by Charles Eisenstein
from the book
- A New Story'
Except among the religious fringe, science is a primary locus of
authority in our society:
for at least a
century to be "scientific" has been among the highest sources of
legitimacy in business, government, medicine, and many other
Even those who
consciously reject some of science's teachings aspire to it.
As our culture sees
science as its foremost means to discover truth, to reject what
science says seems the epitome of irrationality, tantamount to a
willful denial of truth itself. Science provides our culture's main
map of 'reality.'
To modern society, science is more than a system of knowledge
production or a method of inquiry. So deeply embedded it is in our
understanding of what is real and how the world works, that we might
call it the religion of our civilization.
The reader might protest,
"Science is not a
religion. It is the opposite of a religion, because it doesn't
ask us to take anything on faith. The Scientific Method
provides a way to sift fact from falsehood, truth from
In fact, the
Scientific Method, like most religious formulae for
the attainment of truth, rests on a priori metaphysical
assumptions that we must indeed accept on faith...
First among them is
objectivity, which assumes among other things that the formulation
and testing of hypotheses don't alter the reality in which the
experiments take place.
This is a huge assumption
that is by no means accepted as obvious by other systems of thought.
real can in principle be measured and quantified
that happens does so because it is caused to happen (in the
sense of Aristotelian efficient cause)
That the basic
building blocks of matter are generic - for instance, that
any two electrons are identical
That nature can
be described by invariant mathematical laws
Philosophers of science
might reasonably dispute some of these precepts, which are
crumbling under the onslaught of quantum mechanics and
complexity theory, but they still inform the culture and mindset
Starting from this
implicit metaphysics, consider these other ways that science
A procedure for
attaining Truth (the Scientific Method)
divinatory rituals to gain knowledge (experiments)
(technology) by which we manipulate reality
universal spirits (such as "energy" and "forces") that are
responsible for all movement and change
language understandable only by initiates
A creation story
Big Bang and
entities (like electrons, mitochondria, etc.) that can be
revealed with the help of special implements (like
for the purposes of healing (medicine)
A priesthood, a
laity of various degrees of piety, and infidels
Training for and
initiation into the priesthood (graduate school)
associations for the priests
science writers and popularizers to bring the gospel to the
and heroes (Darwin, Newton, Archimedes, Einstein, Maxwell,
Martyrs for the
and wacky cults
fundamentalists, and tolerant moderates
schisms, heretics, and apostates
of heretics (cutoff of funding, blacklisting from journals)
A system of
ethics and morals (e.g., rational choices, scientific
A system for the
indoctrination of youth
The point here is not to
dismiss science on the grounds that it is, after all, nothing but a
To do so would be to
commit a subtle error:
own conception of religion as a term of critique.
If, however, we reject
the implicit devaluing of religion that comes from
contradistinguishing it from science-as-the-royal-road-to-truth,
then to name science as a religion is no longer to disparage it.
Instead it opens up new
We might ask,
"What are the
limitations of the kinds of technology that are available from
within this worldview?"
"What other religions
- systems of metaphysics, perception, and technology - might be
born of the current crisis and needed to address it?"
We also might inquire as
to what science might become if we abandon some of its metaphysical
What does it become
when we recognize that observer and observed are inextricably
When we recognize
the consciousness and agency of
When we cease
privileging quantitative over qualitative reasoning?
Science is not alone
among religions in having a shroud of dogma and institutional
dysfunction around a core spiritual truth.
The spiritual essence of
the religion of science is the opposite of its institutional
the Scientific Method
embodies a deep and beautiful humility.
"I do not know, so I
When science is healthy,
that humility takes form as critical thinking, patient empirical
observation, hypothesis testing, and perhaps most importantly,
communities of knowledge seekers who criticize, refine, and build
upon each other's work.
The true scientist is
always open to being wrong, even at the cost of funding, prestige,
Held by a culture of practice, these qualities of humility
and experience over time are what make a path of knowledge into a
science. My call here is therefore not to discard science but to
expand it, to include what it has ignored.
