RELIGION, ALCHEMY AND THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
“Alchemy is a philosophical and protoscientific tradition practiced throughout Egypt and Eurasia which aimed to purify, mature, and perfect certain objects. Common aims were chrysopoeia, the transmutation of “base metals” (e.g., lead) into “noble” ones (particularly gold); the creation of an elixir of immortality; the creation of panaceas able to cure any disease; and the development of an alkahest, a universal solvent. The perfection of the human body and soul was thought to permit or result from the alchemical magnum opus and, in the Hellenistic and western tradition, the achievement of gnosis. In Europe, the creation of a philosopher’s stone was variously connected with all of these projects.” — wikipedia
Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. — Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776
In our day, there seems to be great faith in science as the means not only for for advancement and progress, and for debunking superstition. There are many who hold unswervingly to the idea that science holds the key to identifying what is real and what isn’t. Not only that, there seems to be an almost fanatic belief in the infallibility of the scientific process. Of course, nobody would argue that everything science comes up with is correct. Rather, the argument lies in the infallibility of “the Scientific Method”.
One website describes the scientific method as “the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion” and that “The great advantage of the scientific method is that it is unprejudiced”.
The Geological Society of America, in a paper titled ‘The Nature of Science and the Scientific Method’, states that “Science is, however, a human endeavor and is subject to personal prejudices, misapprehensions, and bias. Over time, however, repeated reproduction and verification of observations and experimental results can overcome these weaknesses. That is one of the strengths of the scientific process.”
Thus, whilst there is unambiguous agreement regarding the fallibility of individuals, belief in the infallibility of the process seems to be implicit.
Which leads to the belief that anything that has been touched by the hand of the Scientific Method is absolute, incontrovertible truth.
Thus, whilst there seems to be great humility in accepting the errancy of individuals owing to their biases and presuppositions, there is an unsettling naiveté about how the facts of the universe can, with certainty, be unravelled by ticking a few boxes of a process. It is unsettling because this naiveté invariably leads to unabashed haughtiness when it comes to the infallibility of the Scientific Method. Not only is there is an unwillingness to consider contrary views, there seems to be an unwillingness to engage in debate. In fact, the exhortation by leaders of this movement is to use derision rather than dialogue as a strategy for addressing dissent.
But there is yet another problem.
How are we to test the legitimacy of the Scientific Method?
Well, it seems like scientists rely on the Scientific Method to test the Scientific Method; after all, they want to be scientific in their approach. In other words, they implement circular logic whereby the object of their investigation (i.e. legitimacy of the Scientific Method) is assumed to be true at the outset. Which means that the infallibility of the Scientific Method is not a scientific fact but an article of faith that borders on the religious.
So whilst religion was the first to enjoy the blind faith of the majority, now it’s the turn of science to experience that privilege. Scientists are the new pontiffs whose word is increasingly being considered inviolable. Consequently, their research is the new scripture. Shrouded in a language not spoken by the common man, it is not only held in reverence and awe but aggressively shielded from the rabble lest they despoil the purity of its findings with their grubby dissent.
What does this have to do with the ancient “science” of Alchemy? Very simple. Alchemy is proof that just because something sounds like science and looks like science and has scientists seriously doing very science-y things does not necessarily mean it’s legitimate science.
And that’s the point this post is trying to make: in the same way that all that glitters isn’t gold, so too, all that is done in the name of science isn’t scientific.
Sure, there may be an appearance of science. Sure, there may be billions of dollars invested in “research”. Sure, there may be some very qualified academics conducting this “research”. Sure, there may be some very ethical companies, accompanied by very successful celebrities, business leaders and politicians who support this “research”. But that doesn’t automatically imply that true science is being conducted, or that the results are legitimately scientific.
Why is this important to know?
Because, increasingly, science is being used, not only as a crutch to inform public policy, but also as a bludgeon with which to enforce public acceptance.
Like the kings of the past who were held to ransom by the religious leaders of their times, politicians in the present are increasingly under pressure from key scientific minds to conform their policies to the “latest findings of science”. And who are they to argue with these experts who live their lives on the frontiers of human knowledge?
So when it comes to “facts” like Climate Change, billions of dollars are pledged to deal with this humanitarian catastrophe even though empirical data shows the planet has not warmed for the past 18 years or so. When it comes to the “science” of evolution, it’s veracity is a foregone conclusion. And, of course, when it comes to the idea that mental illness is a legitimate pathological condition, it’s accepted as true even though the evidence in favour of it is nowhere to be found.
How did we get here?
We got here because we wanted to escape the tyranny of superstition caused by religion. Of course, we were right in seeking to be liberated from these shackles. But we were wrong in concluding that all religion is imprisoning superstition. The problem with the world isn’t religion but false religion. After all, religion is what provides answers to the questions of life that cannot be determined via the Scientific method. But we were so disillusioned by the deception of the supernatural that we swung the other way and placed our faith in human reason. But we failed to acknowledge that the same human ingenuity which dreamed up religious mythology was just as capable of fabricating scientific narratives. Both are equally fictional. However, one sounds more plausible than the other because it wears the white lab coat of scientific investigation instead of the priestly vestments of religious ceremony.
The arrogance of infallibility in a human method has created a world in which self-delusion, not religion, is the opiate of the masses. The Scientific Method has become the narcotic we so desperately wanted to escape. We’ve traded critical thinking for second-hand opinions. We’ve surrendered the keys to our intellect to those who tell us what we want to hear. We’re being raped intellectually and instead of reporting it to the authorities, we’re clamouring for an encore.
The abandonment of humility slowly but surely led to the jettisoning of reason. That’s how pride goes before a fall. Once you are cocksure of your infallibility, reason becomes irrelevant. Sanity is the one of the first casualties of arrogance.
Now, having abandoned reason and humility, those critical signposts that kept us on the safe and narrow, we’ve been suckered into cutting ourselves loose from reality in the hope of discovering a braver, newer world of more exciting realities. Instead, we now find ourselves adrift at sea, hopelessly lost and hopelessly inadequate to find our way. And thanks to our pride, any hope of recovery has been rendered inconceivable.
We’ve moved so far away from reality into a world of enchanting hypotheses that to return seems ridiculous. We’ve smoked ourselves out of the hives of reality and are now buzzing about in an idyllic stupor from which we do not want to be woken. The dream has now assumed the place of reality. And as we very well know, the last thing required for a dream to survive is reason.
That is why this blog exists. To challenge the flights of fancy that masquerade as science and reason.
To expose the alchemists of our day who try to legitimise the illegitimate in the name of science.