cannot only tell me about my lived-experiences (ethical concerns), but the after-life, quantum mind healing, mystical energies and ancient wisdom that conventional science has yet to catch up with (Capra 1983; Chopra 2010). Here it seems that the ethical experience most central to being religious is what is least helpful about it when it comes to dealing with the human condition such as death, loss or anxiety. Rather, how do we become immortal or at least prove the paranormal is real? These same drives are also present in pseudo-science. It is not enough that science can, to some extent, control nature, develop technologies and medicines based on underlying hard-won principles, but it can also tell me who I am and what values I should live by (Harris 2010). This blurring of religious and scientific concerns is what the philosopher Eric Voegelin criticised in the metaphysics of ‘scientism’ that sustains much of pseudo-science.
It is Voegelin (1987) who warned about ‘immanentizing the eschaton’, a negative theology of trying to restore (simulate) the afterlife here on earth. Here people aspire to immortality or perfection, standing in for God and reason stands in for faith. Whether it is mortals become Gods, faith becoming reason or the finite becoming infinite, all are part of the immanent reversibility. Why is it not enough that religion deals with the ethical aspects of our lives that possibly have their fullest expression in doubt, faith and uncertainty? An interpretation closer to that of Kierkegaard (1941) or Levinas (1991) in that one should seek to become religious, rather than be religious. That religion and faith can only be realised through the development of a self which is a commitment to the Other.
The central thesis here is that as ‘science’ has come to dominate what we mean by ‘truth’ any approach that does not at least simulate an empirical, objective, materialist conception of the ‘truth’ is not to be trusted or is at least inferior to it. Voegelin highlights 3 dogmas of ‘scientism’, which are:
(1) the assumption that the mathematized science of natural phenomena is a model science to which all other sciences ought to conform; (2) that all realms of being are accessible to the methods of the sciences of phenomena; and (3) that all reality which is not accessible to sciences of phenomena is either irrelevant or, in the more radical form of the dogma, illusionary (Voegelin, p.462).
Here pseudo-science does not just want to give a description of natural, physical processes, it wants to jump beyond that to say this description is central to any other reality or experience. As the Nobel prize winner Francis Crick said:
“You,” your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules (Crick 1994, p.3).
Such apparent power is seductive. ‘Seduction’ as a metaphor for how science can be organised (Trubody, 2016), Baudrillard puts in opposition to ‘power’. Power seeks irreversibility, to be total and absolute, whereas ‘seduction’ is reversible, ambiguous and endless (Baudrillard 1990, p.46; pp.86-87). What this means is that in an act of seduction one has to be open to being seduced, that one cannot know who is seducing who. It is a dynamic and ambiguous dance. Power, on the other hand, is coercion, to dominate the ‘other’, to be in total control, closer to that of an abusive relationship. Why this might be pertinent is that what is undecidable to science and religion, what makes it a science or ethical, and hence never total, even though it may aim at this, are the same things pseudo-practices are blind to. They do not see this reversibility at play, rather scientism and religious fanaticism are attempts to totalise reality. However, rather than develop philosophical critiques of why such attempts at totality are unscientific or irreligious both types of fundamentalist want to share in this objective conception of ‘Truth’. What is the evidence for Noah’s Flood? What do the flaws in radio carbon dating tell us about the possible age of the universe? How else might species diversity be accounted for outside of evolution.4 Equally, what would be a scientific description of love, what are the evolutionary origins of art or where is the ‘God centre’ of the brain?
In lusting after this objective conception of ‘truth’, in religious fanatics wanting to simulate scientism in saying how ‘nature’ really is, or science fundamentalists wanting to simulate religion in describing and explaining the human condition, it dilutes everything that is valuable about science and religion. Here we see the homoeopathic principle, where in wanting to be closer to reality the fundamentalist paradoxically moves further away from any useful truth it might have to offer under the belief that one is some how capturing the essence of what it is to be religious/ scientific.
Reality Fundamentalists and Literalism
The few that have mentioned Baudrillard and theology see him has presenting a type of onto-theology of the image. The endlessly sceptical nature of Baudrillard’s ‘radical’ theorising means that he has been accused of rendering an unwelcome ‘negative “theology” of the media’ (Couldry 2003, p.18). One possible response from Baudrillard (2005) is included in his term of ‘reality fundamentalist’:
The reality-fundamentalists equip themselves with a form of magical thinking that confuses message and messenger […] if the real has fallen into fundamental discredit and its principle is everywhere reeling, it is not we, the messengers of the simulacrum, who have plunged things into this discredit, it is the system itself that has fomented this uncertainty that affects everything today. (Baudrillard 2005, p.23).
