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Science, Scientism, Religion, Magick

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on April 4, 2011 | Comments (5)

In a recent post I defined scientism as: “A set of beliefs, focused around a narrow interpretation of materialism, that purports either to be a true defense of “real” science or science per se, but is closer to a type of religion.” For my definition of science I quoted Wikipedia: “an enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the world.”

One of the biggest differences between real science and religion is the way information is organized. With science, you take a lot of information and come up with a theory that both explains the information and allows you to make predictions. For example, Albert Einstein, in his General Theory of Relativity of 1915, predicted that gravity would bend light. On May 29, 1919, this prediction was proven true thanks to a total solar eclipse. It allowed scientists to see that the positions of stars appeared shifted from their actual positions. Testing theories is one of the basic techniques science. If a theory does not explain the results, a scientist must either alter a theory or abandon it and come up with another.

On the other hand, religion begins with a theory based on a book or books, or a philosophy/theology. Everything must fit into that theory. Nothing must threaten or change the theory. Now here is an important difference between religion and science: for religionists, if the observations don’t fit a theory, it is the observations that must be changed or reinterpreted. For example, fossils in geological strata that is millions of years old, to some religionists, is rationalized as either being misinterpretations of the observations, placed their by God in order to test our belief, or placed their by Satan to confuse us!

To recap:

  • Science: Change theory to fit all data
  • Religion: Ignore/change/reinterpret data to fit predetermined theory

Chief of Science or Scientism?

I am what I consider to be a “true skeptic.” I believe that people who follow a magickal path should all be true skeptics. By that I mean having an attitude that questions accepted opinions and want proof for claims. Unfortunately, there are people who have taken the name of “skeptic” but who are actually debunkers. They follow the religion of scientism. Their religion is a narrow materialism and their debunking—which they falsely call “skepticism”—denies and will do anything to disprove or denounce any challenge to their religion.

The false skeptic and priests of scientism have no actual central control or papacy, but they do have a few leaders. One is known as Randi with his questionable Million Dollar Challenge. The other is a gentleman named Michael Shermer.

According to his website, “Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, [and] the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society…” I would say there is no doubt that he is one of the leading and most visible of the so-called skeptics in the world.

The thing about pseudo-skeptics is that they believe themselves to be defenders of science. But are they? Some certainly are. In some circumstances the pseudo-skeptics reveal some of the most egregious attacks upon real science.

Of course, even a broken clock shows the correct time twice a day. [Unless it's a digital clock that shows whether a time is AM or PM.] Regrettably, the pseudo-skeptics’ defense of science is often done only as part of their defense of scientism. Thus, in some situations they may support real science only for the purpose of defending their religion of scientism.

Do I have evidence for this claim of pseudo-skeptics defending scientism and not science? Yes I do. I take it directly from this quote of Mr. Shermer:

In all fields of science there is a residue of anomalies unexplained by the dominant theory. That does not mean the prevailing theory is wrong or that alternative theories are right. It just means that more work needs to be done to bring those anomalies into the accepted paradigm.

Do you see what he’s saying here? Don’t question the theory or paradigm. Instead, make sure that the uncomfortable data that doesn’t fit the theory (what he calls “anomalies”) is reinterpreted to fit the theory.

Now look above. Does reinterpreting data to fit an accepted theory (paradigm) represent science or religion? Is Mr. Shermer defending science or religion (scientism)? I would contend that it is the latter.*

Where Does Magick Fit Into This?

As I have stated before, magick is an experimental science. In fact, one form of magick, traditional alchemy, is the source of what has been called the scientific method. What you find in books on magick, such as my Modern Magick, are theories that, according to the authors, best explain observations (rituals and their results) and allow you to make predictions (designing rituals). If your experimentation (magickal work) provides observations that do not fit the theory, then the theory must be modified to fit the observations. In other words, books on magick are a great place to start magickal practice, but it’s up to each individual to create his or her own magickal system in order to achieve greatest success. That system may be the same as in a book, a slight modification, or a radical change.

However, magick is not a “hard science” like chemistry where a set of given conditions will always produce the same result. This is because one of the “variables” in the experimental science of magick is you, the experimenter/magickian. As a result, what works for you may not work for everyone. This, however, doesn’t mean that magick isn’t a science. It just means that magick is a science that people with a simplistic, religion-based attitude (where the religion is scientism) may have difficulty understanding or accepting.

