Friday, March 09, 2018

New Ager Capitalizes on Spiritual Thirst and Disaffection with the Science Establishment

The false assumptions of science according to New Ager Gregg Braden
Personally I don't know what he's talking about. 

This post fits into my series on New-Ageism of which there have only been two other posts so far. That is:

The above picture was posted on Facebook by my New Age friend I identified as "Frank Saucepan" in the first of the above links. It appears that he had photographed his screen whilst looking at the website of a New Age guru (More about him later). Frank's accompanying comment to the above picture was:

I trust science to keep me in a safe plane, heat my house and let me communicate via a telephone.
When I was at school 20 years ago these 5 assumptions were taught as scientific fact- now disproved
This is why I don't trust science for the more mystical questions of life - it fails

What I think Frank is trying to tell us is that although he trusts science when it comes to putting his life in its hands when he flies he nevertheless feels let down, even lied to, by established science's failure to address his spiritual need for meaning, purpose and sacred mystery.

But Frank is inconsistent. Frank has a history of interest in conspiracy theorism and as my first link above shows, the flat earth conspiracy theory is something that has attracted him. It seems, therefore, he has ambivalent feelings toward science. On the one hand he trusts science when he uses an aircraft, a technology that necessarily, by the way, depends on the global model of the Earth and yet on the other hand he distrusts science's spherical Earth theory. This model, in fact, ties into a coherent intelligible whole a myriad evidences. Some of those evidences are even apparent to the man in the street if he cares to look; from views across the sea to celestial observations. But the trouble is that the global model, except for the minority that journey a long way into space, cannot be taken in with one sweep of the eye: For the Earth bound the evidences of the global model are joined together by what to the suspicious science-alienated laymen can appear as beguiling, convoluted and complex logic.

I could take Frank in hand and say, "Look Frank, what quantified sense to do you make of these evidences?".  But I may as well go herding cats and than channel Frank's thoughts into a rigorous scientific line of inquiry. He wants clear and obvious answers: He will simply say "Spherical Earth? Show it to me!" And I can't do that without reference to the data provided by various scientific authorities, authorities he would distrust. Moreover, he would probably have little patience in being guided through the logic which links all this data into a coherent and elegant whole; to him it could all be sleight of hand with me as a stooge whose mind has been manipulated by the Illuminati.

It is striking how similar all this is to Christian fundamentalist diffidence toward science and  like Frank these fundamentalists have ambivalent feelings about society's scientific authorities. On the one hand they oppose so many conclusions of science and on the other hand they don't want to look like anti-intellectual rubes. So they invent the distinction between "observational" science and "historical science"; the former they think of as rigorous & respectable evidence based science whereas the latter is regarded as dubious speculative science based on presuppositions driven by an a priori worldview, perhaps even a product of a conspiracy. Certainly, the Christian fundamentalist flat earthers have to resort to conspiracy theorism as part and parcel with their theory of cosmology.

But as I have said before all science is at once both observational & historical, and non-trivial scientific objects seldom, if ever, classify as directly observational.  This is really far too subtle a point for the average fundamentalist who is looking for a pretext to do away with science which contradicts his world view fundamentalism. (I've posted on this subject many times before. See here for example)


The screen shot above actually comes from a New Ager called Gregg Braden. It is clear that he has set up a straw man that he can then knock down in front of his gullible fans. Let me comment on each point:

1. Evolution: explains life/human life. Evolution, in its most basic sense of being natural history, that is a history of change,  is "settled science" although just what mechanism drives evolution is not quite so settled - see herehere and here. So exactly what concept of evolution is Braden claiming to be false? 

2. Civilization began about 5000 years ago: In as much as this idea is the best construction that can be placed on the evidence it still holds good in my opinion. Both written history and archaeology point in this direction. However, I have always had a reservation at the back of my mind that perhaps the end of the ice age flooded continental shelves which hosted civilized societies - although if the continental shelves did host such societies they weren't big enough and/or civilized enough to leave a strong global trace in the archaeological and historical records.

3. Consciousness is separate from the physical world. This seems to be an allusion to the so-called "ghost-in-the-machine", a concept that  isn't readily testable and so not likely to classify as the object of formal science. If anything I would have said that scientific opinion and especially philosophical opinions attached to scientific culture are rather diffident about such an idea. In fact I myself have long since come to the conclusion that consciousness cannot be divorced from some kind of material nexus which expresses it. So Braden seems to have got this wrong; science doesn't dogmatically teach a clear distinction between consciousness and the physical world.  The jury seems to be out on this one. 

4.The space between things is empty: My scientific background has never lead me to this view. Initially, in geometry, space was taken to be a set of relations between points, relations that had all sorts of interesting mathematical properties; that hardly classifies as "empty" to my mind. And of course since the advent of quantum  mechanics space seems anything but empty! So once again I don't know what Braden is talking about. It's just a straw man. 

5. Nature is based on the survival of the strongest. If you modify this statement to include something to the effect that "Nature is based on the survival of the luckiest" then Braden's accusation might be approximately right! But therein lies the rub: It is this kind of statement which spiritual (wo)man finds difficult to swallow because it seems to entail an empty, meaningless, purposeless world teetering on the edge of the nihilistic chasm.  To many people this seems morally repugnant and so it is no surprise that those who offer spiritual hope get a hearing.


It is true that the modern cosmological picture is a big intellectual challenge to those (like myself) who wish to make anthropic sense and purpose of the cosmos (but I find it a welcome challenge because I like mysteries).  New Agers and Fundamentalists are trying to do this in their inimitable, emphatic and suave way, devoid of self-doubt as they exploit disaffection with the scientific establishment. They attempt to give reality a spiritual gloss and if science gets in their way then so much the worse for science.

It is ironic that New Agers and Christian Fundies have so much in common. Whimsical it may be but it is appropriate, then, that Gregg Braden has a passing resemblance to Christian fundamentalist Ray Comfort! As a Christian myself, however, I can understand the appeal of both: They head up a reaction against the current scientific establishment which either leaves one with a sense of abandonment at the edge of thecosmos, facing an existential crisis and postmodern nihilism or having to interpret life with a teeth gritting atheism determined to make the best of a bad job. 

Is it just me or does Gregg Braden bear a resemblance to Ray Comfort?
Suave and persuasive they lead their flocks into spiritual vistas 

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