I'm going to include three batches of material by/regarding Wolfgang Smith's ideas on bifurcation, aka reductionism. That's my primary interest here, although he also mentions evolution. Since he does mention evolution, let me just state where I'm coming from on that score.
1. I don't know whether evolution is true or not. In some form or other it sounds somewhat plausible, but I can also see the difficulties. Any form of evolution that denies finality seems to me to be nonsensical on its face.
2. Whether or not evolution in some form is true doesn't affect my theism, as far as I can tell.
1. An Interview with Wolfgang Smith
on Science and Philosophy
Wolfgang Smith graduated at age 18 from Cornell University with a B.A. in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Two years later he took an M.S. in theoretical physics at Purdue University, following which he joined the aerodynamics group at Bell Aircraft Corporation. He was the first to investigate the effect of a foreign gas on aerodynamic heating, and his papers on the effect of diffusion fields provided the key to the solution of the re-entry problem for space flight. After receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia University, Dr. Smith held professorial positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University till his retirement in 1992. He has published extensively on mathematical topics relating to algebraic and differential topology.
From the start, however, Smith has evinced a dominant interest in metaphysics and theology. Early in life he acquired a taste for Plato and the Neoplatonists, and sojourned in India to gain acquaintance with the Vedantic tradition. Later he devoted himself to the study of theology, and began his career as a Catholic metaphysical author. Besides contributing numerous articles to scholarly journals, Dr. Smith has authored three books: Cosmos and Transcendence (1984), Teilhardism and the New Religion (1988), and The Quantum Enigma (1995).
Inner Explorations: Tell us what motivated you to write on philosophical subjects.
Wolfgang Smith: More than anything else, it was the recognition that science is a doubled-edged sword. On the one hand there is scientific truth, a bona fide knowledge of a special kind; but that knowledge is accompanied in practice by a syndrome of philosophic assumptions which are generally mistaken for scientific truths. It became clear to me, moreover, in light of the metaphysical traditions, that these scientistic beliefs (as I call them) tend to be spurious, and deleterious to our spiritual well-being. I became convinced, in fact, that the spiritual and moral decline of modern civilization--our estrangement from spiritual reality--is due in no small measure to the scientistic world-view which has been foisted upon us in the name of science. I therefore made it my business to detect and expose the principal scientistic dogmas affecting contemporary civilization.
IE: Can you give an example of a prominent scientistic belief?
WS: As a major example I would mention the Darwinian theory of evolution, which (contrary to official belief) is not in fact a scientific hypothesis corroborated by empirical facts, but a philosophic tenet masquerading in scientific garb. As one molecular biologist has put it, Darwinism is ultimately "no more and no less than the great cosmogenetic myth of the twentieth century." The genre of scientistic myth, however, is not limited to the sphere of biology; it is to be found even in the physical domain. When it comes to psychology and the social sciences, moreover, it appears that myth actually predominates. I have explained and documented these contentions in my first book.
IE: You allude to the philosophic traditions; could you tell us more about that.
WS: Early in life I came to the conclusion that the major pre-modern schools of philosophy exhibit a remarkable unity. It is almost as if they were dialects of a single primordial tongue, or pictures of a single subject taken from different points of vantage. One needs of course to get beyond the surface, beyond the outer forms, to detect that kinship and compatibility. And so I discovered, in what I term the great traditions, a standard of philosophic truth. There are truths about God, man, and the universe, I found, which have been known since the dawn of human history. It is we, generally speaking, who have forgotten these truths! My writing, thus, has a double thrust: the conquest, first of all, of scientistic illusions, complemented by a recovery of metaphysical truth--a glimpse into this forgotten realm.
IE: In your most recent book you deal with the enigmas of quantum theory. Can you tell us what you have done?
WS: Since 1927 physicists and philosophers have debated the nature of physical reality on the quantum level in an effort to resolve certain apparent paradoxes. The latest physics seems not to fit the accustomed world picture. From the outset I suspected that the problem lies in a deviation from the perennial philosophic norm; but what precisely was the offending postulate? And by what tenet must it be replaced? And how can physics be re-interpreted, following upon such metaphysical rectification? These are the questions which intrigued me; and the answers presented themselves in due course. The offending dogma, I found, is an assumption, introduced by René Descartes, which underlies our customary interpretation of physics. That postulate, however, has become so ingrained in the contemporary scientific mentality that it has been consistently overlooked even by theorists intent upon the resolution of the quantum enigma. Yet it turns out (as I have shown) that the paradoxes in question disappear of their own accord the moment physics is re-interpreted on a traditional metaphysical basis.
