A while ago I had the occasion to witness the debate between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on the topic “God is Not Good.” Hitchens of course took the affirmative position, whilst Tony Blair took the defensive position. I agreed with the audience that Hitchens won the debate. Blair is of course a devout Catholic who has dedicated his life since leaving the office of the Prime Minister of England to religion. He was cautious and defensive, and he confined himself largely to the Judaeo-Christian perspective, as did Hitchens. Thus, this debate can in no wise be regarded as globally relevant, although both Blair and Hitchens seemed to think otherwise. Apparently it had never occurred to either Blair or Hitchens that a religion can be atheistic (other than secularism itself of course). Hitchens, who was witty, arrogant, aggressively opinionated, and far more impressive than Blair in his insistence that a viable moral code can be articulated outside religion, won the debate but he lost the argument when he died prematurely as a result of esophageal cancer induced by alcohol abuse the following year, from which he was also suffering during the debate itself. Of course, spiritual people die of alcoholism too. Chogyam Trungpa comes to mind. The difference is that Hitchens sees no moral issue here, apparently, whereas any truly religious person does. Alcohol has also been used by practitioners as a spiritual inebriant. Perhaps alcohol was Hitchens’ religion, who waxed poetic on the beauty of nature and admitted that this alone tempted him to the possibility of the divine.
Religionists and spiritualists alike are on the defensive today against an increasingly militant secularism that might even become radicalized as the intolerance of science and its bastard offspring, scientism, increasingly come to dominate the physical organization of society. Rationalism has replaced communism as the globally dominant ideology of the time, and has become the darling of capitalism, corporatism, plutocracy, consumerism, and politics. Everyone must always be absolutely rational, whatever other differences they might sport. Spirituality has been banned from the scenes, as it is at the beginning of every totalitarian reformation. In its place the crazy pseudo-religion of secularism tries and fails to fill the nihilist void.
Most people you meet will likely tell you that they don’t have a worldview, that they simply believe in the truth of what they see. In other words, the reality that is provided is real, including the consensual opinions of the group, what we are told by experts and authorities, the existing system of infrastructure organization, and what we have so deeply ingrained in our souls that we do not even recognize or accept it as belief. The only real value is “nature.” This “non-worldview” that is so obvious it cannot be doubted is built, ultimately, on the authority of science. Thus, communism and capitalism both claim to be based on science. Since they are in conflict, both can’t be right. Suddenly the new religion of science has given rise to its first crusade.
This non-worldview that promises to end history holds a very interesting view of the nature of man, and has led to some very interesting consequences. Let us begin with the nature of man. Once upon a time philosophers used to agree that the essential distinguishing characteristic of man is the ineffable quality of reflexivity, the sentience of sentience. There are now people amongst us I can personally attest who truly believe that this is not true of them, but rather that they are nothing more than a body composed of inanimate matter created by inanimate DNA in a peculiar accidental structure of atoms, molecules, and cells that happens to produce a kind of systemic feedback that produces the phenomenon of conscious reflexivity, like the hum of the machine, static, or perhaps an electromagnetic field (in the old days of 19th century materialism it used to be compared to bile secreted by the liver). Consciousness thus becomes nothing more than an epiphenomenon of atoms. Will is equally illusory, a mere veneer of unconscious automatic impulses. Life is a peculiar organization of non-life – nothing more than that, working out its material dynamics in accordance with the laws of physics. This was the working hypothesis of Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China, yet it has seeped in and permeated the so-called West through the back door of capitalist economics based on industrialization. Religion sighs and turns the other cheek, without ever checking the credentials of secularism itself.
The belief of scientism that science is the only truth and that all other views of truth are inherently false unless they are validated by science is self-contradictory in its essence, yet it is believed in by people who are becoming increasingly intolerant of any other view, including the supporters of Christopher Hitchens. Scientism cannot be true because science is constantly changing itself, therefore there is no template to copy and other views can never be excluded simply because science has not excluded them. The progress of science is constantly morphing into non-science by definition. Science is also influenced by what one chooses to look at and how. Science now assumes that all real phenomena are observable and quantifiable. That which is not observable is not real, the qualitative is not real. This subtly morphs into What Is Not Observed Is Not Real – this could be a slogan in George Orwell’s 1984. Words lie, but mathematics tells the truth. Mathematics, the origin of which lies in the phenomenon of sentience.
Science itself no longer believes in matter. Matter is energy, energy is information. Matter is essentially void, and that part of it that is not void exhibits strange properties, such as spatial curvature, the relativity of time, the wave/particle duality, Bell’s theorem, and the Higgs Boson, amongst numerous additional correspondences that eerily resemble the metaphysical speculations of an ancient Indian seer called Gotama, the Buddha. There is nothing in science that threatens Buddhism, but science refutes all of the Western religions as well as the pagan polytheisms, unless the latter are understood symbolically. This observation also applies to Hinduism, but this is less true of early Taoism, which resembles the philosophy of the Buddha more than any other Asian cult. To be sure, Buddhism includes much more wisdom than science as spirituality is more comprehensive in the meaning and purpose of its project than science, but once we discard scientism and allow ourselves to be open to subtler kinds of evidence the possibilities presented by the Buddhadharma appear perfectly continuous with the evolution of Western science and philosophy over the past hundred years. This is precisely what we mean when we say that Buddhism is not a religion but is rather the science of spirituality itself, the original spiritual philosophy. Buddhism and science enlighten each other, but not when the light of Buddhism is obscured by millennia of ossification. The unity of Buddhism and science is the Dharma Transmission to the West.
- The history of Marxism shows pretty clearly the practical and political consequences of systematic materialism, dramatically confirming the Buddha’s statement that society must be based on a spiritual idea if it is to survive.
Ten Dogmas of Science (“Scientism”)*
*Accepted World View of Most Educated People
- Nature is mechanical or machine-like.
- Matter is unconscious.
- The laws of nature are fixed.
- The total amount of matter and energy are always the same.
- Nature is purposeless.
- Biological heredity is material.
- Memories are stored in the brain as material traces.
- Your mind is inside your head.
- Psychic phenomena (e.g. telepathy) are impossible.
- Mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works.