In a recent post I defined scientism as: “AÂ set of beliefs, focused around a narrow interpretation of materialism, that purports eitherÂ to be a true defense of â€śrealâ€ť science or scienceÂ per se, but is closer to a type of religion.” For my definition of science I quotedÂ Wikipedia:Â â€śanÂ enterpriseÂ that builds andÂ organizesÂ knowledge in the formÂ of testableÂ explanations andÂ predictions about theÂ world.â€ť
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 observationsÂ 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!
- 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 debunkingâ€”which they falsely call “skepticism”â€”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 ofÂ 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.