The Insidious Cult of Scientism - the power of cultural indoctrination
We can’t avoid cultural conditioning. We absorb it through psychological osmosis. From the moment of our birth, we’re immersed in social interactions which instil the cultural values and beliefs of our society.
All human societies function through a set of shared values, beliefs, and practices. Culture is the conceptual infrastructure of a society.
These cultural values are often unquestioned because they’re often unspoken. They’re the knowledge written between the lines, the background context in which our interactions take place.
This common knowledge allows smooth social functioning, but it also makes our prejudices invisible to us.
Cultural conditioning is a type of indoctrination, and indoctrination is a sinister type of education. Education teaches people how to think, indoctrination teaches people what to think.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference.
Imagine how much more difficult it would be if indoctrination presented itself as education. If it was dogma masquerading as unbiased facts. Prejudice disguised as rationality. An ideology that pretends to be the impartial conclusions of science.
It would be much more difficult to detect its assumptions. It creates a conceptual prison. The foundational assumptions aren’t questioned because they’re seen as facts, not assumptions.
Our modern secular culture is that type of insidious indoctrination. Its conceptual tentacles reach invisibly into our way of thinking and influence our ideologies, both religious and non-religious.
A secular society is one which excludes religious concerns. This exclusion makes no judgment about the validity or truth of religion, it brackets the question as outside the jurisdiction of the state.
We promote this exclusion of religion in affairs of the state to allow religious freedom. The spiritual choices of any individual are under the authority of their own conscience, not legislated by any external power.
But secular society imposes an artificial division between religion and culture. Religion is always culturally embedded, inseparably intertwined with the culture in which it took root and flowered.
Our secular culture is no different. Although it’s not a religion, it is an ideology. It creates a way of thinking that directly affects our approach to religious questions.
The exclusion of religion from government is connected to the exclusion of the spiritual from science. Both are based on the idea we can neatly divide reality into the natural and the supernatural.
This way of thinking produced the ideology of scientism. It’s an ideology with less justification than many religions, but it avoids detection as an ideology by masquerading as impartial scientific knowledge, rationality, and intellectual humility.
Scientism interprets the data of science to justify two main philosophical ideas:-
Science is the only reliable method for discovering truth, or, more modestly, science is the most reliable method.
The things science studies, physical or material things, are the most fundamental things that exist.
Neither of these ideas is supported by any scientific findings. They’re philosophical claims which aren’t even well supported by rationality. Both rely on the success of science within its limited area of investigation to make sweeping and unjustified inferences about the whole of reality.
These assumptions of scientism are enduring cultural prejudices created by extending the scientific way of thinking to all areas of our lives.
From the success of science in explaining certain limited aspects of the world, we extended it to thinking those limited aspects described the entire reality. We took a useful conceptual device and imposed it on the world. We confused a way of thinking about the world, with the world itself.
Science intentionally excludes certain aspects of the world from its investigations. It only includes objective, measurable properties in its explanations.
This method of investigation assumes as a matter of practicality that there is an objective phenomena called nature, which exists independently of all other aspects of reality.
From that practical conceptual distinction, people came to think the category of nature described by science was, in fact, an independently existing category of reality.
And if nature was an independently existing category, there may, or may not, be something more than the scientific description of the world. The idea of naturalism as a philosophical position became a viable intellectual option.
Following logically from this idea was the further inference that if we can’t discover if there is something more than nature with science, we have no other reliable method to discover it. The existence of anything beyond nature, anything supernatural, could only be justified with faith.
Since faith is an unreliable method of gaining knowledge because it's not science, we should refrain from believing there is anything beyond nature without sufficient evidence. Evidence means scientific evidence because science is the only reliable way of discovering truth.
The vicious logical circle is complete, the conceptual prison sealed closed.
This entire chain of logical inference rests on first accepting the two basic assumptions of scientism.
In our secular society, we often contrast religion with science. We assume they’re engaged in the same project and we can meaningfully compare them.
The idea there is a monolithic entity we can label religion, which we can compare with a monolithic entity called science, is a confusion created by the hidden assumptions of scientism.
Most religions make metaphysical claims. They outline the wider framework in which we locate all our other beliefs. Science excludes this big picture framework from its concerns. It makes no comment about anything we can’t observe or test empirically.
Science excludes questions of ultimate concerns, religion focuses on answering them. Scientism, by contrast, makes the metaphysical claim physical things are the most fundamental things which exist. If that assumption of scientism is true, then the religious claims of God and eternal souls exist are false.
The comparison only makes sense if we understand it’s between religion and scientism, not religion and science. But the ideology is always hidden, the ism always left off the word science.
Religion explains the meaning of human life and the basis of ethical behaviors. Science is silent on questions of ethics or meaning. Science isn’t answering philosophical questions, and the goal of religion isn’t to explain the workings of nature within a limited empirical context.
This confusion about the comparison of science and religion also influences our judgments about the benefits of science and religion in our societies.
We give science credit for life-saving medical treatment, global communication, production efficiencies, and the many other improvements in the quality of our lives. But atomic bombs, industrial pollution, climate change and other negative effects, we blame on the human misuse of science.