IE: Is this book accessible to the general reader, and how has it been received in the scholarly world?
WS: Yes, like all my books, The Quantum Enigma is indeed accessible to the general educated reader. I have made sure of that. As to its reception so far, I am pleased to note that the book has sparked considerable interest in philosophic circles, for example, among Thomists, who are very pleased. There are signs today of a reaction, not only to scientistic dogmatism, but to postmodernist deconstruction as well. The time is ripe for a return to the metaphysical traditions, even though the mainstream institutions of learning will presumably continue to pursue their anti-traditional course for some time to come. The advantage today lies with small as opposed to large-scale intellectual communities.
IE: What advice do you have for the seeker of truth?
WS: Know from the start that all truth derives from the Word of God and thus partakes of the sacred. Cultivate purity, knowing that this constitutes a precondition to the reception of truth. Learn once more to revere what is worthy of reverence. Cast off the profane and irreverent persona of the modern intellectual, and cultivate the spirit of discipleship. Learn to receive the gift of faith; know that faith is the seed of wisdom.
2. Jacques Maritain Center: Thomistic Institute
From Schrödinger's Cat to Thomistic Ontology
by Wolfgang Smith
Abstract of a lecture to be given at the Thomistic Institute,
University of Notre Dame, on July 20, 1998.
The full text is scheduled for publication in The Thomist.
It has often been stated that the discoveries of quantum theory conflict with the philosophical premises underlying the pre-quantum scientific world-view; and yet, as Wolfgang Smith observes, it appears that the most basic philosophic premise behind that world-view has become ingrained in the scientific mentality to the point where it is no longer recognized as a philosophic assumption void of scientific support. Smith identifies this premise as the Cartesian subjectivization of the sensible or so-called secondary qualities, resulting in what Whitehead has termed "bifurcation." Basing himself upon his book The Quantum Enigma (Sugden, 1995), he shows not only that bifurcation can be jettisoned -- without in any way affecting the actual modus operandi of physics -- but that this step, in and by itself, eliminates the quantum paradoxes which have perplexed physicists since 1927, when the celebrated Bohr-Einstein debate first began. As Smith explains, non-bifurcation entails the distinction between two objective ontological domains: the corporeal, which we can perceive, and the physical, which we measure and observe by way of scientific instruments. Every corporeal object X, moreover, is associated with a corresponding physical object SX, from which it derives its quantitative attributes. And yet the two objects are altogether different, one can almost say: worlds apart. In the bifurcationist perspective, however, the two are implicitly identified. The prevailing scientific outlook is thus reductionist: it reduces the corporeal to the physical (the grey stone or red apple to an aggregate of molecules). And therein, according to Smith, lies the fundamental fallacy of the contemporaty world-view, which turns out also to be the source of quantum paradox. In the second part of the paper -- after pointing out that the Aristotelian / lThomistic philosophy is stringently non-bifurcationist -- Smith goes on to show that the results of physics, when interpreted on a non-bifurcationist basis, can be readily integrated into the Thomistic ontology, with the result that one is able to understand the nature and limitations of modern physics from a metaphysical point of view. In this perspective it becomes apparent that the factor distinguishing X from SX can be none other than the so-called substantial form of X, rejected by Galileo and Descartes. In light of these considerations, Smith concludes that the findings of quantum theory actually mandate a return to the pre- Cartesian ontology. The resultant rediscovery of "essence" -- beginning in the inorganic realm -- reverses the reductionism which for so long has dominated Western scientific thought, and opens the door to a deeper understanding of Nature.
Now for the really long one.
