It may be well to begin by reminding ourselves that science is closely allied with a variety of credenda which are not “scientific” at all, and might consequently be dubbed “scientistic” by virtue of that association. But whereas the adjective may be a neologism, the corresponding substantive “scientism” has by now elicited a Wikipedia article recounting the different shades of meaning assigned to it by contemporary scholars. The list commences with Gregory R. Peterson, who distinguishes two kinds: scientism as a so-called “totalizing view of science,” or alternatively as what he terms “a border-crossing violation,” which is to say: an illegitimate intrusion of a scientific domain into another. And there is F. A. Hayek, who alludes to “slavish imitation of the method and language of Science” — doubtless a point well taken — and Karl Popper, the eminent philosopher of science, who perceives scientism as “the aping of what is widely mistaken for the method of science.” Yet noteworthy and apt as all these attestations to the cultural hegemony of Science may be, they pale into insignificance in comparison to an effect not mentioned at all: the impact of Science, namely, that strikes at the heart of “the human” in us all by negating its very possibility. And that is what has been left out of account by the pundits, what in fact “is never mentioned in polite society,” as Ananda Coomaraswamy might say: an assumption which proves to be well-nigh invisible by virtue of the fact that it defines the very Zeitgeist of the present age. It is therefore this conception of “scientism,” precisely, that needs to be unmasked above all — on pain of falling victim to its spell.
Thus — opposed though I am to “border-crossing violations,” “slavish imitation,” as well as “aping” of every kind — my use of the term “scientism” differs radically from the Wikipedia entry in that I accuse the scientific establishment of an imposture, be it conscious or not: the dissemination, namely, on the basis of what are falsely claimed to be scientific grounds, of a Weltanschauung which is not only injurious, but ultimately lethal to our humanity. That worldview, I charge — inflicted upon the young in every science classroom of our land — proves in point of fact to be not only ungrounded and untenable, but insidious in the extreme: for it attacks not only the perennial wisdom of mankind, but our very sanity, somewhat as acid corrodes metal.
What, then, is that monstrous doctrine: what precisely does it affirm? I strove to define it on page one of my first book:1Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief (Philos-Sophia Initiative Foundation, 2021); first published in 1984. it rests upon the notion that the universe reduces to purely quantitative entities, subject to strict mathematical laws. It hardly matters whether we think of these ultimate components in Newtonian or quantum-mechanical terms: what confronts us either way might be described as “an engine which consists of raw masses wandering to no purpose in an undiscoverable time and space, and is in general devoid of any qualities that might spell satisfaction for the major interests of human nature, save solely the central aim of the mathematical physicist,” as Edwin A. Burtt observes.2The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (Humanities Press, 1951), p. 299. What however renders that opprobrious philosophy virtually irresistible to the contemporary public at large is the fact that it is promulgated by the scientific establishment: the purveyors of “signs and wonders” that could “deceive” just about everyone.3Mark 13:22
Getting back to the question of “sanity,” it is to be noted that the scientistic reduction of the world to quantity plunges the thus-“deceived” into a state of chronic schizophrenia; for obviously everyone takes the grass to be green right up to the moment when he recalls the scientistic credo, at which point he negates what an instant before he took to be self-evident: in a trice the grass has no color any more! One cannot but wonder on which side of the divide a father, for instance, stands when he hugs his child! What saves us, apparently, from outright madness is that, at most, we only half-believe what present-day science has to tell — and so we end up, in a way, believing nothing at all: the descent into what sociologists term “post-modernity” was predictable from the start. In fact, one might mention in passing that a new breed of humans has come into being, what Philip Rieff terms “psychological man”; and whereas “religious man was born to be saved,” he tells us, the new type “is born to be pleased.”4The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Harper, 1968), p. 24.
What I wish, however, to talk about are not the adverse consequences of the scientistic worldview — the descent, ultimately, into postmodernist nihilism — but first, whether it is justified on scientific grounds, and above all, whether it is in fact true. As to the former, no great wisdom is called for to recognize that the worldview in question is by no means authorized on empirical grounds: that it proves in fact to be a philosophical postulate masquerading in scientific garb — which is of course precisely what our usage of the adjective “scientistic” is meant to convey. Which brings us to the second question: whether that scientistic claim is in fact true. And this is a question that can only be answered on authentic metaphysical ground, which in my view is to be found nowhere but in the great sapiential traditions of mankind: the Platonist, for instance, or the Semitic culminating in the Christian. Yet on that perennial basis the answer is abundantly clear: the ontology of “raw masses wandering to no purpose” proves to be incurably fallacious.
