Pseudoscience and a challenge from history

Phillip Johnson gives an intriguing quote from Karl Popper on pseudoscience. He points out that Popper was raised in Vienna, a centre both for Marxism and Freudian theory, both of which claimed to be scientific and, for many decades, were accepted as such. Belief in either had

… the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still ‘un-analyzed’ and crying aloud for treatment.

Popper adds that verification came to the Marxist every time they opened a newspaper, and to the Freudian in every psychoanalytic consultation – yet both theories were actually false. Popper famously put Darwinian evolution in the same category, and was blitzed for it by the biological establishment, and made a sort of retraction. Nowadays he would have been cancelled, and his reputation would not have survived his retraction.

And that fact leads to the most obvious application of Popper’s observations nowadays: the whole shambling edifice of identity Marxism and Intersectionality has all the features of a pseudoscience, from the evidence-lite self-assurance of the academics to the conversion experience they themselves termed becoming “woke” (until they started to blame the term on their opponents, as evolution enthusiasts do with terms like “Darwinist”).

Intersectionality is more like Marxism than psychoanalysis in its destructiveness: whereas actual Freudianism was practised only on those who could afford months of intensive analysis, though its conceptual basis became endemic, Marxism was imposed by force on whole societies, whose political, educational, journalistic, cultural sand academic institutions were captured for the cause, all in the name of scientific rationalism. Familiar?

I’m not sure that COVIDism has quite the same provenance: it certainly claims to “follow the science,” but whilst that science is largely novel and opposed to established knowledge (as even the wholesale redefintion of accepted terminology shows), there is more sign that it stems from political cynicism and propaganda techniques than from radical new gnosis into which one must be initiated. That does not, or course, preclude the possibility that the political beliefs that inspire it are of a pseudo-scientific nature. If there is any truth in the link between the exploitation of COVID and the ambitions of globalists in various positions for a new world order, then perhaps the cultic beliefs about vaccines, masks and lockdowns might be more easily explained. Who knows whether members of the elite guilds are actually initiated into a secret cult?

But there is certainly something of the “conversion” motif in the third pillar of current totalitarianism, climate alarmism. True, once again the propaganda and power of vested interests is at play, but something of the “I see it all so clearly now” experience seems to be part and parcel of the recruitment of eco-warriors. That these experiences are primarily emotional rather than based on solid facts is significant: a starving polar bear, walruses falling off cliffs, a floating island of plastic supposedly in the Pacific (rather than in a polluted harbour after a storm), factory chimneys belching smoke that is captioned, falsely, as CO2… all these have a capacity to awaken a gut-feeling that the planet is dying because of us. Geoff Bezos’s claims of a revelation at the thinness of the atmosphere, when he took his private trip into space at the expense of Amazon’s poorly paid staff, served the same visionary role at COP26, though they were in his case entirely cynical, or he would not have immediately cleared off in his private jet.

Incidentally, did you know that the reason you hear cases of Amazon drivers throwing parcels over walls is because they are given 200 “drops” a day, and as soon as they run over time their meagre pay is halved? Think of that next time your book is left on your doorstep at 11pm. Or next time a billionaire waxes lyrical about his space flight.

I’ve left till last the challenging bit, at least for those who already see the rampant pseudoscience even within mainstream science nowadays… did I mention String Theory? And that is that the bright-eyed fanaticism that so oppresses the world today is often described as “religious” to distinguish it from “truly scientific.” And that raises the question of whether actual religion, such as the biblical Christianity which, when taken seriously, forms a pretty much autonomous world-view, is no more than another version of pseudoscience.

After all, for most of us there is a more or less dramatic, or at very least testifiable, conversion experience. “Once I was blind, but now I see.”

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen.

How does that differ from becoming woke? Or from recognising one’s repressed oedipal complex or the oneness of Gaia?

Well, the first thing to consider is that Christianity claims to be religion, not science, and religious experience belongs to it, as it ought not to belong to scientific theories.

But the second thing is that, like scientific theories and any theories of knowledge, it stands or falls by its congruence with the real world. The real world itself is messy, and so the experience of Christ has many sources of doubt and disillusion. Yet the historical claims of Christianity have weathered 200 years of critical onslaught well, as opposed to the pseudo-history of the woke new religion. The prophecies of Christ have been fulfilled in the 2000 years of gospel experience since, as compared to the uniformly unfulfilled predictions of the climate lobby after just a few decades. And the philosophical deductions from Christian doctrine have an internal cohesion, and external rationality, that Epicurean evolutionism completely lacks.

Perhaps as significant as anything is that, as pseudosciences rivalling the Christian worldview have arisen (and they always seem to rival the Christian worldview!), they have rapidly proved to be both untrue and ultimately unsatisfying to the human spirit. Classical Marxism burned itself out in the Eastern Bloc after seventy years. Scarcely anybody follows Freud any more. Intersectionality is already pulling itself apart after a couple of decades.

But as pseudosciences come and go, the despised Christianity survives amongst it despised followers, and has done for two millennia, or nearly four if one factors in Old Testament faith. As Stuart Townend wrote, almost certainly after reading Ephesians ch1:

Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.

How unfashionable!

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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