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Why Be Blinded by Science and Materialism?
Part 8: True freedom of inquiry vs. the politically enforced reductionism of scientific materialism

by Chris Tong, Ph.D.
 
Dr. Chris Tong



 
 
 
Sir Arthur Eddington
Arthur Eddington with Albert Einstein

Briefly the position is this. We have learnt that the exploration of the external world by the methods of physical science leads not to a concrete reality, but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods are unadapted for penetrating. Feeling that there must be more behind, we return to our starting point in human consciousness the one centre where more might become known. There we find other stirrings, other revelations, than those conditioned by the world of symbols. . . Physics most strongly insists that its methods do not penetrate behind the symbolism. Surely then that mental and spiritual nature of ourselves, known in our minds by an intimate contact transcending the methods of physics, supplies just that. . . which science is admittedly unable to give.

Sir Arthur Eddington, Science and the Unseen World
in
Ken Wilber (editor), Quantum Questions

 
 
 


If science were truly a method for unrestricted inquiry into any and every corner of human experience and thought, its limitations would not be so severe. But the scientific method (as it is practiced in the current, political climate of scientific materialism) limits itself to the objective, and largely steers away from the unrestricted exploration of the subjective (though some non-mainstream offshoots do try to reconcile the scientific method with a broader exploration of the subjective, e.g., [Sheldrake, A New Science of Life; Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order; Radin, The Conscious Universe; D'Aquili and Newberg, The Mystical Mind; Newberg, D'Aquili, and Rause, Why God Won't Go Away]). Scientific materialism thus is only really capable of making findings about the objective aspects of reality. It is not capable of reaching any ultimate conclusions about subjective reality, because the very method requires the objectification of what is being studied. Thus, scientific materialism’s primary philosophical limitation is that it presumes that objective reality is the only reality.

The philosophy of scientific materialism also has political force in the sense that it tends to enforce itself as the only acceptable view on reality. Should you or I actually claim that we have seen God, or that we have come into contact with a Greater Reality, we are likely to be subjected to ridicule either covert or overt; in our contemporary, scientifically materialistic, Western civilization, all such experiences are immediately interpreted to be (even hallucinatory) by-products of the material brain, rather than evidence of a Greater Reality. (However, see our discussion of neuro-theology, to witness new scientific evidence that this reduction is invalid.) Indeed, in the materialistic court of evidence, the sense of our own existence cannot be adequately justified either!

And should we claim to believe in a Greater Reality that we have not (yet) experienced, our right to believe whatever “quaint beliefs” we want may be acknowledged, but our belief will also be presumed (automatically) to be solely for the purpose of self-consolation, and to have nothing to do with reality itself.

The logic of reductionism is applied repeatedly by the leading scientific materialistic thinkers of our times. Here are just a few examples, so you can get a feeling for how the reductionism of scientific materialism operates.

  • On the basis of his clinical studies, Sigmund Freud concluded that the psychological motivation behind much religious belief is the desire for consolation or return to the womb. But then he further concluded using the logic of reductionism that, since most “religious” people are neurotically motivated to believe in God, this must mean that God does not exist. In fact, it is perfectly possibly for God (not necessarily the God of common belief) to exist and for large numbers of people to believe in God (or at least a parental conception of God) for neurotic reasons.

  • Religious historians studying the Dead Sea Scrolls and other documents from around the time of Jesus (e.g., [Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle; Potter, The Lost Years of Jesus Revealed; Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant; Harwood, Mythology's Last Gods: Yahweh and Jesus; Copan, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?]) have suggested that the evidence they have found indicates that Jesus may have not been the Son of God, fore-ordained as such from before time and space (“eternally begotten of the Father, begotten not made”), but rather a member of a particular tradition (the Essene tradition), and that He may have learned from this tradition much of what He would later preach. (That some of these documents suggest that His mother may not have been a virgin, and that He may have had brothers simply reinforces the view that He was not the fore-ordained Son of God.)They also cite political reasons for why it was expedient for the early Christians and the Roman Empire to declare that Jesus was the Son of God. These historians then further conclude again using the logic of reductionism that Jesus was therefore simply an ordinary man, perhaps a great man, but an ordinary one. In other words, they seized upon evidence suggesting that Jesus was not the Son of God, to reduce Him to strictly material terms. In so doing, they throw out all kinds of other possible alternatives: for instance, that He was a genuine God-Realizer and a true Spiritual Master, even if not “the Son of God”. (See, e.g., Avatar Adi Da Samraj’s “Exoteric Christianity and the Universal Spiritual Message of Jesus”; Paramahansa Yogananda’s “Where is Jesus Now and What is He Doing?” in The Divine Romance; and Swami Vivekananda’s “The Teachers of Bhakti” in Religion of Love.)