* * *
Let me attempt to convey what an unspeakably joyful revelation it is that in place of “raw masses wandering to no purpose” we find ourselves actually in a world replete with sound and color and a host of other sensible qualities: the very world artists have painted and poets have sung, which turns out not to be a fantasy — a mere res cogitans — but an authentic ambience, inhabited by beings we can perceive, communicate with, and love. One recognizes the stupendous impoverishment and dehumanizing impact inflicted upon present-day civilization through the imposition of the scientistic Weltanschauung, not to speak of the resultant insanity: a heavy price to pay for a dogma that isn’t true!
However, in addition to this pivotal credo,5The ontological dichotomy, specifically, which underlies and supports the scientistic worldview in all its facets: i.e., the Cartesian division of reality into res extensae or “extended entities” and res cogitantes or “things of the mind,” what Alfred North Whitehead refers to as “bifurcation.” Highly respected in scientific circles as co-author, with Bertrand Russell, of Principia Mathematica — the definitive treatise on the foundations of mathematics — Whitehead lectured the scientific community for decades on the fallaciousness of their “bifurcationist” worldview, yet evidently to no avail: the ontological fallacy appears to have deep roots, tracing back to another Principia in fact: the one published in 1687 by Sir Isaac Newton, from which modern physics is derived. there are yet other scientistic dogmas, likewise imposed upon us in peremptory fashion, which need also to be unmasked: and undoubtedly the very next in order of importance is the virtually hallowed dogma of evolution. If the adjective “sacred” has any meaning at all in the context of professed science, that would undoubtably be the most sacred allegedly “scientific” dogma ever enunciated! It needs however to be realized, first of all, that despite the brave talk and unending encomiums lavished upon this darling, the Darwinist tenet is actually bereft of factual support. In the early days — before the middle of the last century, one might say — the Darwinist claim, though improbable in the extreme, was yet scientifically conceivable: one simply did not know enough about biology to rule it out. After the mid-century discovery of DNA, on the other hand, followed by the publication, in 1998, of William Dembski’s mathematical theorem concerning the production of CSI or so-called complex specified information, such however is no longer the case: for whereas the first discovery reveals massive amounts of CSI in the nuclei of living cells, the latter proves that this cannot be produced by natural means.6By “natural causes” one means either a deterministic, random, or “stochastic” process, the last being a combination of the first two. The Darwinist scenario consisting of random mutations plus “natural selection” is a case in point. It cannot therefore produce the “tons” of CSI contained in the nucleus of every cell. Despite persistent denial on the part of the scientistic “faithful,” it’s actually as simple as that. From that point onward Darwinian evolution ceased in truth to be a viable scientific theory.
Not, to be sure, that the theory was abandoned wholesale or replaced! As Thomas Kuhn makes abundantly clear, science as a social phenomenon does not operate that way: a theory of paradigmatic rank is not normally abandoned when it has failed. “Once it has achieved the status of a paradigm,” he writes, “it is declared invalid only if an alternate candidate is available to take its place.”7Kuhn’s thesis is that a fundamental paradigm is never discarded until a replacement has been found. See The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 77. And in the case of Darwinism, none is in sight.
* * *
Yet it might perhaps be better to say almost none; for it happens that a turn of events no one expected came to pass: the emergence namely of a “theistic” genre of Darwinist evolution, which appeared — as if ex nihilo — in the early decades of the twentieth century. Let us briefly recall that unlikely chain of events.
