This piece is a bit afield for me. I am embedding a “banned TED Talk” given by Rupert Sheldrake, a Cambridge, Harvard educated, scientist and bane of the scientific community. What of Rupert Sheldrake?
He is not a Christian, though he reportedly says the Our Father every day. Dr. Sheldrake “evolved” from a biochemist and cell biologist to a plant physiologist and eventually to a researcher in the field of parapsychology. He is known for his “morphic resonance” concept. He is the darling of New Age adherents, not Christians. He is also labeled a “heretic” by his scientific fellows.
So why would I include a piece on Rupert Sheldrake in a Christian-orientated blog site? The answer lies in his dialogue with the scientific community. Sheldrake comes out of a scientific background, though he is presently outcast from it. Sheldrake blames this treatment of him on the dogmatic views of the “orthodox” scientific community that shun him for daring to pursue areas of study that deviate from that accepted dogma.
Granted that science builds on principals that have been proven through scientific method to be reliable. Those principals that have a proven track record helps us to do science with some confidence. Many of those principals have “proven” themselves to be reliable many times over and form the basis of “orthodox” science.
I use the word, orthodox, purposely, as science and the scientific community has its own orthodoxy, much like religion. People have always dared to depart from that orthodoxy, even if they merely push the boundaries around the edges. Some of those people, like Albert Einstein, pushed those boundaries into new orthodoxies.
It was the theory of relativity that suggested a beginning to the universe. This implication was a clear departure from the accepted view of the universe of the time: that of a past eternal universe. It was so heretical at the time that Einstein fudged a factor into his equations to avoid that implication.
Einstein eventually recanted that fudge factor and admitted the implication his formula exposed, as did the rest of the scientific community. Evidence of a beginning turned up in other places, the background microwave radiation found everywhere in the universe and (with some finality) in Hawking’s mathematical equations that proved “singularity”.
That Hawking spent much of the rest of his career seeking to escape the implication of singularity (the so-called Big Bang) (to the point of adopting a multiverse theory that, itself can never be proven), belies something about human beings: we like our dogmas and the certainties they provide us. Even if they resist inconvenient truths.
Dogma is not just the province of religious belief; it is also the stuff of which scientific belief is made as well. Yes, scientific belief.
The statement, “it’s science”, is a dogmatic conversation stopper. People assert science dogmatically when conversation strays from what the scientific community currently accepts as true. The reference to science is often used to shut the door on further discussion in the same way religious people use religious dogma.
I am not here to defend Sheldrake’s theories. I haven’t really studied them over than to listen to his banned Ted Talk. They may not hold up to the light of truth. His contentions against the scientific community, though, pique my interest.
C.S. Lewis made the same point a generation ago when he spoke of the “Scientific Myth“. Lewis would agree with Sheldrake, though they may not have shared the same faith, that scientists are not very aware of their own biases. Perhaps, their confidence in and adherence to scientific method, which are good and reliable in principal, leads them to believe that scientists and the scientific community embodies those principals like infallible popes.
Some scientists go so far as to say that science has done away with the need for philosophy and theology because science is the study of everything that exists and science alone can decipher truth. Scientists who say this aren’t even self-aware enough to realize that they are not expressing scientific principals when they say this. They are making philosophical and theological statements.
Lewis observes that science, as it has come to be defined and practiced in modern times, can’t even account for itself.
The modern scientist, who tends to be (though not all are) a pure rationalist and materialist believes that reality is composed of nothing but matter and energy acting in random concert with no guiding forces. Human beings on this view are nothing more than a compilation of random atoms that have formed fortuitously over long eons of random interaction of matter and energy.
Our minds are, also, the product of this random dance of matter and energy. On what basis does the materialist, rationalist, reductionist view support any confidence in human intellect? The modern scientist who allows for nothing but matter and energy cannot account for the very reason on which he depends and to which he offers his allegiance. (See Is Theology Poetry?)
With those thoughts in mind, I was entertained to hear Rupert Sheldrake take on the community of which he is a part, or at least once was, and which now shuns him. He counts down 10 dogmas to which the scientific community clings. Whatever unlikely theories he espouses, he speaks some truth to power here.
After listening to the “banned TED Talk” by Rupert Sheldrake, take some time to listen to him discuss the banning of his TED Talk and the scientific dogmas that expose a belief system among scientists to which they seem to be almost naively ignorant.