3. The plague of scientistic belief
By Wolfgang Smith
Nothing strikes the contemporary mind as more certain and authoritative than the findings of physics, astronomy, chemistry, and, of late, molecular biology. These are the “hard” sciences of the present age, which, by empirical means, of a scope and accuracy that stagger the imagination, have put us in touch with fundamental realities that could not even have been conceived in bygone days. Moreover, this group of sciences has been in a sense “visibly validated,” for all to see, by the technological miracles which now surround us on all sides; how, then, can one doubt—much less deny—its findings? In truth, one cannot; quantum particles and fields, galaxies and quasars, molecules and the genetic code—all these are undeniable facts, which must henceforth be reckoned with.
We must remember, however, that facts and their interpretation are not the same thing. And since, subjectively, facts are invariably associated with an interpretation of some kind, it comes about that science as a rule presents us with two disparate factors: with positive findings, on the one hand, plus an underlying philosophy in terms of which the formulation and disclosure of these discoveries are framed. In its actuality science is never the kind of purely empirical enterprise it is generally reputed to be, which is to say that ontological as well as epistemological presuppositions do inevitably play an essential role. What is more, these various philosophical articles of belief are rarely if ever examined or subjected to critical scrutiny by the scientific community. They are the foundational ideas one absorbs, as if by osmosis, in the course of one’s scientific education; they pertain, one might almost say, to the scientific unconscious. And when it happens that one or the other of these ingrained philosophical dogmas does emerge into the light of day as a subject of discourse, the typical response on the part of scientists is to point immediately, by way of validation, to the success of the scientific enterprise: “It works!” one is told in effect. And yet in reality no philosophical belief has ever been validated by an empirical finding; the fact is that verification as well as falsification through empirical means apply to scientific as opposed to philosophical propositions. The separation between these two domains, however, is rarely attempted by scientists; only in times of extreme crisis, when the foundations of a science seem to be crumbling, does one encounter serious thought concerning questions of this kind, and even then such inquiries are pursued only by an adventurous few; it takes an Einstein or a Heisenberg to descend, as it were, to the foundational level, where philosophical axioms begin to come into view. What the rank and file absorb from these founders, moreover, pertains mainly to the technical aspect of the enterprise: one accepts the equations of relativity or the formalism of matrix mechanics, while all but ignoring the philosophical side of the coin. It is safe to say that the men and women who engage in the day-to-day business of scientific research tend not to be overly interested in philosophical subtleties; and so they incline to retain the philosophical axioms to which they have become accustomed over the years, and which could only be recognized as such, and dislodged, through serious and concentrated inquiry. It thus comes about that in the minds of scientists today, good science and inferior philosophy coexist and are in fact inextricably intertwined; as John Haught of Georgetown University has recently pointed out, “Some of the most prominent scientists are literally unable to separate science from their materialist metaphysics.”
This said, I can proceed to state my primary thesis: I contend that by virtue of the aforesaid confusion scientists have promulgated philosophic opinions of the most dubious kind as established scientific truths, and in the name of science have thrust upon an awed and credulous public a shallow world-view for which in reality there is not a shred of scientific support. Having gained the trust and admiration of society through the technological wonders which they have engineered, I maintain that scientists as a class have usurped their authority by predisposing the public against the high truths of religion. I am not suggesting, to be sure, that they have consciously deceived others, but rather contend that they have themselves been misled as a rule in matters pertaining to philosophy, metaphysics, and religion. Meanwhile the fact remains that these “blind guides” are exerting an inestimable influence upon education and public belief, with disastrous consequences to human welfare, both here and hereafter.
I will apply the term “scientistic belief” to designate philosophical opinions that masquerade as scientific truths. Let me give two examples. As my first I will take the tenet of universal mechanism, or what could equally well be termed the axiom of physical determinism. The idea is simple: The tenet affirms that the external universe consists of matter whose motion is determined by the interaction of its parts. Given the initial configuration or state of this matter, and having once ascertained the laws which determine the effect of these interactions upon the resultant motion, one is supposedly able in principle to calculate the future evolution of the universe, down to the minutest detail. The cosmos is thus conceived as a kind of gigantic clockwork, in which part interacts with part to determine the movement of the whole. One knows that this idea began to take shape in the sixteenth century and has played a decisive role in the evolution of modern science. By the time of the Enlightenment, in fact, it had come to be almost universally regarded as an established scientific truth. Thus Hermann von Helmholtz, for instance, one of the leading scientists of the nineteenth century, could say with serene assurance: “The final goal of all natural science is to reduce itself to mechanics (sich in Mechanik aufzulösen).” With the advent of quantum theory, however, the picture has changed; for it turns out that the new physics is not compatible with the mechanistic premise. Yet, despite the fact of quantum indeterminism, not a few eminent scientists continue to champion the mechanistic tenet. Albert Einstein himself, as one knows, so far from admitting that the discoveries of quantum physics have overthrown the classical postulate, argued precisely in the opposite direction: it is the principle of determinism, he said in effect, that invalidates quantum mechanics as a fundamental theory. This illustrates quite clearly the philosophical and indeed a priori character of the tenet in question, and the fact that propositions of this kind can neither be verified nor falsified by empirical findings. This fact, however, remains generally unrecognized, with the result that the postulate of universal mechanism has retained to this day its status as a major article of scientistic belief.