What has it ignored, and why?
It is not merely that
corporate interests have taken over science and steered it toward
applications that serve themselves, ignoring, for example,
unpatentable, natural therapies in favor of high-tech,
The causes of the growing
health crisis in modern society are inseparable from the key
doctrines of science.
Though it is evolving,
science as we have known it (and still to a great degree) has
trained us …
To see the world
as a bunch of insentient things
To make decisions
"rationally"; that is, based on utilitarian
To see the
observer as independent from the observed
To see nature as
an object of manipulation and control
To ignore the
immeasurable and qualitative (spirit, beauty, sacredness,
To think in
mechanistic rather than organic terms
The misapplication of
science is therefore only one level of the problem facing medicine
The above habits bear
limitations that render medicine insufficient to the task at hand.
Even if scientific
journals were not so captive
to the pharmaceutical companies,
even if academic research weren't so dependent on corporate funding,
even if regulatory agencies weren't so entwined with industry;
still, the quasi-religious dogma of science would exclude
approaches to healing essential to resolving the current crisis.
Yes, more scrupulous
science is part of the necessary revolution in health care, but it
is only a beginning.
The intractable health crises today, such as,
...and so on pose an
initiatory moment for our society.
Ultimately they will
initiate us into a different way of seeing, being, and relating.
They will initiate us into a new unfolding of the religion of
A religion, after all, is
not a disembodied intellectual construct, it is the weaving of our
souls the collective soul we call culture.
It may seem like a strategic error to voice such sentiments on a
website that has been maligned for deviating from orthodox
scientific opinion. Wouldn't it be wiser to outdo the critics in our
scientific evangelism and seek to establish that we, not they, are
the genuine messengers of true science?
Well, perhaps not. It is
fine to wield our scientific knowledge, as long as we acknowledge
Otherwise, by invoking
science, we risk inviting a buy-in to the very same systems of
intellectual authority that have long presided over and defended our
We occupy the
uncomfortable position of championing and fighting the establishment
at the same time:
institutions while appealing to their legitimacy.
Ecofeminists and deep
ecologists have critiqued science for its propensity to abstract,
isolate, and distance the observer from the beingness of the
observed; to render the world into an object.
Isn't the motivating
spirit of holistic health a reunion with nature, a reunion with the
body, a reunion with the innate intelligence of all things?
Francis Bacon conceived the
experimental method as an interrogation of nature, even a rape of
nature, forcibly penetrating to her deepest mysteries.
How might it change
if we conceive it as a conversation, not an interrogation; a
lovemaking and not a rape?
What if we saw
science not as a means to force nature into our categories, but
as a way to expand the reach of our senses in order to better
behold the beloved?
Science needs to return
to its quintessence:
the spirit of
First is to apply
it to its institutions, practices, and dominant paradigms,
and entertain the possibility that maybe we were wrong about
science, this is already beginning as even the mainstream
comes to the humiliating realization that it was wrong
for thirty years about dietary cholesterol.
also wrong about
microwave radiation from cell
about the safety of
GMOs and common
about the safety of birth control pills?
about regular mammograms?
about cardio workouts?
Maybe in some of
these it wasn't wrong, but as each dogma wavers, the others
come increasingly into doubt.
Second is to
apply humility to science's deeper metaphysical assumptions.
Here too, the
realization of "we don't know after all" is dawning. The
call is not to abandon science, but to embrace its
It is to explore,
science become when we recognize the intimate
relationship between observer and observed?
connection between mind and matter?
intelligence of all things?
The limits of
impossibility of truly abstracting phenomena and
isolating variables when all things are interconnected?"
As we open such
questions, we will see possibilities that were firmly lodged in the
territory of the impossible. Our understand of health, of nature, of
ourselves, and of the world will change forever...
That is the quaking you
can hear beneath everything called "alternative" today.