Although the human impulse towards religious experience is undeniable many people today do not consider themselves as religious or spiritual. Writer Richard Dawkins or television pundit Bill Maher take great pains to paint religious belief as nonsense – destructive mumbo-jumbo unsuited to modern society and a cause of great suffering. The irony in this, of course, is that Dawkins and Maher are followers of the world’s most dominant and powerful religion: Scientism.
Not to be confused with Scientology, the organization created by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard and which the likes of Tom Cruise and John Travolta are celebrity members, Scientism appeals to our modern adherence to rationality, buttressed by statistical, experimental and observational evidence. Accordingly, Scientism projects its methods and assumptions across a broad swath of human experience, even when wholly inappropriate. As such, science extends beyond its legitimate domain into humanistic realms which are inherently irreducible.
Science employs reductionist methodology in an attempt to understand the whole by examining its parts. Thus matter is reduced to particles, particles reduced to waves, and waves reduced to fields. While experimentally provocative and interesting, the application of such knowledge in everyday existence often remains more philosophical than practical; I may be eating Quarks for breakfast, but so what?
This reductionism has also been applied to people and comprises what we now call “Social Sciences.” Under this rubric, the uniqueness of individuals is reduced to purely correlated statistical information which is then regurgitated back into society as “sound data.” Having become calculable units, all humanity lost, people are then subject to rational scientific policies governing nutrition, health and behavior overall. Accordingly, last week cholesterol in eggs was bad, and this week it’s just fine.
Despite the oath declaring witness testimony to be truth “so help me God”, Scientism has also taken over jurisprudence. Our adherence to finding cause and assigning blame can be directly tied to our belief in Science. Thus the complex continuity of human relationships is reduced to fragmented events, subdivided, sliced and dissected in a quest to determine who or what is at fault. Practically, however, matters of the heart such as mercy and compassion cannot be easily reduced, as the parable of Solomon’s proposed division of the contested infant so elegantly displays. Thus our prisons are bursting at the seams; more African Americans are incarcerated in America today than were captive slaves before the Civil War.
People tend to assign the lessons of one experience inappropriately to other unrelated experiences, producing thoughts and behavior that then get them into trouble. Culturally, this an effect of Scientism; we keep trying to solve problems created by technology and science with newer technology and science rather than deeply examining the human dynamic underlying our problems. Scientism does not easily accommodate vague or non-linear variables like fear, greed, compassion or mercy despite the essential role such feelings play in human experience and interaction. Scientism adheres to “fact” and those aspects which cannot be so reduced are marginalized or dismissed.
Religion can provide spiritual experiences of faith and wonder, and Scientism also provides ample opportunity for both. While acknowledging the many positive contributions of science, Scientism is essentially a heartless religion through which salvation’s found in the merged “singularity” of humans with technology. Spiritually, I place more faith in the irreducibly brilliant experience of a clutch of blooming daffodils than my iPhone.