God is dead, said the man with the world’s most exciting moustache. And many, seeing the dogma of ancient traditions as an anachronistic throwback to a time before the rise of reason, would seek to ensure that this process is completed as soon as possible.
Theirs is a passionately futurist vision. The ancient ways must die, they believe, for new ways to come. And to them, the purpose of the scientist is to join in this crusade, and heap scorn and derision on religion, superstition, and the ancient ways.
A great deal of energy is expended in this endeavor The militant tendency among atheists is on the rise, and understandably so.
Because it is undeniable that the ancient traditions are bursting at the seams with rigid thinking, blind belief and blinkered vision. Over the many centuries these traditions have calcified. Become closed and arrogant. Become the inverse of their founding insights, and serve now only to obscure what original insight brought them to life in the first place.
The refusal to allow any serious consideration of ideas that shake the foundations of belief is a classic hallmark of religious blindness. Science stands in stark contrast to this. It does not merely allow the consideration of ideas that shake its foundations. Science is the search for ideas that shake foundations.
All ideas and beliefs are meat for the grinder, and that grinder is reality. Throw it all in, all of it. The more precious the hope, the more important the testing, and the ruthlessness of the testing, so that we are not fooled as we have been for so long.
This represents a genuinely new way of dealing with knowledge and with belief. It generates insight of such accuracy and precision that it has fundamentally changed the nature of human life, and perhaps one day, the very meaning of humanity itself.
But before that promise can be fulfilled, there are deeper mysteries than mankind must dare to know.
Chief among these is the fundamental nature of humanity. And it is no idle dreaming, or academic curiosity that drives this search. †It is something far deeper, and made only more urgent by the advance of science, and mastery over the external world.
It is this – that humanity has not shown itself a wise custodian of the great advances it has made. Einstein once searingly wrote:
“Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.”
And external technology does indeed have this quality to it. We are giving more power to an unreconstructed ape, with little ape concerns, little ape vendettas, and a little ape ego to protect at all costs.
External technology. External discovery. And it is the external aspect of science which has been stunningly successful. †When it comes to the deeps of humanity, the fundamental structure of human nature, the origin of cruelty and suffering, the dynamics of openness, hope, joy and creativity – these are things which science has been stunningly poor at charting.
Oh, of course, we have data. We have lots and lots of data. But again, to come back to Einstein,
“Data is not knowledge.”
To generate true knowledge you canít just collect data, hoping it will reach a critical mass and tell you what you need to know. †You have to do what only humans can do, and get inside it, understand it. You have to make daring speculations that bring it all together. You have to leave your preconceptions behind, and all the things you want to believe. You have to imagine what it could all mean, and then test your imaginings, and watch them fail, and see how they fail, because seeing that leads you deeper still.
More than any of this, you have to stare into the dark, and the real possibility that underneath our masks of reason, there is nothing in humans worth finding, or worse – that what you will find will be genuinely horrendous, and that knowledge of our true nature will blank out all hope in our lives.
This, I believe, is why it is that we collect data, and data, and yet more data but flinch from the deep conjectures that might make sense of it. We are afraid of what we might see. What it would mean. This is why science has failed to match its incredible advances in the external world with similar ones in the internal.
But that ís not necessarily a bad thing. Because the good news is this – the scientific method has no internal barrier to opening up a new understanding of humanity. The only reason the barrier exists is because we want it to, because we are afraid, and find it easy to dress that fear up in pretty clothes, and many excuses, all of which sound very reasonable and very clever, and distract from one little thing that might perhaps be of interest to a certain kind of person.
There is a journey as yet untravelled.
And for that journey, science must move beyond the cheap mockery of superstition. †Because at the heart of all the ancient wisdom traditions, cloaked beneath centuries of mysticism and dogma, there seems to lie a very striking convergence.
They all meet in similar descriptions of some internal process. Something that forever frees them from the chains of human nature. Underneath all their bickering and wars, and the differences between them which they suspiciously love to emphasise, there is a striking convergence in the matter of transcending suffering, and opening up a new way of life.
I believe it is no longer enough to ask of the ancient traditions Are these superstitions true, as they are advanced by organised religion?
That question has been settled. The answer is no.
A deeper, far more scientific, and far more daring question is this.
“Is there an actual reality to which all these superstitions can be said to refer?”