My second example pertains to a more fundamental stratum of philosophical thought, and is consequently still more far-reaching in its implications: “physical reductionism,” let us call it (for reasons which will presently become clear). The thesis hinges upon an epistemological assumption, an idealist postulate, one could say, which affirms that the act of sense perception terminates, not in an external object as we commonly believe, but in a subjective representation of some kind. According to this view, the red apple which we perceive exists somehow in our mind or consciousness; it is a subjective image, a fantasy which mankind has all along mistaken for an external object. Thus thought René Descartes, to whom we owe the philosophical foundations of modern science. Descartes sought to correct what he took to be the mistaken notions of mankind concerning perceptible entities by distinguishing between the external object, which he termed res extensa, and its subjective representation existing in the mind or so-called res cogitans. What was previously conceived as a single object (and what in daily life is invariably regarded as such) has therefore become split in two; as Whitehead has put it: “Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream.”1 It is to be noted that this Cartesian differentiation between the “conjecture” and the “dream” goes not only against the common intuitions of mankind, but is equally at odds with the great philosophical traditions, including especially the Thomistic, where the opposition becomes as it were diametrical. Now, it is this questionable Cartesian doctrine—which Whitehead refers to as “bifurcation”—that has served from the start as the fundamental plank of physics, or better said, of the scientistic world-view in terms of which we habitually interpret the results of physics. And once again we find that the two disparate factors—the operational facts of physics and their customary interpretation—have become in effect identified, which is to say that the tenet of bifurcation does indeed function as a scientistic belief.
I would like to emphasize that in addition to the fact that bifurcation contradicts the most basic human intuitions as well as the most venerable philosophical traditions, there is also not a shred of empirical evidence in support of this heterodox position. Nor can there be, as follows from the fact that physics can be perfectly well interpreted on a non-bifurcationist basis, as I have shown in a recent monograph.2 It turns out, moreover, that the moment one does interpret physics in non-bifurcationist terms, the so-called quantum paradoxes—which have prompted physicists to invent the most bizarre ontologies—vanish of their own accord. It seems that quantum physics has thus implicitly sided with the pre-Cartesian world-view.
It remains to explain why I have referred to bifurcation as “physical reductionism.” The reason becomes clear the moment we return to the bedrock of the perennial Weltanschauung. The red apple we perceive belongs then once more to the external world; it constitutes a corporeal object, I will say, meaning thereby that it can be perceived. The “molecular” apple, on the other hand, with which the physicist is concerned, is bereft of sensible qualities, and is consequently imperceptible. It constitutes what I term a physical object, as distinguished from a corporeal. From a bifurcationist point of view, however, the physical object is all that exists in the external world. The corporeal, thus, is conceived in effect to be “nothing but” the physical. The red apple—which, from an orthodox point of view, exists!—is thus in effect “reduced” to the physical: it is identified with the “molecular” apple, as conceived by the physicist. The tenet of bifurcation, therefore, implies what I term physical reductionism; and the converse, to be sure, is equally apparent.
In both of these two forms, the Cartesian thesis has been for centuries presupposed without question by scientists and the educated public. It has become ingrained in the scientific mind to the point where even the anomalies of quantum physics have failed to arouse suspicion. As one philosopher of science has recently admitted in private: “Those who work on the physicist’s plane find it almost impossible to eliminate the bifurcationism implicit in their work.” Now, this uncritical and habitual acceptance of the Cartesian thesis by “those who work on the physicist’s plane” effectively obscures its philosophical status; and as is the case with all scientistic beliefs, the tenet thus becomes science by association, as one might say.