  • Abraham Maslow, one of the leading thinkers of the “human potential movement” re-conceptualized a wide array of mystical experiences as “peak experiences”. He “secularized” their description, removing all references to “God”, “Revelation”, etc., feeling that this was a requirement for their scientific study:


 
 
 

Abraham MaslowBut it has recently begun to appear that these “revelations” or mystical illuminations can be subsumed under the head of the “peak-experiences” or “ecstasies” or “transcendent” experiences which are now being eagerly investigated by many psychologists. That is to say, it is very likely, indeed almost certain, that these older reports, phrased in terms of supernatural revelation, were, in fact, perfectly natural, human peak-experiences of the kind that can easily be examined today, which, however, were phrased in terms of whatever conceptual, cultural, and linguistic framework the particular seer had available in his time.

Abraham Maslow, Chapter III
Religions, Values, And Peak-Experiences

 
 
 


But by removing all such theistic references, he permanently reduced his studies to materialistic, brain-based explanations. The underlying methodology using the logic of reductionism is: If something can be explained in purely brain-based, materialistic terms, then it should be explained that way! In this traditional humanist view, “Realizations of a Greater Reality” are not different in kind from the chemically based “high” that runners get. The Ultimate Realizations are thereby reduced to mere “experiences”.
Avatar Adi Da Samraj decries such reductionism, and points to the danger to free inquiry represented by the current political empowerment of such reductionism, comparing it to the way in which the Catholic Church controlled the thoughts and the investigations of all the people who were under the thumb of the Church-State:


 
 
 

Avatar Adi Da SamrajThere is a difference between scientific materialism and science as a discipline. Science as a discipline is a form of free enquiry that is not supposed to predetermine results or superimpose a point of view on reality apart from the investigation of reality.

Scientific materialism, however, is a philosophy. It is not science, although it tends to be associated with the scientific movement. It is an ancient philosophy, the philosophy of materialism. It is a reductionist philosophy. It reduces reality to what is called “materiality”, and it wants to base all notions of reality on that philosophical presumption. . . .

Recently some of us were playing the game called “Trivial Pursuit”. One of the questions was something like “In 1975, what did eighteen Nobel laureates proclaim had no basis in fact?” The answer was astrology. . . . When these Nobel laureates got together and declared that astrology has no basis on fact, they had not involved themselves in an investigation of astrology to the point of determining that astrology has no basis in fact. They were predisposed to claim that astrology has no basis in fact. They are philosophically disinclined to have anybody investigate the matter, to have anything to do with it.

What is the purpose of this proclamation then? To get people to stop having anything to do with astrology. That is its entire purpose. It is a rather political purpose. . . .

What is this but a State-based philosophy that decides what you can do, think, even investigate? . . . It is generally claimed that the scientific view is superior somehow to movements that previously dictated what people can do, think, or investigate, such as the Catholic church in the West, which once held — and still does hold in some places — control of the State and determined what was appropriate to believe, think, or investigate. Was it not only recently that the Pope declared that Galileo was right? Hundreds of years later! At the time when Galileo was alive, the Catholic church was in charge of politics generally and told people that they could not believe that the Earth is not the center of the universe, for example. It was not permissible even to investigate the matter.

Now people of the scientific materialist faction have gained the power of the State, but they are doing the same thing again. [Scientific materialism] is just the new official religion. . . .

At the leading edge of science, particularly in the realm of physics, the discoveries, the theories tested, and so forth are suggesting that reality is of a different nature than could possibly be described as [merely] material. Having come to such a point of view, scientists are finding themselves in a difficult situation because science takes place in the world of scientific materialism. Much of what the leading edge of physics and of science in general is proposing and also discovering does not square with scientific materialism. Therefore, science has again become the circumstance of controversy and conflict.