*I will not be surprised if fans of Mr. Shermer make comments defending him and his statement. Religionists often come to the defense of their leaders, even if a leader does something contrary to the religion or fact. See the book When Prophecy Fails for a study of this phenomenon.

Reader Comments

Written By Apuleius Platonicus
on April 4th, 2011 @ 11:52 am

Your definition of religion is a good example of starting from a pet theory and then requiring the data to fit that theory. Most religions are not only perfectly compatible with reason and science, but have actually encouraged their development.

The ancient Library and Museum in Alexandria was an explicitly religious institution. The word Museum actually means “shrine of the Muses”. The first accurate estimate of the circumference of the earth was calculated by Eratosthenes, who was appointed the chief librarian at Alexandria, a religious post, in 236 BC.

It’s too bad that an otherwise valuable critique of the scourge of scientism has to mixed in with a sloppy theory of religion that is itself one of the axioms of scientism.

Written By Snowy
on April 4th, 2011 @ 12:40 pm

Psshhhh… Million dollar whatever. The world and the spirits aren’t obliged to follow any sort of human reasoning (be it mathematical or otherwise), and the scientific method fails to handle the 99% of phenomena which simply can’t be field or lab-tested.

Written By Anita
on April 4th, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

Interesting post, and it led to some equally interesting- though unexpected- information that just happened to shed some light on issues in my recent experience.
If you are wondering what the heck I’m going on about, look up “cognitive dissonance” and “the Ben Franklin Effect”.
I’m adjusting my theories and world view accordingly. The observed phenomena speak strongly for themselves, and can not be denied.
Thanks, DMK- the trails you blaze lead to the most interesting and relevant places!

Written By Harry Koulakes
on April 4th, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

This sounds at most entertaining with the many angles taken here in the overall scheme. We have believers, doubters, skeptics & Practitioners of Magick. All things considered from all points of view. So if we fully believe in Religion this is called Faith( This of course also means that if you truly & believe in God or Satan, Mohammed and they communicate with you ( either through Visions, Dreams, Voices or some other method or intuition to go kill others DO YOU? In reality this is what truly happens! People die on the in the hands of religious fanatics making insane choices. Like many of them seeing a little Comic about there religion & out comes the insanity! Which range from Fights with the Law & Government to anyone who stands in there way ! Insanity ! Then of course we have the doubters that are usually always confused about what they believe. Or they’re all over the place from religion to Science to whatever comes along. Which leaves you with the rest. Skeptics & debunkers. Not a bad crowd but at times very Anal/lytical. It’s not a bad thing to be skeptical & it’s good to debunk things that are fake & full of B.S. Especially when it comes to people ripping others off & taking advantage of the less educated & underprivileged people anywhere in the World! Science of course these days is getting better & better. I believe that in many ways it’s moving in the right direction even though in many ways it’s still wrong. Especially when it comes to all these unprovable Theories Which from time to times are ever so changing. Now when we come to the Subject of Magick& the Occult, we are talking about so much that the reader needs to understand especially when it comes to Him 0r Her self. This is also suggested that the reader be of sound mind . Meaning this is not for you if you are mentally unstable! Magick helps create a balance and understanding of the World we live in on A Mental, Physical & Spiritual level. This is proven to you everyday. If you choose to understand the concepts, tools, references given. So that you as an individual create a World( this of course deals with Psychology and it’s many concepts) especially for yourself with no limits to the things you can do and accomplish.( Specifically when it relates to the state of mind ) The Rituals Are beautiful but most of all if you read Donald Michael Kraigs book( Modern Magick ). It points out so much more for us becoming in tune with the World we all live in. This in turn brings us to A conclusion. That people will go on !So whatever you decide works for you remember it doesn’t always work for everyone else.

Written By Michael Dowd
on April 5th, 2011 @ 4:13 pm

Don, before you go too far down the path of accusing Shermer or others of “scientism”, you might do well to familiarize yourself with Susan Haack’s “Six Signs of Scientism”. Here’s a YouTube clip of her presentation on the subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0QmS783Kmw

To my mind Shermer (for the most part) steers clear of these six signs. But perhaps you will read him differently. (Full disclosure: I count Michael more as a friend and colleague than a “fan”).

In co-evolutionary magick,

~ Michael

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