One could argue that bifurcation—or, equivalently, physical reductionism—constitutes in fact the most basic contemporary scientistic belief, the tenet which all other scientistic beliefs implicitly presuppose. Take, for instance, the idea of universal mechanism: does it not hinge upon bifurcation? In a remarkable passage, amply worth quoting, Descartes himself admits as much:
We can easily conceive how the motion of one body can be caused by that of another, and diversified by the size, figure and situation of its parts, but we are wholly unable to conceive how these same things can produce something else of a nature entirely different from themselves, as for example, those substantial forms and real qualities which many philosophers suppose to be in bodies.3
The philosophers alluded to, of course, are the Scholastics, whom Descartes opposes radically. What the French savant tells us—with admirable clarity!—is that not until the universe has been reduced to the status of “quantified matter” does the idea of universal mechanism become conceivable. And is this not, finally, the reason why Galileo and Descartes saw fit to ban “those substantial forms and real qualities” from the external world? Was not the bifurcation postulate introduced precisely to render thinkable a “totalist” physics based upon mechanical principles?
The two examples may suffice to introduce the general phenomenon which I have termed scientistic belief. It hardly needs pointing out, moreover, that if physics, the most exact of the natural sciences, is thus associated with scientistic—and indeed, from a traditional point of view, illusory!—notions, what can one expect in the case of less rigorous disciplines, such as evolutionary biology, physical anthropology, and psychology, not to speak of the so-called social sciences.4 The unappreciated fact is that science in its actuality bestows both truth and error: not only enlightenment, but benightedness as well. One could even argue that so far as the general public is concerned, it is the second of these effects that predominates; the truths of hard science, after all, are mainly accessible to the expert, the scientifically proficient. This holds especially in the case of fundamental physics; by the time a fact of quantum theory, for instance, has been popularized, what remains is mainly a scientistic notion. One could put it this way: As science evolves, its actual insights become more and more abstract, more and more mathematical, and thus denuded of sensible imagery; these insights thus become a kind of esoteric knowledge, to which only the “initiated” have access. Moreover, what is validated by empirical findings, and also, in a way, by the miracles of technology, is precisely that kernel of esoteric insight, and not the outer shell of scientistic beliefs, which the public at large mistakes for enlightenment.
I would like now to consider the implications of these facts—of this cultural phenomenon—with reference to religion and the spiritual life. As has already been noted, I perceive the impact of scientistic belief upon the religious domain as adverse in the extreme. I should add that the problem has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that theologians and pastors as a rule are ill-equipped to deal with questions of this kind, and all too often have themselves been swayed by scientistic claims.
What does it matter, some will say; what if we are perhaps mistaken about the nature of causality, or about the terminus of sense perception, or even about the much-debated question of evolution—so long as we stand on the side of truth in matters of religion. I would point out that the question is not quite so simple. We must not forget that religion—so long as it has not degenerated into a social convention or mere sentimentality—demands the whole man; holiness and wholeness are inseparable. Does not the “first and greatest” commandment enjoin that “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”? What we think about the world—our Weltanschauung —cannot legitimately be excluded from the domain of religion. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes in the Summa Contra Gentiles (Bk. II, ch. 3): “It is absolutely false to maintain, with reference to the truths of our faith, that what we believe regarding the creation is of no consequence, so long as one has an exact conception concerning God; because an error regarding the nature of creation always gives rise to a false idea about God.” I would add that I perceive the contemporary penchant for accommodating the teachings of Christianity to the so-called truths of science as a striking confirmation of this Thomistic principle: a case, almost invariably, of scientistic errors begetting flawed theological ideas.5
In a word, what we think about the universe does matter in our religious and spiritual life. And moreover, with due allowance for what might be termed “invincible ignorance,” we are responsible for the opinions we hold in this seemingly secular domain. “With all thy mind”: these four words should suffice to apprise us of this fact.
