I read a review of the book “Rock of Ages” authored by Stephen Jay Gould, by D. Bristow-Bovey (Sunday Independent, 27th May, 2001). Because the review left me feeling paltry and empty as a scientist, and defrauded, ignored or forgotten as a seeker, I acquired the book to find out what Gould actually had to say. Gould is a seminal figure in the popular literature of biology where I browse, and I look to him to interpret science and its progress. But this book with a subtitle “Science and religion in the fullness of life” seems to fail the subject, and me, completely.
I would have thought that the appearance of books like Aldous Huxley’s – “The Doors of Perception” (describing the effects of drugs on awareness), Fritjof Capra’s “The Turning Point”, Bentov’s “Stalking the Wild Pendulum”, Gary Zukav’s “The Seat of the Soul”, Shirley Mc Clean’s “Dancing in the Light”, Lyall Watsons books, as well as so many, many others; would have at the least indicated that mankind was on the threshold of a new age. There is a vast literature on the subject of new age philosophy and predictions of change. Where can science be in all this?
Gould’s book is a rude awakening to the facts of our collective spiritual dormancy. Far from providing any comfort, it coolly suggests that this intellectual and intelligent business of science has work to do, and people with spiritual inclinations can go and play somewhere else: i.e. religion is for believers, and science is for thinkers. Gould, in my opinion, has written in the intellectual climate of the age of Darwin as he to some degree honestly admits. In that age intellectuals were awakening to the harsh reality that the religious beliefs of the day, did not tally with their observations of the world. Gould holds that this problem can be resolved simply by recognising that there are two sides to the story. Two magisteria, the one being religion, and the other science. One being that of religion, where imagination can run riot without the strictures of hard evidence. The other, the dispassionate, disciplined, considered, calculated and wondrous field of science, where he himself is a great scientist and writer. He does not say what other magisteria there are in which one would then have to accommodate human aspirations or in which one could seek human happiness.
Gould seeks to exonerate himself from predicted criticism. With a respect to him at least equal to that he accords religion, I think his argument can be shown to lead nowhere.
In his Preamble, Gould states what science is, viz… “what is the universe made of and why does it work this way”. He is immediately fuzzy with the same fuzziness which he deplores when he later says.. “I have difficulty keeping a straight face and a peaceful pen”. He assigns to religion the task only of “ultimate meaning”, which is surely no different than the “why” of science. The difference is just one of belief.
He suggests that science deals with measurable things and that religion does not. The truth is that science just does not have a measure of the elements of the human mind such as pleasure, pain, hate, love, greed, contentment, humour, charity, happiness, wonder, truth and humility. For that reason then, all the things which drive emotions and feelings do not exist for the limited scientist. He perhaps overlooks the fact that in the broader sense, science actually has no absolute measure of space or time either. Creation is nothing but phenomena distributed in space and changing with time, and religion is there to fulfill a void that Gould’s version of science is too limited to deal with. As a scientist and intellectual, Gould opts out of his responsibility and leaves us all to the mercies of laymen. What has happened, and this is very well stated by Schumacher (in his book “A guide for the Perplexed”), is that science has simply departed from its original root and foundation. Where it was given birth to free mankind from the religious dogma, pedantry, ritual, ceremony and blind belief of organised religion, it has actually become another religion which simply denies the very things to which religion owes its origins. It has its own pedantic and blind priesthood, it’s same speculation and falsehood. It is just as accountable for the misery pain and suffering in this creation as anything else. Science has set us free from nothing. Even its claims of technological advance in so many fields have done nothing more for the human spirit than religion.
Freemasonry probably can be found at the roots of intellectual awakening, and I understand that the fathers of science like Bacon and Newton were freemasons. Was it not in their creed to study natural phenomena and extract meaning and purpose from such study? Was it not the beginning of an attempt to escape from the restriction and persecution of religious doctrine, creed and dogma of the day? The intrinsic binding injunction or requirement of the mason was the practise of truth and justice and a belief in God.
Schumacher placed great emphasis on ancient wisdom – but what is ancient wisdom? Is it all that old traditional pagan, heathen myth, legend and belief which underlay the evolution of the human spirit? Was it just the glue of a backward society without the wonder of science and intellectual achievement? Or was it the true, real product of an innate driving force which compels man to seek meaning and purpose? Thus we may have a scientist whose profession it is to develop technology, or study the biology of Seekatruthicus religiosus (this is a fictitious name for a non-existent mite). This same scientist may have an unquestioned fixation and unsubstantiated belief in life after death, promised by virtue of birth in a family which has organised his circumcision, christening, and later confirmation. Such a scientist may or may not consider and face the reality of death and what it will hold for him. Almost certainly he will not even think about, let alone follow the promises and practises of the religion he professes to follow by either conscious or unconscious choice. Another scientist may follow the same route and while examining the mites under his microscope, ask “What is the meaning and purpose of what I see?” “Does it tally with what the circumstance and experience of my life reveal to me?” Why Gould should suggest that such questions are invalid in the domain of science, may just be because of his personal belief that science should not address such questions. This is a limitation which Gould may place on science as his personal prerogative. Whatever other people also do, it is not a limitation of science or of scientific method. It is a personal limitation which the individual is free to examine and then retain or discard. We should all go through this process.