Baudrillard is no apologist for simulation, but he does herald it. Taylor’s (2008) take on the ‘reality fundamentalist’ are those who ‘perversely push the object of their contemplation further away from their grasp the more actively they pursue it with their ‘objective’ standards and measurements’ (Taylor 2008, p.277). This speaks of the reversibility at play in fundamentalist metaphysics, that the more it strives to be one thing the further away from it it becomes. Under the present interpretation the more a fanatical religion seeks to empirically prove the existence of God or the objective ‘truth’ of the Bible, paradoxically, the further away from being a religion it becomes morphing into a pathological version of science, arguably closer to that of the new atheists. Baudrillard (1983), echoing Foucault, eludes to this point when he describes how anthropologists who sought to scientifically study the Tasaday Indians were forced to abandon their investigation as their methodology was killing the subjects under examination.
For ethnology to live, its object must die. But the latter revenges itself by dying for having been ‘discovered’, and defies by its death the science that wants to take hold of it. Doesn’t every science live on this paradoxical slope to which it is doomed by the evanescence of its object in the very process of its apprehension, and by the pitiless reversal this dead object exerts on it? […] the logical evolution of a science is to distance itself ever further from its object until it dispenses with it entirely: its autonomy evermore fantastical in reaching its pure form. (Baudrillard 1983, pp.13–15).
Here we may say if there is a ‘truth’ to religion it is in dealing with the most human of experiences, death, suffering, social injustice, transcendence and redemption. In attempting to become objective simulating how science represents reality, it not only distances itself from the subjective validity of those religious/ ethical experiences, but it also ceases to describe a reality sensible to modern science. Creationist science, for example, not only requires medieval assumptions about the literalism of the Bible, but that such ‘literalism’ as understood today is directly parasitic upon the development and veracity of science. What I mean is that without the necessary socio-historical development of science from natural philosophy we do not get the metaphysics of objectivity, positivism and empiricism on which ‘literalist’ interpretations depend. However, as the objective conception of ‘truth’ has come to dominate as the image of ‘Truth’ there has been a proliferation in fundamentalism since the 18th century over who has access to it (Armstrong 2009, p. 99).
At the core of any fundamentalist position is a belief that one has access to the ‘Truth’, be it theological or secular. Capital ‘T’ Truth is an image of how reality really is. It tells us what is behind the veil of the apparent. Fundamentalism is to practice ‘literalism’, that what we think, say or read about the world is exactly how it is. A one-to-one correspondence of identity. Scientism also harbors this metaphysics, where what we say about the world is identical with how the world really is. Moreover, if scientism cannot quantify said phenomena/ experience it is either, at best, an epiphenomena of some underlying physical law or empirical event, or at worst, a meaningless/ illusory figment of wishful thinking.5 The belief then is that scientism is saying cumulatively truer and truer things about reality until, potentially, a ‘Theory of Everything’, a simulation of the mind of God, where reality itself becomes a simulacrum of science. Scientism produces objective statements about the world with its own privileged access to ‘a culture free description of how reality is’ (2001, p.238), as Nobel Prize winner Steven Weinberg says. This image of science is powerfully seductive, backed-up by any amount of evidence that science ‘works’ (Trubody 2016). How one arrives at this image of science has been contested at least since Kuhn’s (1996) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, where the messy history of scientific change is redacted to textbook vignettes of inevitable scientific progress. Whilst the likes of Kuhn and Feyerabend have been understood as the enfants terrible of logical positivism, there have been notable scientists who share many of the sentiments of a historically orientated approach to science. Another Noble Prize winner, Richard Feynman (1990), in recognition of historical complexity said:
‘What I have just outlined is what I call a “physicist’s history of physics,” which is never correct. What I am telling you is a sort of conventionalized myth-story that the physicist tell to their students, and those students tell to their students, and it is not necessarily related to actual historical development, which I do not really know!’ (Feynman 1990, p.6)
Couple this statement with his explicit endorsement of scepticism when it comes to anyone saying what science ‘teaches’ or ‘is’, including scientists themselves, puts him within the ballpark of historical philosophers of science like Kuhn and Feyerabend. For example, Feynman says, we ‘learn from science that you must doubt the experts […] the belief in the ignorance of experts […] When someone says science teaches such and such, he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach it; experience teaches it’ (Feynman 2001, p.187). For me Feynman is saying that one has to deal with the contingency of science, that the experience of both what science is and says about reality, at some point, may have to change, which includes its metaphysical commitments.
