The Mythos of ‘Modern’ Science


When we think of creationism, there are two basic models. The first is a faux-naive ‘taking literally’ texts that were not even written as literal. (The very word ‘literal’ undermines itself, since it signifies ‘as written’ rather than ‘as actual’, the way we generally understand it). The second is known as ‘intelligent design’, and contains a variety of ideas culled from various places, much of it from Hollywood and Spielberg specifically rather from its claimed religious sources. Yet in a reversal of ‘rational’ expectations, intelligent design in its more sophisticated versions accounts for natural history far better than accepted scientific theory.

Noted atheist philosophers, particularly those of a scientific bent, such as Antony Flew, have been forced to admit this situation and in Flew’s case accept Deism at least as far as accepting the notion of the Aristotelian god. While Thomas Nagel remains ostensibly an atheist, in Mind and Cosmos he finds himself forced to consider reason or rationality and consciousness as a priori to all reality, i.e. to the Universe as such. Maintaining a separation between rationality and consciousness allows Nagel to supposedly remain an atheist, but makes little sense given our only evidence of rationality (not to mention thought at all) is as a product of consciousness. But what could a rational consciousness that is a priori to all reality be conceived as other than some sort of god?  This problem for traditional atheism is the origin of the reactionary, ultra-conservative “New Atheism” that no longer bothers with any pretence to liberalism nor has any real concern for either rationality or consistency.

I’m not going to claim that intelligent design doesn’t have issues to the point of radical absurdity, but rather to point out that this absurdity looked at ‘rationally’ with the evidence we have is less absurd than the accepted mainstream scientific narrative. There is of course a cogent historical reason for this: mainstream science, rationalist philosophy of the sort engaged in by Flew and Nagel, and the proponents of intelligent design all share a common set of inherited assumptions, assumptions that are founded in the rationalization of the Christian mythos initially via Augustine’s neo-Platonism, and more effectively by Aquinas’ Christian reconstruction of Aristotle and the rationalist theology that followed.

The mainstream theory that goes back the furthest in terms of origin, and thus that which any other theory of origin must generally follow, is the “big bang” or “expanding universe” theory. Looked at philosophically, with an understanding of rationalist theology, there are few significant differences between rationalist Christian theology and the expanding universe theory. In a similar fashion to the comparison of intelligent design and mainstream scientific theory (largely based on natural, i.e. biological history), Christian theology is radically absurd but internally consistent, while the expanding universe theory is equally absurd but radically inconsistent, to the point of irrationality. The ‘singularity’ has all the necessary features of the theologians’ god: it is absolutely unique, it is more unlikely than anything in the known universe (particularly the necessary mathematical state at the moment of the “big bang”), and as triggering the beginning of time cannot be said to have an origin, at least not in the temporal sense. Unlike the Christian god, however, the singularity remains temporally tensed, insofar as it no longer is. Anything temporally tensed must in some sense have an ‘earlier’ in which it came to be as it was (the necessary mathematical state, for instance, must have arisen in some manner, though not in the usual sense that we understand temporality). As purely eternal, the god of the theologians doesn’t suffer from this inconsistency. Beyond that, the sheer volume of evidence that speaks against the expanding universe theory, including: any possible model of it places the modeller at the centre of the universe; factually as we observe further into space (and thus further back in time) the universe looks much as it does closer to us in both space and time rather than radically different, as the theory predicts; that there are numerous more likely reasons for the red shift than an expanding universe, such as the presence of molecular hydrogen, etc., indicates that the general acceptance of the theory is based on its correspondence to a priori assumptions we haven’t explicitly brought into question, rather than its accounting for observed evidence better than other theories, or even being a self-consistent, rational notion in itself.  The expanding universe theory is little more than a reiteration of rationalist theological creationism, but less well thought through.

As the story goes, when Einstein was asked about the expanding universe theory (and its impact on relativity theory, all of which is predicated on a universe of constant size), he just smiled and shrugged. Einstein’s ‘cosmological fudge’ of ascribing a stable size to the universe is not merely a convenient assumption but an expression of a basic truth in any of our models of reality. Since neither time nor position is absolute, there would be no way of measuring reality as a whole from one ‘time’ to another, thus the notion of ascribing a size to reality as a whole is inherently meaningless. Similar issues arise with the idea that the universe is “finite but unbounded”.  Since the definition of infinite is precisely ‘unbounded’ the phrase itself is precisely equivalent to “finite but infinite”, yet Hawking blithely uses the phrase, apparently unaware of its absurdity, and receives virtually no criticism for such a basic error in thinking (a type of error, it must be said, that is endemic to Hawking’s work in general). Einstein’s own work on relativity contains a crucial yet meaningless notion: that of ‘curved space’. A curve can only be measured against a straight line, but if reality itself is curved, against what is the curvature to be measured? A more reasonable way of understanding Einstein’s work than his own writing about it would be to say that there is no such thing as a straight line, and further there is no such thing as a precise measurement in any general sense, that measurement is dependent on the observation point and its relative motion to what is being measured, and what appears as a straight line or defined edge turns out to be indefinite with better measurements. Even further, quantum mechanics understood appropriately indicates that mathematics itself fails at describing reality either accurately or completely, negating the founding premise of modern science. Einstein’s vehement opposition to quantum mechanics is rooted in that negation – he understood Bohr perfectly well, but intuitively knew that Bohr’s work (and Heisenberg’s) was the death knell of science as it has posited itself since the 16th century.

The notion that a game invented a few thousand years ago would completely and accurately describe reality as a whole is the fundamental absurdity on which modern science is founded, one that can only be rationalized by recourse to some sort of intelligent and intentional creation. Reason and consciousness, viewed as developments (and in terms of ‘deep’ time extremely recent developments), are simultaneously necessarily a priori to reality to support the developmental view of reality itself. This contradictory foundation is the proper reason that science, having correctly rid itself of ‘children’s story’ versions of religion, finds itself less capable of accounting for reality than rationalist theology or even so-called intelligent design.

These issues with modern science, and especially the fact that a recourse to some form of creationism is the only apparently viable solution, is based in the historical reality that modern science and its prevailing assumptions arose from precisely that rationalist, creationist view of reality developed within rationalist theology. While modern science may have begun by preferring evidence over reason, in the necessary compromise between the two (since ‘evidence’ is mere noise until it is interpreted, and for science, that always and only means interpreted rationally) science has consistently moved towards the side of reason against that of evidence, since evidence as always interpreted by consciousness can be more easily made to ‘fit’ a priori assumptions. That evidence often contradicts rational  assumptions indicates that our fundamental understanding always occurs before any rationality is applied. This should be obvious in any case, since we must experience any ‘thing’ as a thing prior to positing it as an object for reason, or an object for science.  As Heidegger notes in numerous places, science is not based on an ontology, but on a metaphysical onto-theology it simultaneously denies.

Quantum physics goes against modern science by reaching further back in terms of the assumptions that underlie its basic interpretation of evidence, and thus the reality that provides such evidence. The assumptions of quantum physics come from an understanding older than Christianity, and older than creationism itself, which only just pre-dates Christianity. The recourse to and renewal of this older, pre-rational understanding by thinkers such as Hegel, Schelling and Nietzsche, prompted by the Kant’s rational project ending in paradox, along with a more involved understanding of Aristotle’s work (and the work of Plato and the pre-Platonic thinkers) as including and based on such pre-rational understanding, produced an intellectual climate in which such understanding could form the basis of a new type of physics.

Potentially it could form a new type of science overall, once the mechanistic, reductionist scientists that still form the majority in the other sciences wither away.

 

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