Darwin himself, to be sure, was not “theistically” inclined, and his theory, as presented in his magnum opus of 1859, was scientifically orthodox “by the book.” Having observed morphological discrepancies between mainland specimens of certain species and their kindred on the Galapagos Islands, and drawn conclusions based upon these facts, he went so far as to submit his theory to the Popperian condition of falsification. Thus, in the Origin of Species, he asserts that if the apparent paucity of “fossiliferous deposits” in the Precambrian strata should prove to be factual, this could “truly be urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained.”8On the Origin of Species (Chicago: Britannica, 1952), p. 164. Yet within a century, Darwin’s worst fear was in fact realized: the “intermediary forms” which the theory evidently demands had by then proved not to exist. “Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth,” writes one of the leading authorities: “They appear in the fossil record looking pretty much the same as when they disappear.”9Stephen Gould quoted in Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 50. The status of Darwin’s theory as a viable hypothesis could no longer be claimed; as Phillip Johnson notes: “Darwinism apparently passed the fossil test, but only because it was not allowed to fail.” In a word, one had arrived at the Kuhnian scenario — which is to say that Darwinism had morphed from a scientific hypothesis into what I term a scientistic dogma, accepted henceforth with well-nigh “religious” homage by the scientific community as well as the public at large.
From this point onwards, Darwinist evolution was no longer an hypothesis to be verified, but a dogma to be justified, to be propagated in schools and universities throughout the land, and defended without question wherever doubt or opposition might arise. And actually, the transition from scientific hypothesis to scientistic dogma had largely occurred long before the Darwinist hypothesis had proved to be untenable, and is in fact attested to by the modus operandi by which adverse findings were neutralized. Whenever, namely, facts came to light which threatened to falsify the theory, the experts set about instantly — and with astounding ingenuity — to “explain away” the falsifying facts by means of this or that ad hoc postulate. To cite an extreme yet by no means untypical example: to account for the virtual nonexistence of “intermediary forms” in the fossil record, someone actually proposed — with a straight face before a Congress on Philosophy of Science in 194910The paleontologist in question, incidentally, was Teilhard de Chardin, regarding whom we shall have more to say.— what he termed the “automatic suppression of origins.” We have here what might be termed the poster-child of an emerging strategy, designed to protect a scientific theory against falsification by means of an additional hypothesis. I am not saying that the introduction of such a postulate is inadmissible per se; my point is rather that the practice is scientifically acceptable only if the postulate in question has some empirical confirmation of its own. The ad hoc strategy can consequently be abused — which is precisely what happened after Darwinism had morphed from a scientific hypothesis into a scientistic dogma.
Meanwhile something stranger by far was in the offing: a second metamorphosis — which even writers of fiction might never have imagined — was about to take place. Ere long, namely, the Darwinist doctrine had assumed a theistic form as well. One way or another, it seems, the idea of “evolution” was going to survive and prosper! And as one knows very well, it was the charismatic Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who inaugurated this transition through the well-nigh hypnotic impact of his writings. Ignoring the customary premises of theology and science alike — not to speak of the Index — his long-proscribed books spread like wildfire in Catholic circles around the time of the Second Vatican Council, the outcome of which they influenced decisively. Perhaps their most striking feature is the unprecedented use of intoxicating metaphors which in time mesmerized millions — up to the most highly educated strata of Western society. Peter Medawar, the Nobel laureate, speaks for the wary minority when he points out that “Teilhard habitually and systematically cheats with words,” for instance when he employs scientific terms like “energy, tension, impetus” and the like in contexts to which they absolutely do not apply: an “offence against the common decencies of scientific writing,” he calls it.11On this entire subject I refer to my monograph, Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy (Angelico Press, 2012). Little however did Sir Peter realize that the legacy of Teilhard de Chardin would remain as part of our culture after his “cheating words” had long been forgotten. What the charismatic Jesuit brings to the scene is a concept of “evolution” which, so far from being atheistic, brings God himself into the evolutionist scenario. And whereas this “revelation” was generally received as more or less innocuous by mainstream Darwinists — presumably because it struck them as utterly ridiculous — to the embattled believers it was sheer manna sent from above. No wonder a chorus of cheers went up from behind the ramparts!
In due time the doctrine of “theistic evolution” established itself in various segments of the educated world, and, in Vatican circles at least, attained in effect the status of a new orthodoxy. The dominant segment of the Catholic intelligentsia, it appears, had by now become persuaded that God “creates” through evolution by supplying the final thrust to produce a bona fide Darwinian “origin of species” — and presumably pull off, as an additional miracle, an “automatic suppression of origins” so as to render that saltus undetectable to the geologists.