I will go so far as to contend that religion goes astray the moment it relinquishes its just rights in the so-called natural domain nowadays occupied by science. I believe that the contemporary crisis of faith and the ongoing de-Christianization of Western society have much to do with the fact that for centuries the material world has been left to the mercy of the scientists. This has of course been said many times before (but not nearly often enough!). Theodore Roszak, for instance, has put it exceptionally well: “Science is our religion,” he observed, “because we cannot, most of us, with any living conviction see around it.”6 And one might add that perhaps only those who already have at least a touch of authentic religion do in fact stand a chance of “seeing around it with any living conviction.” So too the name of Oskar Milosz (1877-1939) comes to mind, a European writer who had this to say: “Unless a man’s concept of the physical universe accords with reality, his spiritual life will be crippled at its roots, with devastating consequences for every other aspect of his life.”7 It could not have been better said! As regards the implications of the scientistic world-view for the life of the Church, let me quote from a recent book by the French philosopher Jean Borella: “The truth is that the Catholic Church has been confronted by the most formidable problem a religion can encounter: the scientistic disappearance (disparition scientifique) of the universe of symbolic forms which enable it to express and manifest itself, that is to say, which permit it to exist.” And he goes on to say: “That destruction has been effected by Galilean physics, not, as one generally claims, because it has deprived man of his central position—which, for St. Thomas Aquinas is cosmologically the least noble and the lowest—but because it reduces bodies, material substance, to the purely geometric, thus making it at one stroke scientifically impossible (or devoid of meaning) that the world can serve as a medium for the manifestation of God. The theophanic capacity of the world is denied.”8 Let us be clear about it: Borella is pointing the finger squarely at what I have termed physical reductionism: “le problème le plus redoubtable qu’une religion puisse rencontrer,” he calls it. What he terms a “reduction to the purely geometric” corresponds precisely to what I call the reduction of the corporeal to the physical: it is this scientistic contention that would obliterate “the theophanic capacity of the world.”
It is of course to be understood that the “symbolic forms” to which Borella refers are not, as some might think, subjective images or ideas which in days gone by men had projected upon the external universe, until, that is, science came to apprise us of the truth. The very opposite is in fact the case: The “forms” in question are objectively real and indeed essential to the universe. We may conceive of them as “forms” in the Aristotelian and Scholastic sense, or Platonically, as eternal archetypes reflected on the plane of corporeal existence. In either case they constitute the very essence of corporeal being. Remove these “symbolic forms,” and the universe ceases to exist; for it is these “forms,” precisely, that anchor the cosmos to God.
It is needless to point out that science has not in reality destroyed these forms, or caused their disappearance; however, the scientistic negation of corporeal being entails a denial of the substantial forms or essences which constitute that order of being, and of the sensible qualities by which these forms or essences manifest themselves to man. The scientistically prepared mind, therefore, has become increasingly insensitive to what Borella terms “the universe of symbolic forms,” to the point where that universe has become for it all but invisible. It is in that sense that the “theophanic capacity of the world” has been diminished to an unprecedented degree.
The consequences, however, of that diminution cannot but be tragic in the extreme. In his denial of essences, scientistic man has destroyed the very basis of the spiritual life. As Borella points out, he has obliterated the domain “that enables the Church to express and manifest itself,” and hence “permits it to exist.” The refutation of scientistic belief, therefore, is not an optional matter for the Church, something from which she can afford to abstain; it is rather a matter of urgent necessity, a question ultimately of survival.
It may be well, finally, to reflect anew upon what St. Paul has to say concerning “the theophanic capacity of the world” in his letter to the Romans. “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen,” he declares, “being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead.” To which he adds: “So they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:20-22). I need hardly point out the striking relevance of these words to all that we have discussed. The “things that are made” are doubtless corporeal natures, the objects that man can perceive; and what about “the invisible things of him”: are these not precisely eternal essences, ideas or archetypes? So long as man’s heart has not been “darkened,” the sensory perception of “things that are made” will awaken in him an intellectual perception—a “recollection,” as Plato says—of the eternal things which the former reflect or embody. St. Paul alludes to a time or a state when man “knew God,” a reference, first of all, to the condition of Adam before the fall, when human nature was as yet undefiled by original sin. One needs to realize, however, that the fall of Adam has been repeated on a lesser scale down through the ages, in an unending series of “betrayals,” large and small. Even today, at this late stage of history, we are, each of us, endowed with a certain “knowledge of God” to which we can freely respond in various ways. And that is precisely why we, too, are “without excuse,” and why, to some degree at least, we are responsible for the opinions we hold concerning the cosmos. Everyone perceives the universe in accordance with his spiritual state: the “pure in heart” perceive it without fail as a theophany; and for the rest of us, whose “foolish hearts are darkened,” the theophanic capacity of the universe is reduced in proportion to this darkening.