The problem that arose from Darwin was that man began to believe that religion too was a simple product of evolution, and that spirituality as descent of man from angel was unthinkable.
Gould places a restrictive meaning on the word “science” and maintains the restricted meaning of the word “religion”. Science, from the latin “scíre” meaning to know, and with a dictionary meaning (among others) of…”a body of organised knowledge”. Religion from “re” return and “ligare” to bind, meaning to bind back. This is no different from the meaning of the word “yoga” from the Sanskrit meaning to yoke (back to God). If a scientist is serious about what he thinks, he sets out to obtain the data, the knowledge and the experience which can help him answer his questions. Schumacher would simply say that it is a question of where and how he seeks happiness. Science and religion do not stand opposed as Gould suggests. Anyone can follow scientific method to understand how to bind back to God – however improbable that may sound or difficult it may prove to be. Enchantment with the outward physical world is no excuse for turning away from this human imperative. Religion is by definition “belief”, but that does not necessitate ignorance, nor invalidate any intellectual attempt to convert that belief to knowledge.
If Gould would read and study the literature (and the Bible is one of the lesser works in all that is actually available), and if he would penetrate the wisdom of the Rubaiyat which he freely quotes, he would see that these writers (and there are so many of them) are describing their travails, their hopes, their despair, their triumphs, their experiences, their methods. But by reading these works one does not acquire that experience or that knowledge. There are methods by which one obtains spiritual knowledge – as opposed to the outward practises of ceremony and ritual which accompany religion. There are actually many methods as any aspirant seeker will soon discover. The fact that so many of them, and so obviously, lead to scientifically and intellectually unacceptable conclusions and practises, may discourage one from further effort. This is again a choice one makes. To either persist or abandon the quest. Failure does not mean that it is not possible to get a result. The first rocket fired did not get to the moon.
Perhaps we can say.. “Science is method. It is not a magisterium of anything”. If it is a magisterium, then there is only one other magisterium and that is nescience”. We have “knowing” and “not knowing”. What religion does is present material which can be scrutinised. Hypotheses can be derived for examination by scientific METHOD. Scriptures are largely derived from experience and all can be used to rationally hypothesise the existence of God. Science is now required to properly examine and test such hypotheses if the scientist feels compelled to make public statements about their relevance and impose his non-belief and agnosticism on others. Gould is perhaps concerned that gnosticism is directed at him and sullies his personal magisterium of science. The converse could also be true. His agnosticism may be sullying the field of religion and denying the emergence of greater truth, however much he professes otherwise. Religion takes it as a self-evident truth that God exists, because this is fundamental to human consciousness. This is ancient wisdom – it resides within each one of us. Perhaps it is just good fortune that our circumstances of birth and environment (Gould’s “accidental ontogeny”) allow this spark to flicker into flame. But elegant prose does not bring enlightenment nor lead us to an awakening of our true nature. Perhaps God IS consciousness, or better still, consciousness IS God. There are many levels (“mansions”?) of consciousness – this is axiomatic from the ordinary observation of people, let alone from a considered view of deep sleep, dream, hypnosis, fantasy, vision, direct perception and mystic transport. If one considers the Bible, which Gould is happy to quote and use so extensively, one can get a lot more from it than he apparently has done.
In respect of some of the quotes. Gould closes his book with a small part-quotation from St John, which he pointedly acknowledges also has another meaning. So he makes the same mistake that he would condemn in a “bible-thumper”. He quotes only the piece “In the beginning was the word”, to score intellectual points. Gould states that he “knows that the phrase bears another meaning in its original context”. Does he indeed “know” what that meaning is? If he did, he might find himself nailed to a wooden cross. It surprises me always that scientists are not “religious”, when it is so obvious what they need to do and can do, with such scriptural statements. They need to develop a testable hypothesis. St John (as written in the gospel) further stated that this “word” was with God and the word was God. Still further, he states that all that was created was created by “word”. What is unscientific about speculating that there is then a creative force behind space and time, and that this creative force is any different for “science” or for religion? There cannot be two truths. Gould’s insinuation that the “word” is just a written and spoken instrument of debate and discussion is going to take no-one further along the spiritual path than that same discussion and debate. Like so many preachers he has lost the gist and meaning of those words of St John and prostituted them for another end.
St John elsewhere (4:8) also states that “God is love”. In other words we begin to develop that hypothesis. God = love = word. So the word is not a book or writing or language. Christ is reputed to have said “I am in my Father and ye in me and I in you” (John 14:20). He further goes on to state quite explicitly… “He that hath seen me hath seen my Father”. What does Gould even begin to imagine that Christ is talking about? What should a scientist do? Dismiss this as fantasy? He is of course free to think and do what he likes, and the faculty to take either option is this one which is denied any other living species. Is he free to espouse his view without review or scrutiny? Is this not what preachers demand from us too? In Corinthians (1,3:16) it is also clearly stated “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God”.