* * *
The story however does not end with “theistic” Darwinism; for it happens that in the course of the twentieth century, another kind of “evolution” has come into vogue: an evolution, no less, of the universe itself! And that mega-theory originated, not from morphological observations of finches on the islands of Galapagos, but from the most sophisticated mathematical physics the world has ever seen — the Einsteinian, namely. Yet, strangely enough, a very similar pattern of “crisis begetting discovery” has come into play: the underlying strategy, in fact, is quite the same. An impasse presents itself: in the Darwinist scenario, it may be a “missing link,” where in the astrophysical it is “missing matter” say.12Insufficient matter, for instance, to account for the gravitational forces needed to produce galaxies and stars. And what does one do? In either case, the impasse is broken by means of an ad hoc postulate: an assumption “picked out of thin air,” as it were, to fill a specific gap. But whether the added ingredient be “automatic suppression of origins” or “dark matter,” my point is that the underlying logic is quite the same. One might note that, in point of fact, the list of these “discoveries” proves to be considerably longer in the case of astrophysics: for in addition to such major “discoveries” as “inflation,” “dark matter” and “dark energy,” an abundance of less celebrated “entities” of ad hoc provenance is to be found in the technical literature. As one insider has observed with unusual perspicacity: “Every time there is a new observation there is a new theory!”13The astronomer Brent Tully of “supercluster” fame.
Yet despite this carte blanche to “ad hoc” one’s way out of empirical quandaries, discrepancies have cropped up which prove immune to this strategy. For example: having added “dark energy” to the inventory of astrophysical ingredients, it turns out that the corresponding vacuum energy conflicts with the findings of the most accurate physics of all — quantum theory that is — by a whopping 120 orders of magnitude! This is by far the most gargantuan “miss” in the history of science — and no ad hoc acrobatics whatsoever can alter this fact. And one might add: a more desperate need for a “god of the gaps” could hardly be conceived!
Incredible however as it may seem, still worse was yet to come. For it happens that the entire edifice of Einsteinian astrophysics rests upon an assumption of homogeneity “in the large” known as the Copernican or Cosmological Principle; and guess what? This tenet too has absolutely failed! It has been disproved, moreover, on the basis of astrophysical observations of the most accurate kind, culminating in tons of high-precision data transmitted from the Planck satellite, launched in 2009. What Planck documented beyond all reasonable doubt was the existence of a global “axis” in the CMB or “cosmic microwave background” — the largest and oldest identifiable structure in the universe — which flatly negates the aforesaid Principle. The fact is that in an Einsteinian universe there can be no such “axis”! And logically speaking, this settles the matter: one can’t “ad hoc” against an axiom. A point has been reached where “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” simply can’t put the Einsteinian theory “back together again.” No wonder that at the very first glimmer, that ominous structure in the CMB has been dubbed “the axis of evil”! And as a matter of fact, Planck was designed specifically to disprove its existence,14According to the European Space Agency, “Planck was launched in 2009 to study the CMB in even greater detail than ever before. It covers a wider frequency range in more bands and at higher sensitivity than WMAP, making it possible to make a much more accurate separation of all of the components of the submillimetre and microwave wavelength sky, including many foreground sources such as the emission from our own Milky Way Galaxy. This thorough picture thus reveals the CMB and its tiny fluctuations in much greater detail and precision than previously achieved. The aim of Planck is to use this greater sensitivity to prove the standard model of cosmology beyond doubt or, more enticingly, to search for deviations from the model which might reflect new physics beyond it.” and to this end was equipped with the most advanced instruments designed to filter out every trace of spurious data from every even remotely conceivable source — but all to no avail: at the end of the day, there it was, that “wicked” axis — the size of the observable universe — staring the astrophysicists in the face.
It is hardly surprising that this “axis” has by now been virtually forgotten in the scientific literature: one need but to recall what Thomas Kuhn has to say on the question of “paradigm shift.” From a “theistic” point of vantage, moreover, what is called for at this juncture is no longer just a “god” adept at closing gaps, but who has the capacity to draw a circle in the sky the size of the observable universe. I say this, moreover, not to be flippant, but to bring out the inherent absurdity of “theistic evolution” per se: adding spurious theology to failed science, I wish to point out, is not in truth a good idea!