If scientists are to obtain grants of money from the State and be legitimized by the State, anything they do must square with the philosophy of scientific materialism. Basically that is the obligation. . . . You may imagine that because you may live in what is called a “free society” the politics of your society is all about free inquiry, the freedom to investigate. You should be more sensitive to the controlling influences that exist even in the present situation.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, “Free Inquiry and Scientific Materialism”
p. 108 in The Heart’s Shout

 
 
 


We are all familiar with the kind of circumstance Adi Da Samraj is talking about, where the “Davids” in the world can’t get a hold of enough resources (financial and otherwise) to make the kind of impact the “Goliaths” are making, in part because the “Goliaths” generally control the funding. The adequate funding of alternative energy sources (over and against the money that continues to pour into fueling the oil industry establishment) is a currently controversial case in point.

The new field of neuro-theology “the study of theology from a neuropsychological perspective” (see [D'Aquili and Newberg, The Mystical Mind; Newberg, D'Aquili, and Rause, Why God Won't Go Away] for empirical results) is another example of Avatar Adi Da Samraj’s point about suppression of “free inquiry” by a society that is already given over to the viewpoint of scientific materialism. By studying the brain patterns of interesting groups (such as meditating Franciscan nuns and Buddhist monks), a small number of scientists are arriving at some controversial results . Here is how one news article recently reported this research:



 
 
 

The tension between science and religion is about to get tenser, for some scientists have decided that religious experience is just too intriguing not to study. Neurologists jumped in first, finding a connection between temporal lobe epilepsy and a sudden interest in religion. As V. S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, told a 1997 meeting, these patients, during seizures, “say they see God” or feel “a sudden sense of enlightenment”. Now researchers are looking at more-common varieties of religious experience. Newberg and the late Dr. Eugene d’Aquili, both of the University of Pennsylvania, have a name for this field: neuro-theology. In a book to be published in April, they conclude that spiritual experiences are the inevitable outcome of brain wiring: “The human brain has been genetically wired to encourage religious beliefs.”

Even plain old praying affects the brain in distinctive ways. In SPECT scans of Franciscan nuns at prayer, the Penn team found a quieting of the orientation area, which gave the sisters a tangible sense of proximity to and merging with God. “The absorption of the self into something larger [is] not the result of emotional fabrication or wishful thinking,” Newberg and d’Aquili write in “Why God Won’t Go Away.” It springs, instead, from neurological events, as when the orientation area goes dark. . . .

If brain wiring explains the feelings believers get from prayer and ritual, are spiritual experiences mere creations of our neurons? Neuro-theology at least suggests that spiritual experiences are no more meaningful than, say, the fear the brain is hard-wired to feel in response to a strange noise at night.

Sharon Begley, “Searching for the God Within: The way our brains are wired may explain the origin and power of religious beliefs.” Newsweek, January 29, 2001

 
 
 


Now what is most interesting is the scientific materialist “twist” actually, a full 180 degree turn! that the reporter gives to the scientist’s findings. We’ve highlighted the relevant sections, in which her reading of their work is that “spiritual experiences” originate solely in the brain. Thus they do not represent evidence of a God or a Greater Reality; rather, they point in the opposite direction, since they deconstruct a primary source of evidence people point to for validating the existence of God and a Greater Reality.

But in fact the point of the books reporting these studies is quite the opposite, as indicated by the title of one of them: “Why God Won’t Go Away”. The focus of the work is on how the mind experiences the Greater Reality. The scientists go to great lengths to demonstrate neurologically that the usual reduction by scientific materialism of spiritual experiences to “hallucinations”, “wishful thinking”, etc. is wrong. That is, they compare the areas of the brain used and the nature of the brain activity during “wishful thinking” and during meditation, and find that completely different areas of the brain are being activated. And so they go on to declare that the mystical experiences of the subjects:



 
 
 

were not the result of some fabrication, or simple wishful thinking, but were associated instead with a series of observable neurological events . . . In other words, mystical experience is biologically, observably, and scientifically real . . . Gradually, we shaped a hypothesis that suggests that spiritual experience, at its very root, is intimately interwoven with human biology.

