There's an interesting interview with entomologist and founder of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson, at Salon this week. He's a thoughtful man who in many of his books seems very much to want to break out of the rational/materialistic straitjacket so many people who have accepted the assumptions of modernity want to do. But he can't. Take for instance this remarkable quote:
You know, being a good scientist, and having been drawn up short so many times on my own theories and speculations -- as all honest scientists are -- I don't want to exclude the possibility of a creative force or deity. I think that would be a mistake to say there is no God or supernatural force. As the theologian Hans Kung once said, how are we to explain there is something and not nothing? Well, that's a question I'm happy to leave to the astrophysicist -- where the laws of the universe came from and what is the meaning of the origin of existence. But I do feel confident that there is no intervention of a deity in the origin of life and humanity.
What's remarkable to me is the unstated assumption that if the Big Cosmic Question is to be answered regarding the existence of God and the origin of the universe, it's up to the astrophysicists! What objective evidence will they ever be able to find? How will they get it--with some hyperpowered telescope that will see billions of light years to the Big Bang?
Yikes! Does this not strike anyone else as transparently silly a statement as to say that science will have to develop the technology to videotape our dreams in order to prove that we have them? Isn't the evidence for human nocturnal dreaming, scientifically speaking, anecdotal? Isn't the only evidence for it people simply reporting on their subjective, unverifiable experience? Why is there this "belief" by moderns like Wilson that the only kind of knowing that has validity scientific knowing?
The odd thing about Wilson's statement lies in that there is in the first part of it an expression of humility proper to the scientist. All of our knowledge is provisional. We do the best we can with the facts that we've been able to establish, but there is always an openness to new information coming to light, and there is, therefore, always an openness to one's scientific theory, the way the scientific community connects the established dots, being toppled. As Wilson points out: we don't know everything. New evidence can come to light. But for him the only evidence is sense evidence. And for him the only way his construct will be toppled is from within the frame of rationalistic materialism, which is a provisional construct peculiar to moderns. This is a construct that two hundred years from now I believe will be as peculiar to people living then as the construct of the Australian aborigine is to us now.
Science has very, very restrictive rules, and its scope is limited to an understanding of the mechanics of the natural world. Does that mean therefore that the world can be thought of only as a machine? Its operations have a physically mechanical aspect, but why is there this need to say that the mechanics is all it's possible to talk about? Well, the reason is quite clear: the sense data with which scientist works is the one thing that everyone has access to. The data provided by religious experience is not available to everyone, although lots of people have very similar subjective experiences--like dreams. And like our subjective experience of dreams, most are insignificant, but some are saturated with significance.
Wilson, in my view, naively assumes that the kind of mind he has is the kind of mind humans always had and will always have. He assumes that his sense-based perception is the only kind of perception that has any validity, and that scientific method is the only means by which something can be declared knowable with any certainty.
But let's work with the dream motif for a bit. What if everybody started having the same recurrent dream? Hundreds of people? And they spoke to one another about it and checked with one another. And what if they reported the same thing, and a consensus developed that it wasn't a "dream" it was real, more real than the sense world they took for granted before as the only reality, even if now it could not be recognized as real in a scientifically verifiable way. How could it be if it were a dream? But does that make it less real?
Wouldn't they be working with a different set of data than that given by the senses?
Would it not be inevitable that the people who had this dream
experience would attempt to understand the world in a different way and
that they would develop a different epistemology than the restricted
one insisted upon by science? And perhaps the philosophy they
developed would be very similar in nature to the one the Neoplatonists
developed, but then again, it would depend on the dream, wouldn't it?
Perhaps it would be more like the philosophy developed by Tibetan
Buddhists. Or the dream of the Apostles after Pentecost. Philosophy has always been an attempt to reflect on the significance of one's experience. The impoverishment of contemporary philosophy is directly connected to the impoverishment of the shriveled modern soul and its limited range of experience.
You see where I'm going with this, but you might object that they are different dreams, and contradict one another? But I would say that the problem does not lie in that they are different dreams but that they are different parts of a larger dream, parts which might be integrated if people would put their minds to it.
Is the point not obvious?--"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philophies." Or that are scientifically verifiable. And if the only evidence that is admissible in the court of your philosophy is that which is scientifically verifiable, you are limiting yourself to the slimmest sliver of what is real. So good luck with that, Professor Wilson, you can be sure you're on safe ground there. But if safety (certainty) is your concern, stay locked in your room, because who knows what might happen if you go outside of it. You might be thought a fool by those whom you leave behind; you might get hit by a falling roof slate, and then again you might meet God.