* * *
The question remains how “evolution” as such — freed of Darwinist, Teilhardian, or Einsteinian assumptions — stands from an authentically theological or metaphysical point of view: and in either case it is by no means difficult to discern that, in truth, it does not “stand” at all.
To begin with the theological: the closest a Christian text ever comes to the idea of an “evolution” is in the context of the so-called logos spermatikos or rationes seminale, where an “evolution” of sorts is in fact implied.15A good discussion of this issue may be found in Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure (St. Anthony Guild Press, 1965), ch. 11. What stands at issue, however, is manifestly an “evolution” in the literal sense of an “unfolding” of something that already exists: of a logos spermatikos or rationes seminale namely! And that “unfolding” constitutes moreover a vertical as distinguished from a horizontal process: an ontological descent one can say, not “in time,” but “into time,” precisely. Or to look at the question from a somewhat more “exoteric” and overtly Biblical point of view, the plain fact is that God created the plants and animals “each after its kind”: He did not create a fish, for example, so as to morph into a frog or a chimpanzee! This is not to say, of course, that the primordial types have all survived to the present day in their original forms: there can be no question that variations and adaptations have taken place, giving rise to a different panorama of living forms. My point, however, is that these alterations pertain to what is properly termed “microevolution,” the reality of which no one doubts: it is what Darwin documented so clearly in the Origin of Species. And whereas even experts may not agree on just how far these “microevolutionary” variations can reach, there can by now be not a shred of doubt that they do not stretch from a fish, say, up to a frog, let alone a chimpanzee!16Among the many reasons invalidating such a conceptual possibility, the definitive disproof — which settles the matter once and for all — is to be found in William Dembski’s aforementioned theorem to the effect that horizontal causation cannot produce CSI. These are fantasies, which would doubtless be quickly waived aside by the experts if it were not for the fact that they are more, by far, than a mere conjecture or scientific “hypothesis”: the point is that these postulates prove to be decisively ideology-driven, that at bottom we are dealing with something inherently religious — or anti-religious, as one can likewise say. These are matters, however, which would require an inquiry in its own right, which would take us very much beyond the scope of the present article.
Shifting now from theology to metaphysics, one finds that the case for “evolution” stands no better, and in a sense, even worse. For if — starting so to speak “at the top” — we recall that the Platonist tradition places “the real” on the plane of the intelligible, the tenet of evolution is literally “dead on arrival”: for on that plane there can be no “evolution” because there is no time — no change or alteration of any kind. Let us shift then from Plato to Aristotle — the first authentic scientist, one can say. It may therefore come as a surprise that the Aristotelian ontology — which proves to be hylomorphic — turns out to be no more “Darwin friendly” than the Platonist: for whereas it obviously permits change, it nonetheless excludes evolution categorically. A fish, for example, derives not only its being but its “fishness” from a form, a so-called substantial form if you will. To morph into a frog or a chimpanzee, that form itself must consequently morph: but it doesn’t, it can’t — for the simple reason that its own essence derives from the intelligible realm where “time is no more.” One sees that, in the final count, Aristotle is still a Platonist! Reality stems yet from the intelligible world: the aeviternal realm of archetypes, in which there is no change nor “shadow of alteration” — not the slightest trace, thus, of “evolution.”
The conceptual possibility of “evolution” in the contemporary sense commences historically with the Enlightenment,17To those who would point to Democritus, for example, I say first of all that his doctrine was regarded during the golden age of Greek philosophy as a heresy, and not until the Enlightenment, some two thousand years later, was it revived. And true enough, it has since then become in effect the ontological basis of contemporary scientism in all its manifestations. which has in effect turned the world upside-down: instead of the part deriving from the whole, the new philosophy conceives the whole as no more than an assemblage of parts.18I have spoken of this in a number of recent articles, beginning with “Pondering Bohmian Mechanics.” And on that basis, to be sure, evolution becomes instantly conceivable: all one need do in principle to produce a frog or a chimpanzee, say, from a fish, is “jiggle” the parts suitably, and voilà! The details do of course get ever more complicated, and this very complexity tends in turn to fascinate and draw the seekers ever deeper into the futile quest. Yet the tiniest dose, even, of Plato or of Aristotle suffices in principle to induce a metanoia: bring us back into the real world, consisting not only in a horizontal plane and a “below,” but endowed with an “above” as well. A few pages of the Timaeus, in fact, should by right suffice to save us from ever setting foot in that “evolutionist” maze from which — as from the Cretan labyrinth — those who enter seem fated never to return.
