The Dongola Times

(Anachronistic) Dispatches from the Kingdom of Makuria.
18th of May, 2013

Faith and Science

It is only in our times that it has been generally believed that faith and science are at war. In past ages, the religious people were the custodians of science (“search for truth”). In Medieval Europe, theology was considered the queen of the sciences. Hence Aquinas. In Ancient Greece, the thinkers were killed over their thoughts concerning God. In Medieval-contemporary Africa, the Sankoré Madrassah—a religious school—was the centre of a university that spent more on buying books than it did on anything else (even buildings). In many pre-modern societies, the trustworthy knowledge is expected from a spiritual elder (shaman, priest, interpreter of dreams, whatever). This is a universal-enough phenomenon, like the long, recursive, comma-chopped, filled-with-hyphenated-words, self-referential sentence, that we didn’t fail at realising it in our times. It should be noted that the reason this pattern holds consistently is because it is true. Reliable knowledge only comes from priests; and in our times, all the reliable knowledge we have (the science) is from our priests.

Yet we think that there is a war on between faith and reason. Au contraire, faith is a way to reason, and the other way to reason is unfaith. Faith as a way to reason would be what is today called fideism. But it is otherwise just the normal state of play. So since we could say it is a war between faith and unfaith. Since it is the side of unfaith that has guided our thought—which is why our countries do not have official religions, a thing that would have been unthinkable a few generations ago—we find that we identify the intellectual results (science) with the religion that generated them (unfaith, “skepticism”, “age of reason”, whatever you call it). The two become interchangeable: faith versus unfaith, faith versus science. It has been the curse of our times that unfaith yields so much more than ever before, yet remains as wrong. When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Better than me, Dr. Cornelius Hunter has done a great job to point out why, for instance, neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory is clashing with religions. Not because of science versus religion, but because of religion versus religion. Science has never had anything to do with it. All humans since before Darwin have been aware that all animals have red blood (the universal marker of brotherhood). The observations—the science—doesn’t shock any culture. What we call dinosaurs in our culture, they called dragons or monsters. And since every culture has an origins story, every culture believes in evolution (“change over time”) as the origin of humanity. But … but the religion contained in neo-Darwinism varies from the religion contained in the origins story, and so they fight.

In the times when we thought we had arrived at a method for divining all truth—Baconian science—we find that we have missed the most-obvious truth, which is then repeated and repeated at our civilisation by prophets of all types from all sorts of sects in this priesthood of knowledge:

The Incompleteness Theorems of Kurt Gödel.
The Halting Problem of Alan Turing.
The 70,000 Fathoms of Water that Søren Kierkegaard shouted about.
The tahafut al falsafa that al-Ghazali made plain.
The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The Bell Theorem.
The optimisations seen by William Bialek.
Muller’s Ratchet, for those who pretended that randomness could do anything.
The Disenchanted Naturalist’s Guide to Reality of Alex Rosenburg.
The Master and his Emissary, of the really great knowledge-priest Prof. Iain McGilchrist.
¿P = NP?
The anguished rumblings of Edsger Djikstra.
The failure (“so far”) of AI.
Zawinski’s Law of Software Development.
“The hard problem of consciousness.”
The placebo effect. Psi research. LSD. I’ll stop here. Maybe posterity will just be wondering why we couldn’t add two and two two-gether and just realise the obvious wrongness of our cock-sure madness. But doesn’t everything look easy in retrospect?

A theologian of this modern World, who also happened to be a mathematician (the most-mystical sect of the priesthood of knowledge) once said a prophecy and spent his life trying to disprove it. Lord Russell received what we call Russell’s Paradox, and destroyed an earlier priest—Georg Cantor—with it. It prophesied against a purely-logical existence. But Lord Russell never accepted his own prophecy, so he set out to write the carefully-titled Principia Mathematica. He later collapsed when his donkey, like Balaam’s, refused to move. Even the very incompleteness of the promised volumes of this Principia stands as a prophecy in itself, from pens no lesser than those of Russell and Whitehead’s. Well before Gödel had spoken against Lord Russell, Lord Russell himself had spoken against himself. It will not be clear to posterity why the man who recognised the set union operation as a returned multiplication application—a man who could recognise so obscure a relationship as that—could not follow that Russell’s Paradox was The Incompleteness Theorems.

And the curse was heavy in those days. Every man who looked to see what this “mind of God” looked like, he went mad. There is an interesting BBC documentary, Dangerous Knowledge, which showed them going mad one by one. Cantor, Turing, Gödel … One by one, the prophecy was fulfilled: has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

But perhaps the most-shocking prophecy there is, at present, of how wrong our thinking as a civilisation is, can be found in cannabis. It had to be a Jew as the top prophet in this regard. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam—and his many apprentices and collaborators.
In creating the ultimate bias-removing knowledge-generating process, science used peer-review. Peer-review, because it relied on humans, naturally failed. But since our age is spectacular, it succeeds and fails spectacularly. So the failure was this spectacular: well-attested common sense cannot get published in a peer review journal because of the same reasons that stifled the faith paradigm of generating knowledge—except worse. It turns out that faith is bad, but it is the best that an ape can do.

It is for these reasons that I ended up writing this in response to someone:

Alas, there is nothing that is accessible to one like your mother (or I would have given it to my mother).
With the possible exception of the videos on YouTube, which will suffer from legitimacy problems even as some of them would be hard to understand.
The important thing to note is that few people will see reason in this case. Even fewer will rebel against unreason (instinct, culture, bias) and stand in favour of weed. This is okay. What is not okay is that some person who should know better may stand up and speak so much nonsense about cannabis. The old ones, we will have to get them alternatives (Sativex and shit; but not Marinol). The data out there is mostly for those who would know that “delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol” is a molecule of the cannabinoid family. Most people will have to rely on someone they trust, short of which it is unlikely that they will accede to such a therapy as marijuana.

And basically this is why the tragedy of our times is that scientists, who we believe to be the seekers and finders of truth, act so much in opposition to the ideal they have taken titles for. Our smartest men have been stricken with madness, so that in that day we may be leaderless if we are “the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.” The ones who have the truth—in the spirit, and in the World—also have Wisdom that comes from above. They will be guided, they will know who not to fight, and who to trust. They will end up using cannabis when they need to, rather than so dogmatically, and in such self-righteous indignation, throwing back at God a plant that could be the answer to their earnest prayers for help.