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Archive for the ‘Scientism’ Category

Supreme Court Ruling on Public Prayer Re-enforces Christian Supremacy


by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on May 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.

Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”

Church Ave and State Street intersect in Knoxville, Tennessee. Credit: Creative Commons/ Wyoming_Jackrabbit

While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”


Weekly Torah Commentary Perashat Vaera: What’s In a Name?


by: on January 19th, 2012 | 3 Comments »

In the case of some terms, people might have doubts as to whether they’re names or descriptions; like “God”—does it describe God as the unique divine being or is it a name of God? (Saul A Kripke, Naming and Necessity, p. 27)

Our text seems to be preoccupied with names. Moshe (Moses) went to Pharoah as instructed, and instead of freeing the slave people, Pharoah makes their life even more miserable. Moshe complains to God about the suffering of the people and the failure of his mission, but God wants to talk about names. The text relates (Shemot 2:6):

And God spoke to Moshe, saying: I am ADNY. I have revealed myself to Avraham, Yitzhak, and Yaakov as El Shaddai, but with the name ADNY I had not revealed myself to them.

Moshe wants to know how the people will be freed, and God answers with a seemingly irrelevant discourse on names. Why does it matter with which name revelation was conducted in the past? In attempting to find meaning in this emphasis upon ancient names, we will find ourselves confronting very contemporary issues regarding faith and science.

Even as we focus upon the centrality of names in the current verse, we can’t help noticing the preoccupation with names in the early part of the book of Shemot (Exodus). This book begins with an enumeration of the names of the tribes, then Moshe names his children, then Moshe is concerned in his first dialogue with God that the Israelites will ask of him what God’s name is, and here again, in this speech announcing the deliverance from Egypt, God begins by announcing a new previously undisclosed name. It is fitting, I suppose, that this book, called Exodus in Greek, is traditionally known as Sefer Shemot, the Book of Names, in Hebrew. What’s all this business about names?


iThink therefore iAm


by: on January 25th, 2011 | 5 Comments »

Here I am. Over there are my iMac, my iPod, and my iPad. Sometimes I find myself worried over the fact that I can no longer clearly tell where one ends and the other begins. My sense of who I am, and certainly of what I’ve done in the world, is accessed more easily on them than on me. McLuhan talked of media as extensions of our senses, and predicted that computers would become the extension of our central nervous systems. They certainly have, and at other times I get really excited by that. Many people certainly share one or the other of those positions, which means that neither of me feels alone, though I mostly learn about these other views through my iBrain or as Scott Adams, (Dilbert’s father) calls it, my exobrain. Adams had a wonderful column last week in which he argues that we have become cyborgs based on our increasing use of exobrains, brains outside our bodies. Here’s an excerpt:

Don’t protest that your cellphone isn’t part of your body just because you can leave it in your other pants. If a cyborg can remove its digital eye and leave it on a shelf as a surveillance device, and I think we all agree that it can, then your cellphone qualifies as part of your body….You’re already a cyborg. Deal with it.

Your regular brain uses your exobrain to outsource part of its memory, and perform other functions, such as GPS navigation, or searching the Internet. If you’re anything like me, your exobrain is with you 24-hours a day. It’s my only telephone device, and I even sleep next to it because it’s my alarm clock.


Keeping Science and Technology in Check


by: on July 2nd, 2010 | 2 Comments »

There’s no denying that science and technology have drastically changed our way of life in the last 250 years. Moreover, to many it seems that the wheels of science and technology are spinning out of control and there’s no way to slam on the brakes. When it comes to issues as disparate as global warming and government surveillance, our ethics and values are not always reflected in our use of science and technology.

So how do we keep science and technology in check? How do we use them as tools rather than allow them to have power over us and our way of life? I think most at Tikkun would agree that our values and ethics, whether religiously, spiritually, or otherwise derived, need and ought to play the major role in determining how science and technology are used. But how do we create such a dynamic?


Debate with Christopher Reiger about “A Call For Sacred Biologists”


by: on March 15th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Artist Christopher Reiger sent Tikkun an email expressing his differences with my piece “A Call for Sacred Biologists,” which his painting “submerged in his erotic mystification” accompanied in the March/April 2010 issue of Tikkun. I responded and a conversation developed. Our intern Sarah Ackley has edited our emails down to this post.

If I could sum it up in a phrase, I would say that Christopher is committed to the idea that science and religion are both valid ways of knowing but they are separate ways, whereas I believe we have to move towards a unified approach to knowledge (the nature of which I’ll take up in a forthcoming issue of the magazine). I was happy to have such a reasonable conversation about a topic that arouses such passion. We’ve laid out his emails as the indented quotes and mine as the text in between. Christopher Reiger has given us two recent drawings to accompany the exchange.

Reiger begins:

In “A Call for Sacred Biologists” Gabel explores the gulf between a strictly rational, scientific world view and that of, for lack of a better description, holistic panentheism. Gabel’s subject is near and dear to me, but his language unfortunately suggests that he has a deep-seated mistrust of, as he puts it, “the so-called ‘scientific method’” (emphasis mine).

"A beating of kettles and cutlery, to scare the beast" by Christopher Reiger.