In the first instance, we think the method itself bestows the benefits, in the second, we think the method is only a tool that we use for good or evil.
Religion doesn’t aim at producing a well-functioning society or temporary improvements in our quality of life, it aims at salvation from all suffering. Its goal is personal transformation in the context of the ultimate destiny of the individual.
Once these hidden assumptions are made explicit, we see there is no meaningful comparison between religion and science. The comparison is really between scientism and religion but scientism is assumed true by default, because it’s thought science has shown it to be true.
In a secular society, religion is an optional extra. Only the limited concerns of this life are considered. The continuation of life after death is irrelevant to human society. In practical terms, it assumes we can’t know the answer, so we can safely ignore the question.
We refocus the religious quest for salvation from the unavoidable suffering of our lives as a political quest, how we organize our society.
We reduce spirituality to a personal choice, something done in our spare time, not something that could improve society in the here and now. Spirituality is only concerned with what happens after death, not our eternal nature and how we should live at every moment.
A secular society focuses on minimizing suffering in this lifetime, as if that solved our predicament. It offers us palliative care with no hope of a cure. We replaced the human spiritual quest with a quest for wealth because while money can’t buy inner peace or eternal life, it can buy short-term relief from suffering. It can buy the basic human needs like food, shelter, health care and adequate leisure.
Money becomes the new spiritual currency. Instead of money being recognized as the means to remove the suffering that comes from not having basic human needs, it becomes the source of satisfaction. The more you have, the happier you will become. Hedonism is the goal, squeezing as much enjoyment out of life for the short time it lasts.
The inevitable result is greed consumes our society. Greed corrodes every political system we create. Greed creates wealth inequality with a few living in decadent luxury, while most lack the basic necessities.
Greed is a spiritual ailment, a lust we can never satisfy. Money can’t create satisfaction, its power is limited to removing dissatisfaction.
This over reliance on science as a method for gaining knowledge has caused an attitude of denigration toward philosophy. There is no shortage of high-profile scientists denigrating philosophy as useless, without seeming to realize philosophy is the discipline which studies critical thinking and logic.
Philosophy’s foundational task is to question our assumptions and our cultural conditioning. To seek out and dissect these invisible conceptual predators that do so much harm to the clarity of our rational thought.
Under the influence of this widespread philosophical illiteracy, we misunderstand the rational method to be skepticism. We mistake belief for irrationality. We mistake religion for a scientific theory.
Saying we don’t know the answer is no longer an undesirable declaration of ignorance but intellectual humility.
This produces a dogmatic agnosticism where the answer to philosophical or religious question is we don’t know. No reason is given for why we don’t or can’t know, but the unspoken reason is we have no method to find out. It’s a subversive scientism, because it really means science can’t know.
Confessing our ignorance on matters of spirituality is the virtue of intellectual humility, whereas doing the same for the best current understanding of scientific questions is irresponsible.
The incomplete nature of scientific knowledge is a desirable quality, because all scientific knowledge is provisional; we improve it as we find fresh evidence. But we don’t apply the same standard to philosophical or religious knowledge.
We accept we can know the esoteric secrets of nature on a subatomic level and expect to find the theory of everything, but we’re destined to remain eternally ignorant about whether God exists or what happens after death.
All of this only makes sense if we first assume science is the only reliable method to gain truth. The foundational confusion on which the entire logical structure rests.
It’s testament to the power of this insidious form of indoctrination that so many people accept scientism world view.
They accept the universe is insentient and nature is a perpetual motion machine with no creator or designer.
They accept that consciousness magically emerges from brain secretions, death is the end of existence, and our lives are ultimately meaningless.
They accept our highest ethical ideals aren’t divine principles inherent in the world itself which we can strive to embody, but rules of social lubrication selected because they are useful for tribal group survival.
But the most striking example of the power of indoctrination into the cult of scientism is how many people will accept that science has shown we have no free will.
People will deny the most fundamental experience of who they are, an undeniable existential truth, and declare it an illusion because it doesn’t fit within the scientism paradigm.
People will accept they are meat robots because they think science has shown it’s true. They have more faith in science than in their own experience of themselves.
The fact is, science has shown none of those things to be true and it never can. They are questions outside its sphere of influence. It’s only if we first accept the assumptions of scientism are true that these other claims are true. But there is no non-circular evidence for the assumptions of scientism.
So without evidence, based only on hollow propaganda, many people accept the degradation of our self-image. They accept the powerlessness and futility of our lives that scientism’s picture of the world imposes on us.
This is the immense power of cultural indoctrination.
The ideology of scientism reduces humans to an apex predator, an animal whose highest value is an efficient harvesting of resources for group survival. If scientism is true, we pay no ultimate price for that exploitation of the world because at death we cease to exist.
To care about these things can be nothing more than a sentimental response to the reality of the brutality and meaningless of nature. It has no basis in the world itself, because scientism can give it no philosophical basis beyond human psychology.
The corrosive effects of the indoctrination of the cult of scientism, on both the individual and our society, are profound. It’s time to escape this insidious brainwashing and reclaim our freedom and our dignity.