The third, PSIF edition of Dr. Smith’s 1984 classic, Cosmos & Transcendence, is now available, as is our feature documentary chronicling his life and work, The End of Quantum Reality.
|↑1||Cosmos and Transcendence: Breaking Through the Barrier of Scientistic Belief (Philos-Sophia Initiative Foundation, 2021); first published in 1984.|
|↑2||The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (Humanities Press, 1951), p. 299.|
|↑4||The Triumph of the Therapeutic (Harper, 1968), p. 24.|
|↑5||The ontological dichotomy, specifically, which underlies and supports the scientistic worldview in all its facets: i.e., the Cartesian division of reality into res extensae or “extended entities” and res cogitantes or “things of the mind,” what Alfred North Whitehead refers to as “bifurcation.” Highly respected in scientific circles as co-author, with Bertrand Russell, of Principia Mathematica — the definitive treatise on the foundations of mathematics — Whitehead lectured the scientific community for decades on the fallaciousness of their “bifurcationist” worldview, yet evidently to no avail: the ontological fallacy appears to have deep roots, tracing back to another Principia in fact: the one published in 1687 by Sir Isaac Newton, from which modern physics is derived.|
|↑6||By “natural causes” one means either a deterministic, random, or “stochastic” process, the last being a combination of the first two. The Darwinist scenario consisting of random mutations plus “natural selection” is a case in point. It cannot therefore produce the “tons” of CSI contained in the nucleus of every cell. Despite persistent denial on the part of the scientistic “faithful,” it’s actually as simple as that.|
|↑7||Kuhn’s thesis is that a fundamental paradigm is never discarded until a replacement has been found. See The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (University of Chicago Press, 1996), p. 77.|
|↑8||On the Origin of Species (Chicago: Britannica, 1952), p. 164.|
|↑9||Stephen Gould quoted in Phillip Johnson, Darwin on Trial (InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 50.|
|↑10||The paleontologist in question, incidentally, was Teilhard de Chardin, regarding whom we shall have more to say.|
|↑11||On this entire subject I refer to my monograph, Theistic Evolution: The Teilhardian Heresy (Angelico Press, 2012).|
|↑12||Insufficient matter, for instance, to account for the gravitational forces needed to produce galaxies and stars.|
|↑13||The astronomer Brent Tully of “supercluster” fame.|
|↑14||According to the European Space Agency, “Planck was launched in 2009 to study the CMB in even greater detail than ever before. It covers a wider frequency range in more bands and at higher sensitivity than WMAP, making it possible to make a much more accurate separation of all of the components of the submillimetre and microwave wavelength sky, including many foreground sources such as the emission from our own Milky Way Galaxy. This thorough picture thus reveals the CMB and its tiny fluctuations in much greater detail and precision than previously achieved. The aim of Planck is to use this greater sensitivity to prove the standard model of cosmology beyond doubt or, more enticingly, to search for deviations from the model which might reflect new physics beyond it.”|
|↑15||A good discussion of this issue may be found in Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Bonaventure (St. Anthony Guild Press, 1965), ch. 11.|
|↑16||Among the many reasons invalidating such a conceptual possibility, the definitive disproof — which settles the matter once and for all — is to be found in William Dembski’s aforementioned theorem to the effect that horizontal causation cannot produce CSI.|
|↑17||To those who would point to Democritus, for example, I say first of all that his doctrine was regarded during the golden age of Greek philosophy as a heresy, and not until the Enlightenment, some two thousand years later, was it revived. And true enough, it has since then become in effect the ontological basis of contemporary scientism in all its manifestations.|
|↑18||I have spoken of this in a number of recent articles, beginning with “Pondering Bohmian Mechanics.”|