I would like however to emphasize that this correspondence between our spiritual state and our Weltanschauung applies in both directions, which is to say that not only does our spiritual state affect the way we view the external world, but conversely, our views concerning the universe react invariably upon that state. This is in fact my central point: Cosmology matters, it has a decisive impact upon our spiritual condition. Even what we think about the purely physical world turns out to be crucial; for indeed, “unless a man’s concept of the physical universe accords with reality, his spiritual life will be crippled at its roots. . . .”
This brings us at last to the pastoral question: what can be done pastorally to counteract the scientistic influence? The major problem, clearly, is to inform the pastors themselves: to alert them, first of all, to the fact that there is a crucial distinction to be made between science and scientism, and then to the fact that scientistic belief is antagonistic to our spiritual well-being. This however will not be easy to get across, for it offends against the prevailing trend, both in civil society and within the Church. It is only by an act of grace, I surmise, that any of us are able to muster the discernment, and indeed the sheer boldness, to cast off the scientistic Weltanschauung and recover a Christian world-view. And this task, this imperative, I say, is at bottom spiritual. It is to be accomplished, thus, not simply by reading books, or through a process of reasoning, but above all through faith and prayer. The dictum credo ut intelligam applies to us still, and perhaps even more urgently than in the comparatively innocent days of Augustine or Anselm. It is needful that we be touched and enlivened by the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of truth, who “will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). In our struggle to transcend the scientistic outlook, we are dealing, moreover, not simply with a belief system of human contrivance, but with something more formidable by far; for here too, in the final count, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12). How could it be otherwise when it is “the theophanic capacity of the world” that stands at issue: the very thing “which enables the Church to express and manifest itself, that is to say, which permits it to exist.” If the cosmos were indeed what scientism affirms it to be, our Catholic faith would be a mockery, and our sacred liturgy—the well-spring of the Church itself—an empty charade. This fact cannot be ignored with impunity.
1 The Concept of Nature (Cambridge University Press, 1964), p. 30. Despite his eminence as a philosopher and the fact that, along with Bertrand Russel, he is the father of mathematical logic, Whitehead’s strictures against the Cartesian axioms have aroused little response from the scientific community.
2 The Quantum Enigma (Peru, Illinois: Sherwood Sugden, 1995). A useful summary of the book with commentary has been given by William A. Wallace in “Thomism and the Quantum Enigma,” The Thomist 61 (1997), pp. 455-467. See also Wolfgang Smith, “From Schrödinger’s Cat to Thomistic Ontology,” The Thomist 63 (1999), pp. 49-63.
3 Cited in E. A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Principles of Modern Physical Science (New York: Humanities Press, 1951), p. 112.
4 See Cosmos and Transcendence (Peru, Illinois: Sherwood Sugden, 1984), a work in which I have sought to unmask the major articles of scientistic belief and delineate their impact upon contemporary society.
5 The paramount instance of scientistic theology is doubtless given by the far-flung speculations of Teilhard de Chardin. See my monograph, Teilhardism and the New Religion (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books, 1988), where I have dealt with this question at length.
6 Where the Wasteland Ends (Garden City: Doubleday, 1973), p. 124.
7 Cited in Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Religion and the Order of Nature (Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 153. Concerning Oskar Milosz, see Philip Sherrard, Human Image: World Image (Ipswich: Golgonooza Press, 1992), pp. 131-146.
8 Le sens du surnaturel (Geneva: Editions Ad Solem, 1996), p. 74. See also the English translation: The Sense of the Supernatural (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998).
Dr. Wolfgang Smith received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Colombia University and has held faculty positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University. In addition to his technical publications he has authored three books and numerous articles on inter-disciplinary subjects.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
I'm going to include three batches of material by/regarding Wolfgang Smith's ideas on bifurcation, aka reductionism. That's my primary interest here, although he also mentions evolution. Since he does mention evolution, let me just state where I'm coming from on that score.