By Dr Muhammad Maroof Shah
09 Feb 2017
Schuon offered a devastating criticism of modern priests of science such as Freud, Dawkins, and Hawking on a very different plane.
Few are aware that the science that claimed to oust God, to explain everything in principle without reference to the First Principle/Absolute, to dissolve mystery and to usher in an age of universal happiness has been discredited not only by postmodern philosophers and certain developments at the edge of modern science itself but also by our great metaphysicians such as Coomaraswamy and Guenon who were also trained as scientists.
Lyotard famously pointed out that modern science as a grand narrative (grand overarching explanatory paradigm) is no longer credible in our age. Feyerbend and others have reiterated the thesis that modern science has been dogmatic and power-inflected and thus can’t arbitrate or monopolize truth. However, criticizing science’s big ideological claims alone doesn’t suffice; what we need is arguing for an alternative epistemology and metaphysics that puts science in perspective, recognizes its boundaries and transcends religion-science quarrels in a manner that the best minds wouldn’t feel any need to betray either reason (mind, ratio) or heart/intellect.
This task has been admirably performed by another great metaphysician Frithjof Schuon. He shows why we can’t buy the sermons (as distinguished from cogent philosophical arguments that one sees deployed in greater minds like Wittgenstein and Whitehead who span both science and religion) of great priests of modern science such as Freud, Dawkins, Hawking and others who would have us believe that we have no other light to guide us than modern science and seek to throw away religion and philosophy.
On the metanarrative of modern science - its absolutistic, universalistic and imperialistic claims that negate existence and knowledge claims of revelation and intuition, pretend to provide the Theory of Everything, seek to enclose all Existence in a set of mathematical formulae, boost to discover the Mind of God, as Hawking in true Faustian spirit asserts, or to determine how much freedom God had in creating the world as Einstein, in Promethean spirit that characterizes modern project, would say.
Schuon observes that the foundations of modem science are false because it replaces Intellect (a supraindividual supramental faculty of which reason is a reflection at mental plane) and Revelation by reason and experiment, lays claim to totality on an empirical basis, replaces the universal Substance by matter alone, denies transcendence.
Modern science’s impotence in explaining many phenomena is attributed to its ignorance of higher modes of consciousness and objective reality:
In view of the fact that modern science is unaware of the degrees of reality, it is consequently null and inoperative as regards everything that can be explained only by them, whether it be a case of magic or of spirituality or indeed of any belief or practice of any people; it is in particular incapable of accounting for human or other phenomena of the historic or prehistoric past, the nature of which and the key to which are totally unknown to it as a matter of principle.
He declares that it is a most pernicious abuse of language to call modern scientists sages because they ignore everything that transcends the physical world and so everything that constitutes wisdom.
There is certainly no reason to admire a science which counts insects and atoms but is ignorant of God; which makes an avowal of not knowing Him and yet claims omniscience by principle. It should be noted that the scientist, like every other rationalist, does not base himself on reason in itself; he calls “reason” his lack of imagination and knowledge, and his ignorance are for him the “data” of reason.
He sarcastically remarks that “too many “believers” consider that it is time that religion should shake off “the dust of the centuries”, which amounts its “liberation” from its very essence and from everything which manifests that essence.” Weinberg receives a fitting reply. To quote him:
One of the effects of modern science has been to give religion a mortal wound, by posing in concrete terms problems which only esoterism can resolve; but these problems remain unresolved, because esoterism is not listened to, and is listened to less now than ever. Faced by these new problems, religion is disarmed, and it borrows clumsily and gropingly the arguments of the enemy; it is thus compelled to falsify by imperceptible degrees its own perspective, and more and more to disavow itself.
….There is close relationship between rationalism and modern science; the latter is at fault not in concerning itself solely with the finite, but in seeking to reduce the Infinite to the finite, and consequently in taking no account of Revelation, an attitude which is, strictly speaking, inhuman; our quarrel with modern science is that it is inhuman, or infra-human, and not that it is ignorant of the facts which it studies, even though through prejudice it ignores certain of their modalities... .And what is to be said of the pretentiousness which sets out to “discover” the ultimate causes of existence, or of the intellectual bankruptcy of those who seek to subject their philosophy to the results of scientific research? A science of the finite cannot legitimately occur outside a spiritual tradition, for intelligence is prior to its objects, and God is prior to man; an experiment which ignores the spiritual link characterizing man no longer has anything human about it; it is thus in the final analysis as contrary to our interests as it is to our nature; and “ye shall know them by their fruits.”
He denies the claim that scientist has greater share of intelligence. He points out the singularities that scientistic rationalism encounters at deeper levels because of its crass ignorance of transcendence or the sacred, due to its a priori rejection of everything that transcends reason. Scientists like Weinberg assert that the more the universe becomes comprehensible the more it seems pointless. This statement is incomprehensible or simply absurd from the traditionalist perspective as it also reflects utter failure of scientific intelligence to know “one thing needful.” Meaning comes only from above, from transcendence and modern science’s attempt to find it at the level of sensory world or the world of Maya is doomed. Science encounters only darkness at the end as Stace and Russell have pointed out as it chooses to be blind to God, the Light of the World.
Schuon points out that modern science does not know what man is, life is or Existence is. It knows nothing of the Origin and the End, of the Principles or Substance.
Modern science, which is rationalist as to its subject and materialist as to its object, can describe our situation physically and approximately, but it can tell us nothing about our extra-spatial situation in the total and real Universe…. Profane science, in seeking to pierce to its depth the mystery of the things that contain - space, time, matter, energy - forget the mystery of the things that are contained: it tries to explain the quintessential properties of our bodies and the intimate functioning of our souls, but it does not know what intelligence and existence are; consequently, seeing what its “principles” are, it cannot be otherwise than ignorant of what man is.
The science of our time knows how to measure galaxies and split atoms, but it is incapable of the least investigation beyond the sensible world, so much so that outside its self-imposed but unrecognized limits it remains more ignorant than the most rudimentary magic.
Schuon in his great works like Logic and Transcendence, Light on the Ancient World and others has argued, with great force and persuasion, what modern science misses and misses in principle due to its methodological naturalism that informs its philosophical abuse and ignorance of symbolism and divorce from the Science of First Principles. Ultimately he seeks to warn about limitations of modern science without arguing against its great strides and use in its limited domain.