2.7 The Treacherous Alloys of "Scientific" and "Revealed" Truth


We have now made the rounds of the basic ways by which man seeks to understand and reach adjustment to his lot essentially through religion, rational philosophy, and intuitive arts, the "ideational experiments" of Utopias, and science itself. A brief but fairly fundamental stocktaking has been made of the particular qualities of error and sources of confusion in most of them. Some readers may think this reconnaissance has been too long and that we should already be off on our main journey, yet to begin in Chapter 3. But sufficiently searching and carefully judicial processes must necessarily seem long. We want to be sure that a dependable perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the current approaches has been reached before arming ourselves for our own expedition.

When all is said about the specific methodological defects of these approaches, one recognizes that the most dangerous confusions today do not arise so much from such limitations of historical method, intuition, rationalism, philosophy, etc., as from the naive mixtures of intuitive, revealed, philosophical-rational and scientific methods which public discussion now takes for granted. In recent years, as asserted above, the most insidious and disturbing examples occur in social reform that is offered in the name of science itself. Incidentally, this problem of adulteration is an old one, recognized by alert scientists since science entered society. As long ago as 1904 Max Weber made a strong plea to his fellow sociologists to make a clean separation of values and factors. Such expressions as "a well-integrated society," "socially desirable" or the more oblique "normally healthy" still abound in social science recommendations in writings intended to be purely technical without either definition or apology. More recently, Polyani (1958) has defended the role of intuition in "heuristic" empirical research without clarifying the difference between using intuition as an exploratory research means versus depending on it as an ultimate evaluation of a scientific conclusion. In particular the social utopianism just examined often shows an admixture on the one hand of good social planning, sound political craftmanship, and even objective investigatory techniques, and on the other a farrago of subjective, fashionable social values, purely personal convictions, and emotional prejudice. Most commonly these values are hidden in arbitrary personal digests of the ethics of certain revealed religions.

To understand the undependable and unkown alloy from which such popular thought and evaluation is made today, it is necessary to recognize that a hundred years of sharp and explicit conflict in educated circles between religion and science has not solved much but has ended in the indifference of exhaustion and the superficial amiability which can follow a truce. Thus the two most fundamentally opposed of the approaches here considered revealed truth and scientific analysis have actually become blended in such insincere compromises as Humanism, Unitarianism, and more massive but less explicit popular trends. To sympathize if not to agree with this current acceptance of a squalid incompatibility one must remember that for at least four hundred years there has been a crescendo of warfare in the minds of men between science and revealed dogma, reaching its most painful expression perhaps in the nineteenth century, in the suffering of such men as Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Charles Kingsley, Edmund Gosse, Matthew Arnold and their theological counterparts. In seeking to escape this warfare it is not surprising that some strange compromises were made and some inherently false positions accepted. These are psychologically more understandable if we do not forget, moreover, that scientists and religious men resemble each other in important aspects of personality in the idealistic and ascetic character more than either resembles the casual and "sensual" man in the street[9].

The more tolerant of scientists have generally taken the position that questioning the scientific correctness of Genesis or the historical reality of Christ leaves the spiritual truths untouched. They are content, with James or Dewey, to be pragmatists. But pragmatism is not the full illumination of empiricism, analysis and insight as required by science. The magnanimity shown by science in this area may be misunderstood and paid for dearly. It is one thing to seek to persuade as we do below that there is a temporary social need to hang on, in practice, to traditional religious values while the new house is being built. It is quite another to pretend that the two kinds of truth are not really on very different foundations, and that we have not entered on a problem mixing oil and water.

Looking back on the lonely spiritual adventures and strivings that gave us Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Christianity, and many less developed religions, any sensitive and historically aware individual must, despite his rationalist inclinations, recognize that one looks back at mountain ranges of spiritual grandeur. It is likely that when the logical-empirical scientific creation of values has soared into its more amazing abstract calculations of the future it will still have to recognize that perhaps some more elevated but unconfirmed spiritual insights remain in the higher mountain peaks reached by the early religious pioneers. That is a question needing examination after the full tenets of Beyondism are developed in Chapter 4 below. Meanwhile, even the sharpest critic will agree that the authors of the great inspired religions appeal to what man senses to be the best in him. They attract most strongly the noblest individuals. But they comfort and sustain all. They have been indispensable props through dark and barbaric centuries, when centers of learning scarcely existed and the cultural foundations necessary for the systematic objective creations of science were hopelessly submerged in anarchy and brutality.

Let us also recognize that the practical acceptance of scientific and revealed truth as if it were a single welded whole, unquestioned as to its essential homogeneity, which we here consider a perilous mistake, has nevertheless been adopted by some of the greatest philosophers and scientists. This is a humbling and disconcerting consideration when we ourselves are venturing to sail out on a purely scientific search for moral truths. But it is no exaggeration to say that throughout the nineteenth century the great trail-blazers of science from Faraday to Kelvin in physics and from Cuvier and Darwin to Pasteur in biology, steadfastly adhered to traditional, "revealed" religious values. There were few real atheists among them and they preferred to believe that the great machine they studied was the explicit and magnificant creation of a Deux ex machina. Regardless of any philosophy, their emotions at any rate dictated to them that they should keep science and religion clear of the degradation of ultimate conflict. Even the far-ranging mind of Newton kept active scientific and active religious interests in two compartments, and some biographers believe that he considered his work in theology more important than his contribution to physics. But, except for the strange importation into biblical history of the methods of calculations he had perfected in physics methods of calculation as remarkable as those by which he weighed the earth his religious conclusions were based on the inspired work of the Bible. He followed revealed religion as devoutly as any Fundamentalist from the hills of Tennessee. Einstein is less explicit on religion, but in morality, as shown by his writings on politics, his ethics is taken over ready-made from democratic, Christian-Judaic tradition as unquestioningly as by any schoolboy. Bertrand Russell (letter to Gilbert Murray, in his Autobiography, 1968) writes "I am very anxious to be clear on the subject of immediate moral intuitions . . . upon which, as is evident, all morality must be based." His belief is clearly stated that "immediate intuitions are the only source of moral premises." This path leads to "knowledge, and the appreciation and contemplation of beauty, and a certain intrinsic excellence of mind" as the ultimate touchstones of moral meaning.