What then of the religious fanatic? If by religious fundamentalist we mean someone who understands their sacred text or beliefs to be an objectively accurate empirical-historical account of reality, miracles and all, then not only are we in conflict with historiography and hermeneutics (the ability to interpret events and texts), but also any other discipline that covers the veracity of empirical phenomena. As Armstrong (2009) points out modern religious fanaticism is a response to the rise in explanatory power of science, and the fanatic is forced to think in literalist, objective terms when confronting the metaphorical or symbolic as it this model that has come to dominate discourses on ‘truth’. What makes literalism particularly apt for Baudrillard is that both pseudo-practices are cut free from any reality in which they could function as a science or religion. Here the image ‘has no relation to any reality whatsoever: it is its own pure simulacrum’ (Baudrillard 1994, p.6). That both science and religion in their fundamentalist guises become hyperreal, more real than a science or religion that knows its limits or domain of practice. Couple this with the paradox of ‘literalism’, that language cannot be used ‘literally’, only ever metaphorically within a play of other signs, then Baudrillard appears even more relevant.
What is lost to literalism is the awareness and skill of dealing with the metaphorical and symbolic content of differing fields. How empirical content gets its meaning so we know where to look in the world or even how to overturn prior experience. As Feynman says, science doesn’t teach anything, experience does. Moreover, we get the reversibility of Baudrillardian theory for the religious literalist, where in striving for an objective account of religion, in proving its empirical-historical truth, one is simultaneously moving further away from what it means to be religious-ethical. For the literalist the book of Genesis, for example, is no longer an allegory, metaphor or symbolic tale of humanity, to be debated as per the Rabbinic-hermeneutic traditions, but is instead a proto-scientific text for anachronistic physicists and biologists. The literalism with which such texts are met are themselves the product of anachronisms. It is only now after centuries of refinement since the Enlightenment do we have the metaphysical privileging of ‘truth’ with empiricism, positivism and objectivism, which the religious fanatic is desperate to invoke as their own authority. So without the development of these thoroughly modern worldviews it would not make any sense to say that Genesis is a theory of cosmogony. That what is laid out in those pages is some sort of ancient scientific hypothesis or objective description of events. It is such skewed literalism that leads mathematical physicist Frank Tipler to posit that Christianity may be a ‘possibly true theory of physical reality’ (2007, p.267). This strange admixture of old and new can easily be transcribed into Baudrillardian terms, where neither party is attached to anything actual, but is its own creation, myth or simulacrum. Moreover, the ‘literalism’ that both sets of fundamentalists propagate is a hyperreality of what both science and religion are or have been, where they begin to morph into each other. Whilst Baudrillard (1983) concludes that ‘the logical evolution of a science is to distance itself ever further from its object until it dispenses with it entirely: its autonomy evermore fantastical in reaching its pure form’ (Baudrillard 1983, p.15). This author will argue that the same is true for any practice based on similar fundamentalist commitments, where science ceases to be critical and evidence-based and religion ceases to be ethical and faith-based.
Reversibility: Immanentizing the Eschaton
Religion and science do not conflict, but what can conflict are two fundamentalist conceptions of reality that essentially strive to do the same impossible thing. For the science fanatic their over-reaching into metaphysical speculation, weak philosophical development or unjustified extrapolation means they cease to resemble decent evidence driven science and instead become a pseudo-practice. However, as science is historical its changes are gradual, hard-won and ultimately retrospective, which means it can exist as being identical with its method for a time. It is under this pretence that scientism is cut-off from science, it exists in its own closed system of references. It is from this understanding that the likes of Dawkins (2006), Harris (2010), or Krauss (Anderson 2012) promote the ‘science as method’ image. It is this representation that is then used as the religious fanatics’ model for doing science. They become parasitical upon one another. What both have in common is their shared metaphysical commitment allowing them to deny the validity of subjective experience (ethics-mortality). For scientism, all subjective experience can be dealt with in terms of objective descriptions, be it the experience of love, God, or even why someone should be moral (Crick 1994; Harris 2010). For the religious fanatic, the ‘Truth’ of their beliefs is found in the objective structure of their religion, in what a text literally says, what a person in authority decrees, or what the gaps in our scientific knowledge imply. It should seem odd that a person of faith require evidence. As Kierkegaard pointed out, the process of becoming religious should take priority over the idea of being religious. ‘Being religious’ is to claim to know what it is to be a Christian for example, because one happens to be born within Christendom or knows what the Bible says on a particular social issue. Here we do not have to consider our actions but merely default to what a book or person says. ‘Becoming religious’ has no such set pathway, it is always done in uncertainty, to not know what the right thing to do is, to maybe even go against what social norms dictate, but act none-the-less in faith. One embraces certainty from the objective structure of their practice (e.g., what the Bible says), whereas the other embraces scepticism and doubt as constitutive of their self-efficacy (e.g., teleological suspension of the ethical).
