Tuesday 22 March 2022

Science has always just assumed, thereby ignoring, metaphysics

When science 'got going' from the 17th century, it simply operated on the basis of the metaphysical assumptions of the Western European societies within which it grew - therefore science was rooted in Christianity. 

In particular, science was rooted in that distinctively-Christian ethical concern with Truth - which science took as its primary morality. 

Thus the morality was that science should be done by those who sought Truth, and who always communicated Truthfully. 

If asked why Truth ought to be honoured; the discourse immediately moved outwith science, and into the higher and deeper assumptions within-which science operated: that is Christianity. 

In other words; science could never answer "why science must be Truthful"; because the Truthfulness upon-which science depends was not a part of science. 

The Truth imperative was an aspect of the metaphysical assumptions that science derived from its original 'host societies' of Christian Western Europe.  

The problem was that the metaphysical - Truth-valuing - assumptions necessary to science were unconscious, habitual - in a sense taken for granted. 

Science was rooted in Christian metaphysics - but science progressively ceased to be aware of the fact...

This led to an error; which was to believe that science was autonomous. 

To believe falsely that science had superseded metaphysics; did not need assumptions, but was instead wholly based-on 'evidence'. 

(Neglecting that what counts as 'evidence', and the meaning of 'evidence' are dictated by assumptions!) 

To believe falsely that the success of science in understanding, predicting and controlling the natural world had demonstrated that there was 'no need' for metaphysical assumptions (which were regarded as nonsensical, manipulative, or even meaningless). 

In particular, science was asserted to have no need for Christianity; and eventually Christianity was seen as opposing, harming, destructive-of science!

Meanwhile, for several reasons, Christianity began to fade from Western European societies, and with it the Truth imperative that had underpinned the success of science. 

Through the twentieth century science became at first indifferent, then hostile, to Christianity - and scientists were no longer brought up to believe that Truth was a transcendental reality and a moral imperative.

Consequently, other imperatives emerged to regulate scientific practice... 

At the end of this process, science had ceased to be science. 

The activities of 'scientists' were pretty much the same kind of thing as in the past - observations, experiments, analyses etc. - but the activities were no longer directed and underpinned by Truth.  

What resulted is the modern institution that calls-itself science; but which has become merely a generic bureaucracy - motivated and regulated by the expediencies of modern society - politics, profits, status-seeking, careers, fame etc. 

Instead of seeking and speaking Truth; modern 'science' serves and is motivated-by... whatever happen to be the dominant secular goals; which have been ever-increasingly to do with the demands of leftist and totalitarian politics. 

Thus, having dispensed with truth; 'science' (like all other social institutions: religion, law, corporations, education, health  services, police, military etc.) now does... whatever the most powerful and wealthy institutions require of it. 

Science in 2022 is not a means to the end of Truth; but a means to satisfy the requirements of those who fund and regulate science... Expediency, not Reality, is the bottom-line.  

The only way out from this impasse is via metaphysics - that is by discerning and critiquing the most fundamental assumptions regarding the nature of Reality. Science must understand, acknowledge, and critique its own underpinning assumptions - those 'within-which' science actually operates. 

Unless science's ultimate assumptions value Truth as an absolute ideal; then there will continue to be no real science, but only fake 'science', in the world of public discourse.

Note: For more on this subject, see my book Not Even Trying.


Avro G said...

Thank you for this clarifying post. I have never seen the Science-as-a-product-of-Christianity case so powerfully articulated.

You write:

"Instead of seeking and speaking Truth; modern 'science' serves and is motivated-by... whatever happen to be the dominant secular goals; which have been ever-increasingly to do with the demands of leftist and totalitarian politics."

When science served Christ its object, like that of its master, was Truth and liberation. Now that it serves Satan its object, like that of its new master, is power and enslavement.

Avro G said...

…or was science always just a species of demonic magic that served Christ as long as it had to but always with an eye out for its chance to escape the bounds of Godly restraint?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Avro - The traditionalist type of Eastern Orthodoxy would agree with your second comment - and would 'blame' science on the direction taken by Western Catholicism at the Great Schism, with the dominant role of scholastic philosophy.

But if, as I now believe, human consciousness has developed through the centuries under divine influence, then Man was meant to confront and overcome the very real challenges posed by philosophy then science.

Such developments bring potential spiritual benefits to do with the enhancement of self-awareness and therefore agency (which are divine attributes)- as well as hazards; and the net result depends on the choices Men make.

In other words; if Western Men had made the right choices, then then problems would have been just a temporary phase, and Christianity would have emerged stronger than ever.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Avro - "I have never seen the Science-as-a-product-of-Christianity case so powerfully articulated."

Thanks - that is why I wrote this blog post - despite having written about the subject many times before. There were a couple of points I haven't made before - but mostly this post is a different way of selecting and arranging things I have said before...

Yet, I think this was worth doing - not least because You found it helpful!

But in a broader sense, there are better and worse, clearer and more confused, more concise or more detailed ways of explaining 'the same thing' - some work for some people - others for other people; and the process also deepens my own understanding.

Faculty X said...

The ending of Truth as the primary value has destroyed any real pursuit of Truth or any finding and revealing of New Truths.

How do you distinguish Truth as the foundational principle from the influence of Christianity versus the values of Plato or the Greeks with their emphasis on Truth, Beauty, and Virtue?

Bruce Charlton said...

FX. I think the Truth motivation was probably the same but applied differently. Science emerged from philosophy as applying Truth attitudes to parts of the observable World, to "problems".

Stephen Macdonald said...

I've been reading various bloggers and essayists for decades. Nobody has ever before articulated the relationship between science, Christianity and truth which such coherence and economy. Bravo Dr. Charlton. This gem of a post deserves to be saved and shared.

Bruce Charlton said...

Thanks Nova! The subject has been a particular concern of mine, at a deep and personal level; and I have not been satisfied by the other accounts of the matter I have come across (whether from the Christian or Science or Philosophical sides). So I needed to work it through for myself.

Todd said...

Dr. C,

Would it possible for "noble pagans," as alluded to by Faculty X, to also originate, or maintain, what we think of as science (the science that began in earnest in the 16th century)?
Will the Chinese, for example, be able to do it? I have my doubts...

Bruce Charlton said...

@T - It requires a powerfully motivating personal ethic of truth seeking and truthfulness - and no group in the world (only a few individuals) have that nowadays. So whether this happens depends on the religion.

That is necessary, but far from sufficient, for the development of science.

Crosbie said...

'Outwith' is a great word. The claim it is Scottish is odd. How do the (other) English get by without it?


Bruce Charlton said...

@Crosbie - I have lived in Scotland a good deal, so I may well have picked it up there. But Collins was originally a Scottish publisher, and maybe they are being partisan in claiming the word!

william arthurs said...

There's more on this whole subject in R G Collingwood's Essay on Metaphysics (OUP)