This compartmentalization of thought found prevalent in even the most eminent scientists and philosophers who were born as late as the nineteenth century is a remarkable phenomenon, worthy of intensive study by a psychologist-historian. One might speculate simply on the existence of a deeper childhood fear of the authority of estabished religion than the writers are consciously aware of. Or again, they may have had such an exacting respect for scientific precision that seeing no prospect of reaching into religion with this exactness, they readily accepted an habitual adjustment to a deep social taboo. It persisted in fact as a professional taboo in both science and religion, each of which forbade any common domain of thought. The split philosophy essentially a modest two-way agnosticism is intellectually more immaculate and socially more trustworthy than most of the compromises practiced today. Nevertheless, one must insist that we cannot have two truths. Neither the impressive standing of these men, nor the emotional comforts of toleration, must deter us from attempting the scientific journey that may bring us to truths in both domains entirely through the gateway of science.

Actually, in the present times of confusion, the opposition at the popular level to the scientific path may arise less from traditional, revealed religious dogma than from the mystical equivalents of the Gnostic heresies that have often grown like tumors on the body of organized religion in times of decadence or disturbance. Such movements, breaking away from whatever rational integration has been brought into either science or religious dogmas, and claiming immediate illumination, are, of course, inherent in the whole intuitive approach. One result of the growth of science might be that its undermining of religion will lead to its sharing society with a beserk religious mysticism instead of an organized church. Superstition tends to spread in society from below upwards, and, as an expert in Greek history has pointed out (Dodds, 1951), in more than one society it has ended the intellectual and political realism of whole societies. The incongruity in the advent of superb scientific powers, e.g., in nuclear force, the creation of new drugs, and the spawning of material luxuries, in societies otherwise given to undisciplined emotional thinking, might easily destroy whole societies. For this and other reasons it is imperative to make the effort to put moral values and spiritual direction on a footing uniform with that of other knowledge.

Although most space has been given here to the precarious quality of the alloy of revealed religion with scientific method, the other sources of confusion here utopias, rationalism, the arts, self-evident "political" truths can create mixtures just as dangerous. Of the apparent totalitarian solidarity of Communism, the writer Kuznetsov (Telegraph, August 29, 1969) says, in regard to his native country: "As for the more intelligent, thinking people here you have a state of chaos and great confusion in Russia. Some [believe in the possibility of] . . . a decent, more democratic, more liberal society, even though still ruled by the Communist party. Others pin their faith in science and the scholars that they will become so influential in society . . . that they will be able to find some solution. Very many turn to religion, more and more everyday. . . . Nevertheless, the majority understand nothing and do not believe in anything."

One recognizes readily here that this gifted representative of the arts, as opposed to Marx, has nothing more objective to offer in values than "a decent, liberal society." But no matter whether motivated by inspired religion, or simple "human decency," the intuitive approach to truth in the last resort cannot be respected except as a tentative approximation and a temporary stop-gap. If the truths of the heart are real enough, surely they can eventually be made accessible and proved by intelligent explanation and demonstration? For, without the development, through psychological science, of ways of examining the validity of such convictions and communicating their content, the truths of emotional experience remain unverifiable, and constitute a coinage of low logical and educational negotiability. Even if the epistemological doubts about the foundation of truths of this type could be overcome, the special difficulty would remain that their acquisition must proceed by the costly and painful path of individual trial and error. This path has to be trodden afresh by each person and each new generation, with no guarantee that it will get further than or even as far as the last. From whichever standpoint one looks at the matter validity, mutual communication, or the possibility of steady advance the acceptance of a duality of truths is intellectually unsatisfying and socially dangerous. The numerous attempts to view science and revealed religion as "happily one" (from the early writings of physical scientists such as Newton or Lodge to the recent writings of some biologists (Ebling, 1969)) are well intended yet foredoomed.

Our hope is surely that the application of the methods of science to human affairs and the human heart will eventually permit science to take over the second half of its total heritage, and yield a body of knowledge, such as modern psychology aspires to, in which "truths of the heart" can become explicit, open to proof, and subject to exact communication and teaching. Perhaps though this breakthrough is not essential to our present argument it may eventually be possible, by some miracle of neurological science or dynamic psychological analysis to transmit emotional experience and maturity as readily as we now transmit intellectual skills in the classroom. Even before that is achieved the educated man of today surely has ample evidence before him that science has answered far more fully than have other institutions the questions "What am I?" and "Where am I?" It is reasonable, therefore, to hope that it has inherently greater chance of more clearly answering the final question "What ought I to do?" Meanwhile, the brittle alloys of scientific and mystical or dogmatic modes of thought which constitute the fabric of this morally confused society place us in extreme danger[10].















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