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.