Eugene D’Aquili, M.D. and Andrew Newberg, Ph.D., The Mystical Mind

 
 
 


Despite the emphasis on neurobiology, the book is not at all atheistic in its approach, but makes a point of providing evidence that the experience of Spirit has a neurobiological correlate, that is, Spirit is reflected by the brain in a very specific and unique way that doesn’t match patterns of self-generated experience, but rather matches the patterns that correspond to experience of “something real”:



 
 
 
Andrew Newberg, Ph.D.

We will explore the issue of how “ultimate being” is perceived and experienced by the human brain and mind. (p. 4)

In fact, if the mind and brain are responsible for all of our experiences [because we don’t have any experience except through their mediation], then they are also the mediator for our experience of God. Thus, it may be absolutely necessary to employ the study of the mind and brain in order to understand fully the relationship between human beings and God. (p. 16)

One can no longer dismiss the description of such [mystical] states in the world’s religious and mystical literature as “the silly imaginings of religious nuts”. (p. 206)

It is unfortunate that various psychological disorders are often associated with religious or spiritual phenomena. This fact has led to the long-standing bias in Western culture that mystics are crazy. That they are not is attested to by their prominence in many cultures and religious communities. Furthermore, as presented in this book, there is increasing evidence that these [mystical] states are associated with particular brain states. In fact, the brain may have evolved in such a way that these experiences were possible. When considering mystical experiences from a phenomenological perspective, their significance as real spiritual events becomes even more impressive. It is possible that with the advent of improved technologies for studying the brain, mystical experiences may finally be clearly differentiated from any type of psychopathology. (pp. 206-207)

Eugene D’Aquili, M.D. and Andrew Newberg, Ph.D., The Mystical Mind

 
 
 


You’d have to wonder, reading these passages, whether the journalist was reading a different book!

Thus this work comes as close as any work in the sciences to demonstrating that there is a Greater Reality, since here are these people in meditation with nothing changing in their material reality, but with their brains showing all the signs of being exposed to something that is both real and other than the material reality. Nonetheless, the reporter begins her article with a reference to the experience of epileptics; she then goes on to refer to studies of “more common varieties of religious experience”, thus making the very kind of spurious association between religious phenomena and mental disorders, aimed at discrediting the reality of mysical experiences, that the authors themselves decried in the passage above! She then summarized the work of these scientists by writing, “Neuro-theology at least suggests that spiritual experiences are no more meaningful than, say, the fear the brain is hard-wired to feel in response to a strange noise at night.”

This is the exact opposite of what these scientists were communicating. But it demonstrates Adi Da Samraj's point that we live in a society that is controlled by the viewpoint of scientific materialism, and which seeks to reduce everything to its terms even that which cannot be so reduced. As Albert Einstein said, in opposition to reductionism (presenting his own version of Occam’s razor):



 
 
 

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Albert Einstein
in Alice Calaprice (ed.),
The Expanded Quotable Einstein

 
 
 


And so, what was, historically, so attractive about science and free inquiry altogether (over and against its historical political predecessor, the exclusively dogmatic Church-State) should be allowed to come to the fore again politically:



 
 
 

The scientific community must understand and acknowledge that its positive aspect is its orientation toward free intellectual inquiry. The old exoteric religious institutions perpetuated an “understanding” of the physical universe that was characterized by uninterpretable poetic mythologies and all kinds of absolutist cultic nonsense. Fresh and direct inquiry into phenomena needed to be permitted. That aspect of the emergence of scientism was completely positive. The exoteric religious institutions that existed when scientism began to appear were not founded in universal Truth or a broadly communicated esoteric understanding of the “material” universe and the Way of Man. They were (and remain) downtown exoteric institutions, traditional cultic institutions, without great [Spiritual Masters] and without universal Wisdom. In throwing away this half-baked religion, however, we have also thrown away all psychic inquiry into the universe and its ultimate Condition or Destiny. Intellectual inquiry into the objective phenomena of experience certainly has its value, but psychic inquiry into the experiential universe is not only equally essential, it is primary, and it is more fundamental to the individual. Indeed, such psychic inquiry is absolutely essential for human happiness.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
p. 390, Scientific Proof of the Existence of God
Will Soon Be Announced by the White House!

 
 
 



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