“The man of science has learned to believe in justification, not by faith, but by verification.”Thomas Huxley (1829-1895)
Evidence is about agency. It’s a common peer-reviewed humility about our relationship to truth that, whenever made communal, pushes back against the dull carapace of dogma.
Dogma, in the world, covers a spectrum, from benign personal ‘rules’ to modern propaganda conditioning millions to be bound to structures and stories by unquestioning obedience. Dogma is rules without evidence or perpetual peer-review. It may be expedient as crowd control or in the management of large populations but there’s something deeply pessimistic about having resort to authoritarian force.
In individuals, dogma often becomes synonymous with spirituality. This is not because the ‘spiritual’ individual is an unchanging being frozen in rigid belief. The individual may well evolve his or her ‘spiritual’ understanding. It’s dogma nonetheless because there’s no honest peer review, no objective evidence, no sincere external experimentation to interrogate the truth of the ‘transcendent’ experience.
‘Spirituality’ boils down to a personal faith. Its progress is driven by private subjective meditation. This is alluring and can be exciting but it’s also a cipher for lazy self-love. It’s dogma because its rules don’t need to be challenged by a humble shared standard. It’s a reality of one, made social by esoteric shared language but constricted by the stories already written and the chance encounters of an individual indulging his or her ‘spiritual’ journey. Words like quest and humility and exploring oneself are stolen from the lexicon of genuine pioneering endeavour.
Small wonder transcendent ‘spirituality’ lends itself easily to such self-serving methodology and innumerable fraudulent claims.
The ultimate straw man for ignorance is the self-serving conflation of scientific consensus with science itself; or worse, with a monopoly on truth. Arrogant scientists with their petty experiments scratching at the surface of reality – and presuming to lecture the world on their imperfect conclusions!
But though individual scientists may sometimes create a dogma of their latest conclusions this is a matter of human frailty and NOTHING to do with the practice of science itself. Science is not a dogma. Science can’t be dogmatic because the scientific method is uncertainty, questions and exploration made manifest.
What’s more, the single ‘proof’ we’ve discovered, after all these centuries of science and scientists devoting their lives to the furthering of human knowledge, the one proof science has found only evidence for and nothing against, is that everything we have ever accepted as a fundamental truth has been superseded. Today’s theory gets interrogated by tomorrow’s experiment to become yesterday’s news. There’s no place for dogma. It’s fundamentally incompatible with science. This perpetual process is why science is superior to faith, however eloquent and engaging and comforting (in the context of an individual life) the stories might be.
Consider the telescope or the electron microscope or wifi. These creations of applied science are profound extensions to the five human senses. What’s unknowable is an ever-evolving standard.
Faith may fill the wide tracts of ignorance space with captivating nebula of answers but the dogma of today is doomed to be the fairytale of tomorrow. The Gods of Olympus, the deities of Egypt, the divine Ahura Mazda of Zoroastria: wonderful religious stories but superseded, retired as myths, though once their dogma held sway over millions.
Humans live out a complex mandala of narratives but faith in anything that hasn’t an objectively persistent basis in reality is gambling on a widening odds. Cognitive dissonance is a powerful carapace but it’s a seal that eventually suffocates its host.
“I love theologians, they know god cannot speak so they spend their energy trying to explain to us what his silence means”Bangambiki Habyarimana
Capacity for human knowledge may be finite. Almost certainly is. Extent of current human knowledge is probably only a fraction of the truth about reality. Science is a shifting standard forever redefining, superseding, discarding past certainties as they’re disproved by newer better experiments.
Facing the yawning chasm of ignorance is a difficult task for any human being, not least because the extent of that ignorance is, ironically, the main reward for learning more, i.e. you know more about a subject, you know better its complexities and vast tracts of knowledge you’ve yet to master.
Small wonder many choose to shortcut the cloud of unknowing. Great contextualising stories is a popular method. The storytelling solution is made even more attractive by collective self interest like the epic history of a country as its narrated to children and crowds.
More ambitious humans can often be too vain to accept at face value the stories of heroes and nations and organised religions. They are piqued by the thought of life as a mere carrier of genes and forgettable participant in some small human contribution though their ambition has learned enough to have an inkling of a cosmic scale. Spirituality is the most accessible shortcut to keep the ego satisfied.
Fill the void with a self-professed “transcendental” state, a private personal story of communion with God or the universe or the oneness of everything. Invent a codex for this state, a mix of poetry and practical instruction. Situate it just over the horizon of what’s currently explored or being explored by science. Transcendental meditation doubtless brings benefit to the mental peace of its practitioners but it’s also an archetype of precisely such a vanity-placating codex.
Perhaps mortality is a problem best left to prosaic scientist toil and the ego set free to imagine a universe on an axis of its own self-importance.
Every age might claim a Nostradamus but the prophet we remember is chosen by cherry picking and natural selection. We cite the one success story and presume it’s a paradigm, but it’s a flimsy trust because the passing years will have already discarded innumerable rival contemporary would-be prophets who’ve had their ‘vision quest’ already proven to be piffle.
This leaves us with a problem. What inspiring vision can we ever trust, in the present, if ultimately our choice is hopelessly muddied by confirmation bias – where we can’t have confidence in a vision having lasted for a thousand years as if it’s tried and tested by time?
The answer is boring – because it means effort: data, evidence, dispassionate peer-review. Without the scientific method, judgment without experimentation using faith in lieu of proof is left to dumb luck.
“The Christians who engaged in infamous persecutions and shameful inquisitions were not evil men but misguided men. The churchmen who felt they had an edict from God to withstand the progress of science, whether in the form of a Copernican revolution or a Darwinian theory of natural selection, were not mischievous men but misinformed men.”Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)