In true Baudrillardian style neither, scientism nor religious fanaticism is of the position they claim to represent and is in fact closer to the thing they oppose. Scientism in its prioritizing of the scientific worldview is forwarding a distinctly unscientific proposition. One that cannot be tested, or at least ‘scientifically’, as that would be begging the question. This is also to overlook the amount of bad science that is done in order to account for the subjective experience of things like ‘mind’, ‘beauty’ or ‘love’ (Tallis 2004; 2012). Then there is Creationist science that utilizes the knowledge and methods as developed since the Enlightenment to bring into doubt the scientific consensus over the reality of evolution or the age of the universe, as if the most important aspect of religion is its empirical veracity or its ability to make accurate predictions (Behe 1998; Gish 1979). The reversibility that Baudrillard speaks about or the slow distancing between the representation and reality on which it was based can be summarised as the ever expanding scope of scientism allowing the new atheist to make claims that are way outside the remit of good science. A current trend identified by Tallis (2012) is the genetic, evolutionary and neurologically reductive explanations for social, historical and cultural phenomena. Sam Harris (2010), for example, argues that science can determine what our ethical values should be. Historically, we can see that the ‘scientising’ of how we should live has not worked out well, primarily due to the fact that ‘rationality’ as somehow being categorically different to ’emotion’ means we are operating within the realm of ‘justification’ – which appears to know no end. Biology and identity can be collapsed so certain people can be slaves, others cannot vote or own property due to a ‘natural’ inferiority. Through the scientific gaze our subjective experiences can become objectified. But, does one really become ethical because the science says so? Whilst ‘science’ has been used to justify racial segregation, female oppression and slavery, it is ultimately a practice that is at the disposal of humans who are historically contingent beings, who become human through their ethical freedom. No one does a terrible act without justification, which is why for moral philosophers ethics may need to be based on something else other than ‘rationality’ (Kierkegaard 2006; Levinas 1991). Religion should not ask for objective reasons as to why one is religious, and science should not look to scientise the ethical encounter. Yet we find the exact opposite in fundamentalism. Knowingly or not scientism has bled into areas traditionally reserved for the arts, philosophy and ethics and religious fanaticism has sequestered areas conventionally reserved for the natural and social sciences and in doing so both dilute themselves, existing on the ‘paradoxical slope to which it is doomed by the evanescence of its object in the very process of its apprehension’ (Baudrillard 1983, pp.13). The onto-theology behind scientism and religious fanaticism is to realise a type of death. If by ‘death’ we mean annihilation of the subjective. To remove that which is most human about us so that we exist like all other objects. In both cases the fundamentalist is privileging an objective representation over subjective experience. For scientism it reduces ethical or existential concerns to that of neurology or evolution. For the religious fanatic the validity of their subjective faith comes from the objective structure of their religion, such as what a book says or the historical accuracy of events. In both cases there is death of the human, a making immanent the eschaton, Truth seeking in an otherworldly metaphysical realm of pure objectivity. The irony being that science is not only ethical, requires values, but also hinges on the subjective tacit judgements of great scientists, those who can see past the ‘evidence’, past the model of reality their contemporaries have been working with, to recognise the fluid nature of interpretation. To know that science doesn’t teach anything, only experience (Feynman 2001a). Equally, we need those who are advocates for religion to not give up the importance of existential angst, doubt and scepticism as to how one is or could be, values and principles germane to the critical sciences. Ultimately, it is a battle to not allow the objective representation of “Truth” to become the dominate image to its subjective counterpart as “truth”. To not give away something invaluable as to who we are in objectively stating what we are. As Proust said,
I adore certain symbols no less than you do. But it would be absurd to sacrifice to the symbol the reality that it symbolises. Cathedrals are to be adored until the day when, to preserve them, it would be necessary to deny the truths which they teach. (Proust 1996 , p.131)
