Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Cul-de-Sac of Science

This week a Zen droogie slipped me The Philosophy Force Five vs the Scientismists, a terrific graphic essay by Existential Comics. In this gripping tale of superhero1 derring-do, five ferocious female filosophers confront three uniformly male [c.f. “unsupported hypotheses”] cavaliers of positivist complacency.

They’re annoying, those guys. Furthermore, their boorish self-congratulation gains no evidentiary weight by their peremptory tone. (Incidentally, one of them does not bear a striking resemblance to Neil DeGrasse Tyson. So stop saying he does.)

All of which fired my interest, because Scientism is the third wheel, alongside Taoism and Buddhism, of an up-and-coming Western school of Zen that is highly influential here. It’s called “Secular Buddhism” and/or “Atheist Zen”. In it, Scientism replaces the traditional Confucianism, an equally ad hoc, if older and Asian, retrofit I’ve already lambasted elsewhere.

I’ll leave a full workup for another time, but for now I’d like to suggest that evidence-based religion makes as much sense as revealed science. Which we tried for centuries, and some – such as creationists – are still trying to make happen.

To borrow an argument The Philosophy Force Five literally kick down their adversaries' throats: “Science can only tell us how to effectively [sic] pursue a goal, but no experiment has ever told us what we should value.”

What they do not point out is that the latter is also much harder to discover, and requires a great deal more intellect, to say nothing of perseverance, self-control, and courage. Science is in fact not the most difficult brainwork we do, and our compulsion for herding our best and brightest into it may yet prove maladaptive. (Which is Scientismist for "suicidal".)

By my reckoning, intellect, perseverance, self-control, and courage are also the foundation blocks of Zen. Aren't they prerequisite to our much-ballyhooed "don't know mind"? This is one reason I’m suspicious of the anti-religious zealotry of many Western Zenners. Atheist Zen seems about as doable to me as Atheist Christianity.

Please note that I wish my Secular Buddhist brothers and sisters health and success, have no intention of obstructing their teachings or practice, and learn a great deal from the insight they share. My argument is purely theoretical. And theory has no objective existence. See? I told you I was listening.

But as I grow older I’m learning that the market value of the scientific method is greatly diminished by the moral and intellectual laziness of many who claim it – particularly the sarcasm they’ve made a tribal language. In clinical terms, science seems to have died the same death as religion: strangled by the undisciplined ego of its adherents.

I believe we’re now suffering the consequences of this global catastrophe – the simultaneous extinction of insight and inquiry. In the end, it may well lead to our own.

But while you're waiting, be sure to read The Philosophy Force Five vs the Scientismists. It's either brilliantly hilarious, or hilariously brilliant.

Discuss.

1"Superhero" is a registered trademark of Marvel Comics and DC Comics. God I wish I were joking.

(Graphic from the linked web comic by Existential Comics.)
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