A colleague of mine was inspired hearing about the Brian Green show (Nova: The Fabric of the Cosmos) this week on the universe, especially the parts about “dark matter” and “dark energy.” He tended to see it as validating religion. I’m all for validating or reinforcing the best aspects of religion and spirituality – after we discriminate the sense from the nonsense as best we can – but I think it’s intellectually sloppy, even if emotionally needful, to try to validate what we don’t understand (religion) by what we don’t understand (dark energy).
I saw the show and it was fascinating, although I think the great graphics tended to be wonderful visual entertainment rather than really explaining any of the science. But much better for me, at least, than empty abstraction. This is a series – try to catch the rest.
But what is “dark” energy and matter? Does it really convey some sort of spiritual quality? Or that certain truths are part of the mystery of God and forever veiled from us? The necessary faith and confidence for doing science – or for living life, for that matter – is that we are smart and will be able to figure most things, if not all things, out. When one’s arrogance is high, we’ll be able to figure it all out. When we get stuck and frustrated we may admit that perhaps the human brain maybe can’t work it all out, but can still do great things….. This is necessary “faith,” for if you start thinking “I and we aren’t very bright, we probably can’t learn anything,” that is likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To quote, as I’m sure I have before, Henry Ford, “Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right…..
“My colleague seemed to think that the postulating of dark matter and energy was a refutation of what I’ve described in The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together as scientism, the materialistic philosophy overwhelmingly dominant in most areas of science that says everything can and will eventually be explained in terms of physical matter and physical energy. Because “dark” energy and matter are not matter as we know it?
But that’s not the case. Scientism is a philosophy of materialism, everything is made of matter and energy. If we can’t explain something now in terms of known forms of matter and energy, then it’s an item of faith that, as we discover new forms of material matter and material energy, we will then be able to explain things in expanded materialistic terms.
As I’m sure I’ve said many times before, scientism is not science, although most people, including most scientists, think it is. An essential part of a genuinely scientific theory is that it is capable of disproof, of making observations which are quite incompatible with the theory. When scientism encounters something inexplicable in terms of current materialistic theories, though, it keeps the faith by saying someday we will explain it in physical terms, including a wider understanding of what “physical” means. This is what philosophers long ago named promissory materialism, as you can’t ever disprove that someday they won’t explain it in terms of material entities and forces (or little green men or angels or devils or aliens or whatever you prefer). I try not to fall into scientism, even though it’s a prestigious thing to do as it leads to more social acceptance. If I had wanted to be very successful in conventional terms I would never have followed a career that kept looking into things that were taboo, that were heresy in materialistic terms.
Essential science – see again my The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together book – always puts data, observations, experience first and foremost, and if your theories to explain them, materialistic, mathematical, socialistic, religious, whatever don’t actually work, too bad for the theories and beliefs. Study the data more closely, see what you can learn.
In our times, though, we spiritual beings – I think that’s what we all essentially are – have our spirituality badly repressed and rejected because of scientism. But we try to find some means to justify being more spiritual, justifying, rationalizing by trying to find scientific reasons to be more spiritual. So we can take developments like dark energy and matter as pointing toward a mystery beyond human understanding, as pointing toward God or Spirit. It’s commonly done all the time in New Age, as well as other spiritual movements. Quantum physics has been used this way for decades now.You can certainly take new scientific data and theory that way, and I sometimes do, but I don’t think a “proof” of the existence of God because of our ignorance is very powerful. “This is beyond our understanding, so there must be a God who understands.” I’m much more impressed by people’s mystical experiences, not to mention all the scientific investigations surveyed in my book that show we humans sometimes do things we think spiritual beings would be able to. By “spiritual” here I mean of a nature very different than contemporary physics and reasonable extensions of it allow to happen. Telepathy as a possible “mechanism” for transmitting information and requests in prayer, as just one example.