It has been argued that the ‘reversibility’ that is at play in Baudrillard’s critical theory, along with his notions of simulacra and hyperreality, give us a way of framing issues concerning fundamentalism. Fundamentalism here being a claim to access or know reality as it really is. Two ideologies that share this commitment are scientism and religious fanaticism. It is not just that they share this belief, but that the very metaphysics that underpin their worldview are the same. It is this shared origin that makes both practices parasitic on one another. Where religion talks about the soul or morality scientism seeks the ‘Truth’ of these claims via its ability to explain any empirical phenomena in objective terms i.e., natural causal mechanisms. Where science talks about organisms developing via evolutionary processes, religious fanatics seek the ‘Truth’ of these claims in its ability to explain apparent design via the objective structures of their religion i.e., what a literal interpretation of the Bible says. Through dogmatic loyalty to the ‘Truth’ these pseudo-practices, paradoxically, begin to resemble each other, where we find a pathological version of both. Scientism being conceptually underdeveloped to deal with things like existential angst or ethical becoming and creationist science stymied by a medieval worldview lived out in the 21st Century. Another way of stating the above is that those fundamentalist versions of science and religion are hyperreal models of a more mundane reality. Where scientism has explicitly promoted science as its method, neglecting the socio-historical conditions for knowledge, the religious fanatic has bought this wholesale utilizing all the furniture of science, be it experiments, testing theories or publishing research articles. To borrow a metaphor, creationist science has been made in the image of scientism, that the ‘Truth’ of its religion is to be found in the objective structures of its practice i.e., a correspondence theory of truth between what the Bible says and how reality really is. Yet as Feynman (2001a; 2001b) points out science is not just the objective structures of its practice, its method or the knowledge it produces, but the ability to overcome or transcend them. Fundamentalism then creates its own simulacra, where both scientism and religious fanaticism are cut off from any reality genuine science and religion would recognise. It is in this detachment from the world that the title comes, that both seek to eradicate the role and value of subjectivity. In doing away with the subjective we jettison that which is most human about us giving over to a kind of ‘death’, where we now exist like all other objects in the universe. Death being the threat that one could lose their subjectivity, the possibility of non-being, but to immanentize the eschaton is to speed this process up, for to become immortal there has to be no fear of loss, to become atemporal, outside of time, that which is central to how we experience being. The subjective doubt that one should entertain when claiming to know the ‘truth’ of moral propositions is morphed into certainty for the religious fanatic, ‘faith’ is replaced with rational justification, seeing the proofs for the existence of God as a scientist would for evidence for a theory. Here ‘faith’ is derived from the objective structures of that religion, be it what a book says or the apparent flaws in carbon dating methodology being at odds with the Genesis account. Here I pose a homoeopathic metaphor, where each seeks to simulate the symptoms (metaphysics) of the other, whilst at the same time diluting what is proper to it in the belief that it is actually becoming stronger, more potent. Ultimately, who would rather wrestle with the existential angst of becoming and never knowing, than have the validity of one’s faith rest upon experiment or theoretical falsification?
About the Author:
Ben Trubody is from the University of Gloucestershire.
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1 – ‘Scientism’ here refers to the inappropriate use or exaggerate ability of science to deal with non-scientific issues, such as Harris’ (2010) argument that science can determine what ethical values humans should live by. Harris succumbs to the age old problem of going from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’ – that while science might be able to tell us what is the case, and how certain ends might be met, it cannot tell us whether we should.
2 – Ironically the same parasitical relationship maybe at work in AI science, where simulation of intelligence or consciousness is taken for the genuine article, whatever that is. Tongue-in-cheek, instead of a Turing Test I would propose a Camus Test, where suicide is the only rational response to the absurdity of existence. The first AI system to turn itself off would count as being conscious. The anachronism here is a strong AI programme that looks to reproduce complex social phenomena via outdated philosophical theories of mind/ brain, and language (Collins and Kusch 1998; Tallis 2013).
3 – Unlike medical misconduct where people die from incorrect prescriptions, dosages or some type of negligence, homoeopathic misconduct assumes that there is a practice one can do poorly, or wrong, but whose effects are exactly they same as one who does it competently.
4 – See the Christian fundamentalist Answers Research Journal for examples of the sorts of work being written about as a means to ‘proving’ the Genesis account of events – https://answersingenesis.org/answers/research-journal/about/ [accessed 18/ 1/ 2017]
5 – See Voegelin’s (1948) third dogma of scientism.