A living biologist more important than Darwin?


by: on February 2nd, 2010 | 3 Comments »

Carl Woese

You might think, on this site, that I would be talking up a sacred biologist, someone who combines a spiritual worldview with strong scientific credibility, but I don’t know too many of those (Francis Collins is one). I look forward to seeing more come out of the woodwork as this century progresses. This purely scientific story, though, does have spiritual implications for us. It tells us that the whole biosphere is much more interconnected at the DNA level than biologists including Darwin previously thought. I’m throwing in a related story about our human DNA, which it turns out isn’t so simply human after. First the “more important than Darwin” biologist:

JUST suppose that Darwin’s ideas were only a part of the story of evolution. Suppose that a process he never wrote about, and never even imagined, has been controlling the evolution of life throughout most of the Earth’s history. It may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what microbiologist Carl Woese and physicist Nigel Goldenfeld, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, believe. Darwin’s explanation of evolution, they argue, even in its sophisticated modern form, applies only to a recent phase of life on Earth.


Scientism Makes for Bad Science and Big Money: Complementary and Alternative Medicine as a Case Study


by: on January 27th, 2010 | 9 Comments »

Complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, which includes herbal medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture, Ayurveda, and traditional Chinese medicine, sits at the awkward intersection of medicine, spirituality, and tradition.

Often touted for being antiestablishment, CAM is increasingly finding its way into the mainstream, through doctors’ offices, insurance companies, supplements, and the media. There’s even a division of the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), devoted entirely to CAM. Established in the early 90s, NCCAM’s mission is to determine which CAM therapies are effective and why. Medical schools, funded by NCCAM and private philanthropists, are now offering classes in and have their own research facilities devoted to CAM.

And while the recent popularization of CAM warrants analysis and criticism, this isn’t meant to be a post about whether CAM is good or bad, works or doesn’t; my aim is to gain a greater understanding of who (besides you, perhaps) benefits from the use of CAM and how our current fascination with CAM plays out in today’s market-driven world. For many of us, CAM has been instrumental in the healing process: whether because the treatments in and of themselves are more effective than a placebo; because of the placebo effect, or some other effect related to the mind-body connection; or whether time itself allowed healing to take place. While remaining agnostic to the role of CAM, my goal here is to understand how CAM is being distorted through the very process by which it is becoming “mainstreamed.”


Spiritual Wisdom of the Week


by: on January 13th, 2010 | 2 Comments »

This week’s spiritual wisdom is a quotation from Albert Einstein (1875-1955), as translated by Alan Harris:

The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in the most primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness. The cosmic religious experience is the strongest and oldest mainspring of scientific research. My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.

The “God Particle”


by: on January 10th, 2010 | 10 Comments »

This is the first post in a series about science and spirituality that Dave Belden introduced here.

The so-called “God particle” and the search for it at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, has spurred a lot of hubbub.

There are many reasons for this, I’m sure. To name but a couple, the LHC is the largest modern science experiment, costing billions of dollars, and, in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, antimatter is developed at the site of the LHC in order to destroy the Vatican.

But I think a good deal of the hubbub has to do with the name “God particle” itself. Here a particularly ridiculous YouTube video claims that the particle was so-named to promote atheism and that the LHC heralds the end of the world. Others seem to take the name of the particle a bit too literally, claiming it won’t be found since God is immaterial. It’s funny because non-scientists so rarely pay so much attention to the ins and outs of particle physics.


How Scientism Endangers Science, and the Entire Planet


by: on January 8th, 2010 | 14 Comments »

“The scientific mind does not so much provide the right answers as ask the right questions.”
– Claude Lévi-Strauss

But are scientists asking themselves enough questions about scientism? We have asked a science graduate (of MIT) who is interning with us, Sarah Ackley, to write a series of posts on this question, not straightforwardly channeling Tikkun‘s editorial stance but wrestling with it from her own point of view. I told her I would try to set the scene. I should say up front that I have come to think that this is one of the two or three most critical intellectual issues of our time. But I didn’t think so before I came to Tikkun and I don’t expect others to come any more quickly to this view than I have done.

I don’t recall hearing the word “scientism” before reading Michael Lerner’s books in the last few years (and I find science prof Lawrence Krauss writing in my favorite science mag in 2008 that he had only heard it in the previous two or three years so I’m not alone). But consulting Wikipedia I discover that it has been used “by social scientists like Hayek or Karl Popper” and “sociologists in the tradition of Max Weber, such as Jürgen Habermas.” Wikipedia says this is what it means:

Reviewing the references to scientism in the works of contemporary scholars, Gregory R. Peterson detects two main broad themes:

1. It is used to criticize a totalizing view of science as if it were capable of describing all reality and knowledge, or as if it were the only true way to acquire knowledge about reality and the nature of things;

2. It is used to denote a border-crossing violation in which the theories and methods of one (scientific) discipline are inappropriately applied to another (scientific or non-scientific) discipline and its domain. An example of this second usage is to label as scientism any attempt to claim science as the only or primary source of human values (a traditional domain of ethics) or as the source of meaning and purpose (a traditional domain of religion and related worldviews).