The Bible was written nearly 2 000 years ago and we can be excused for thinking that it is just imaginative prose and has no literal meaning. We can also forget that there were no dictionaries and no way in which the language and idiom of the day could also simultaneously used to satisfy the intellectual 2000 years into the future. But we are now being scientists either testing if a hypothesis can be extracted from this ancient writing and then testing that hypothesis. Perhaps we have evidence that man is devolving. If Gould just acknowledges that he does not wish to pursue the matter any further, that is entirely his prerogative. But to impose his feelings upon a reading public in the guise of a text dealing with the fullness of life is not correct because it shuts a door on that fullness. Will we say in another 2000 years time, “He did come again, and again, and again”. What use will that be to any of us today?
The Bible is the source of a great deal more wisdom which actually leads on to describe precisely how one comes to “know” that this body is the “temple” of God. Christ is reputed to have said “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). Is it just chance that this statement is repeated in the Adi Granth (M4, p1323). Is it just chance that bells and lights figure in the tradition, ritual and ceremony of so many religions? What can be meant? The scientist, the real scientist, asks this question. The fool may shun it, but we have the beginnings of a worthwhile hypothesis that may be worth developing further. God is word, God is love, God is consciousness, He is knowable. How do we take this further?
The Bible does contain all the necessary answers, but it cannot take one to that experience that it so plainly describes. Christianity is also not the only religion after Judaism, nor is the bible remotely the only book of relevance that Gould’s béte noires would like to believe. There are many other texts, including the Rubaiyat, which state the same “truths” or principles that the Bible does. Again, the individual (whether he wishes to be seen as a scientist, agnostic, or atheist) is free to ignore all this and make of it what he wants. Gould’s claim that he is an agnostic based on his opinion that “truly one cannot know” is nothing that I would be proud to acclaim. The ancient Greeks said “Man know thyself”. Were they just guessing at something? Who said “Be still, and know that I am God”?
Gould states that we should “Acknowledge the personal character of these human struggles about morals and meaning and stop looking for definite answers in nature’s construction”. He does go on very meaningfully, but he obfuscates the point. The human body is nature’s chief construction. This is where we are to find what we seek (“seek and you shall find”) and it is the only place where this can be done. In the Adi Granth it is said “True devotees seek within, all others wander in delusion”. The Bible reads “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21). “Man is made in the image of God”. Science as a process of organising knowledge should enable and empower us, not drive us from the door.
Gould once made a statement which impressed itself on my mind roughly as follows.. “When I see what is done with those things I know something about, I am very sceptical about what is done with things I know little about”. Instead of being disturbed by the weak arguments of syncretism, there should be absolutely nothing to stop Gould from properly applying his scientific mind to the question of the existence of God. I have personally experienced the failures and weaknesses of the scientific product, and have made many mistakes myself. These mistakes are nothing to do with science, unlike the woes of mankind which often have everything to do with religion. Man was not made for religion and neither was he made to be led up the garden path by mechanistic science. He was made for the purpose of realising God? What prevents us from doing this? Who knows? Gould quotes “blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed”. Gould’s interpretation may only demonstrate blindness brought on perhaps by undoubted brilliance of intellect and erudition. It is a statement extending the view that “the meek shall inherit the earth”. Does it not state that even those who do not have the intellect or the knowledge or the privilege of high birth or rank or education, can find their way to God and fullness of life?
Gould writes…”A sceptical attitude towards appeals based only on authority combined with a demand for direct evidence, represents the first demand of proper scientific procedure.” This is indeed what is required if one wants to understand the true origins and aim of religions, and achieve the same one goal. This is true knowledge and enlightenment. There are thus only two magisteria. Man has his roots and origins in one, but insists in living in the other where he constantly pursues the illusion of “fullness”. Thus the great deception is that we confound our magisteria of “science” and “nescience” by misconstruction. Consequently, “Born in ignorance, we live in ignorance and we die in ignorance”. Knowledge of our physical universe may be very profitable to have, but in what sense?
This is precisely why I labour the point about classification being science. We have to write in a functional paradigm. In the “Scientific American Book of the Cosmos”, Gould contributes the chapter…”The evolution of life on earth” and he makes this dramatic statement.. “We will (NOT) complete Darwin’s revolution until we can find, grasp and accept another way of drawing life’s history”. (By chance, the omission of the word ‘not’ is a typographic error in the text!) He is saying in more eloquent language in a wider context, the same thing that I wrote in “The case of Haworthia incurvula” (Aloe 36:34, 1999) “we need a new language”. He speculates that we may be limited by “socially imposed conceptual locks rather than inherent restrictions of our neurology”. I speculate that we have intellectually imposed conceptual locks and that we indeed need to examine what Andrei Linde wrote, also in “Book of the Cosmos” ..”The Self-reproducing Inflationary Universe”. He wrote that the universe may be a huge growing fractal and that if this model is correct…”then physics (science?) alone cannot provide a complete explanation for all properties of our allotment of the universe”. Further…”Does this mean that understanding…will require…a deep investigation of our own nature, perhaps even including the nature of our consciousness?” Personally I have come to the conclusion that this is a truth which we should all take as self-evident, and that we need to change our conceptual locks – if we want to understand Haworthia fully.