Religion has failed. †But it has not failed because it has no substance. It has failed because it has abandoned that substance for the sake of false certainty, cowardice, rigid thinking, power, superficiality, status and show.
It has failed globally, because of the very problem of human nature the original insights sought to address. The cheap, weak, petty and divided nature of the human animal.
So, what are we to do? Are we to respond to this by pouring derision upon that failure?
Or are we to succeed where religion has failed?
Science generates clarity that is way beyond anything that humans have ever had access to. †If it can move beyond the failings of the religions it holds in such low regard, and take seriously the potential reality that underlies every wisdom tradition, then perhaps it can open deep truth up in a way that has never before been possible. And in that opening, make a new kind of world possible. A new kind of human. A better one.
And this is the new frontier, the greatest frontier. The deepest, and most intimate. The most dangerous, with a prize beyond imagining. A new option for any brave enough to take it, to live a life free of hollow, petty emptiness and needless cruelty. And wide open with possibilities that, for now, we cannot even comprehend.
But science is not magic. And this will not happen by chance. It does have an admission fee. Science is work.
You will need to support it, and spread it, and more than all this, you have to dare.
You have to dare to know.
Many will not. The majority will not. But I sincerely hope you do. It’s a hell of a rush.
I think you should have titled your piece Beyond Religion rather than beyond atheism.
To make a philosophical claim that God is dead may be just as unscientific as the claim that he is alive. I know that my will to believing in a God, is no less scientific than your will to disbelieve in God. I agree that science has made technological advances over the years that may have been hindered by religion. But I would rather have the cautious rains that look at many aspects rather than single strand of thought when dealing with the human consciousness and decisions that impact human beings. You have two conflicting ideas. You make the claim that religious ideas and traditional dogma’s hold back advancements and yet you make clear that human beings are destructive in the use of those advancements. What makes me fearful of atheism isn’t that man ends up believing in nothing. It’s that he ends up believing in anything. We have killed God but the danger is we have replaced him with ourselves. The ancient ways claim that God created man but the modern man claims he has created God and we are him. Transhumanism may replace the condition of our physical hearts yet we carry on living in our destructive ways. I believe even more is the need to replace our spiritual heart. The problem with man is man.
Speaking of daring to know and work for science, I am searching for a summer job, volunteer work, or internship. I’m interested in doing my part to contribute to science and human advancement. Are there any such positions open in or near San Francisco?
Thanks, Ciaran. It has always been the general thrust of religion that has mattered, beyond petty dogmas, reaching beyond ourselves to posthuman potential.
“When it comes to the deeps of humanity, the fundamental structure of human nature, the origin of cruelty and suffering, the dynamics of openness, hope, joy and creativity – these are things which science has been stunningly poor at charting.”
Couldn’t be further from the truth. Science has been the single MOST illuminating tool we have for understanding these topics, beyond the initially-convincing-sounding non-explanations that dissolve upon intense critical scrutiny.
“And for that journey, science must move beyond the cheap mockery of superstition.”
Again, incorrect. Particular scienTISTS may be involved in such activity, with good cause.
@Rene, OP: I think we have more grounds for asserting that these superstitions reflect a fact about ourselves, and not any reality they purport to describe.
Self serving drivel. Belief in nothing but your narcissistic self and only that which you can see is neither deep nor intellectual, rather, it provides an excuse for close minded, myopic navigation through life to a final moment of darkness.
Science can be at times even more dogmatic and blatantly exclusionary than religion, the common denominator between the 2 is the humans behind it all. The difference comes in that religion was created by humans for humans, whereas science observes natural occurrences and can be looked at objectively.
But what of direct spiritual experience? As per the type of spirituality in Huxley’s mind, which would be bound with science.
“To be shaken out of the ruts of ordinary perception, to be shown for a few timeless hours the outer and inner world, not as they appear to an animal obsessed with survival or to a human being obsessed with words and notions, but as they are apprehended, directly and unconditionally, by Mind at Large — this is an experience of inestimable value to everyone and especially to the intellectual.”
“Is there an actual reality to which all these superstitions can be said to refer?” – absolutely, and they can be, should be, and have been for millennia (in spite of fierce resistance from and oppression by monopolistic religions) subject to scientific investigation. Nothing new really but now that tthe opposition is ‘on its knees’ we finally can get a move on.
Glad you think so.
If you’re interested, I recently put up a big piece (it’s very long, be warned) where I work along exactly these lines.
The link is……
Love to hear what you think.