This is a story about science, religion and philosophy. This is also the tale of powerful people, but also of the poor and the oppressed. Oh, and little green men too.
Back in the Middle Ages, religion was the only valid way to see and understand the world. The religious paradigm started crumbling during the Renaissance. By the 1700s, the shift towards rationalism was complete. Science had definitely won the battle over faith, and there was no going back. Modernity became synonymous with scientific thinking, which is to say secularity.
However, the western world (and the better part of the Eastern) fell so blindly into this new paradigm that many of its old ways lived on unaltered. Science in general, and the positivists in particular, has traditionally outruled speculation. the project and mission of Illuminism was to ‘free the world from magical thinking’. Today, almost 300 years later, I will try to prove to you why contemporary science is the most religious of all human institutions – and its religion is called money. Far from being independent and aseptic, it is possible to find ideology in science.
Human beings are curious by nature, and curiosity is the leit motiv of every scientific enterprise. At the same time science was, from its very inception, the strongest ally of capitalism. Every major human venture into the unknown was propelled by profit-seeking interests, and history is full of examples.
It has already been debunked that Christopher Columbus set out on a journey to prove that the Earth was round. Although his expedition changed the world dramatically, his interests were purelly commercial. Moreover, he only got sponsorship from the Spanish Crown because the journey could potentially bring riches to the latter. The arrival of Columbus to the ‘New World’ started a trend that would peak with outer space exploration…but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
From 1492 on, science devoted great efforts to create the technology to ‘conquer the world’ and ‘to master nature’. These purposes seemed legitimate enough in the beginning, but eventually created two of capitalism’s darkest phenomena: colonialism and extractivism, or extraction capitalism (the process of extracting natural resources from the Earth for world market placing, usually with terrible consequences for the environment).
During the European interwar period (1918-1939) in the Weimar Republic, the Frankfurt School of critical thinking was founded. Intellectuals such as Adorno, Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin and Erich Fromm were amongst its founders. This school of thought was greatly influenced by marxism and psychoanalysis, and it is famous for its criticism of capitalism.
The members of the Frankfurt School were the first ones to point out the evils of instrumentalism. In their opinion, science should not constitute the ‘R+D department’ at the service of capitalism. Modern industrial societies only regard convenience goods and material comfort as legitimate life purposes, when they are only means to an end. Science is currently devoted to research the means to achieve higher levels of material comfort.
A century after its foundation, the School of Frankfurt still has a point. Science today is playing a strong role in consumerism, developing new products and enhancing old ones at blinding speed. Far from bringing wellness and prosperity to society, this joint venture between science and marketing just creates new needs.
But let’s look at the big picture. What is science in 2019? Are we still curious, or are we just greedy? After depleting most of our world’s natural resources, the next logical step will be to explore others.
“As a whole, space exploration has a lot in common with religion. It offers us a salvation narrative, for instance, whereby we put our faith in technology in order to be delivered to new worlds.”
Ross Andersen, science and technology journalist.
In all actuality, science is just another myth – not because it is false, but because it provides an explanation about the origins of the universe. The prospect of living somewhere other than planet Earth, although remote, poses a different problem: are religions ready to deal with this concept? Some may be more willing than others. Evangelicals, about a quarter of the US population only, have refused to even discuss the space program. The Islam has a central, earthly location to turn at times of prayer.
But the fact of the matter is that space exploration was born embedded of a religious spirit. In 1968, the first expedition ever to orbit the moon broadcasted this fragment of the Genesis.
And then you have VP Mike Pence, whose outer space exploration references often sound like gospel.
“As President Trump has said, in his words, “It is America’s destiny to be the leader amongst nations on our adventure into the great unknown.” And today we begin the latest chapter of that adventure. But as we embark, let us have faith. Faith that, as the Old Book teaches us that if we rise to the heavens, He will be there.”
And then! You have ‘funky’ religions such as scientology, that actually claim that mankind comes from outer space. Space exploration culture even has its own religion. Cosmism is a Russian creation, a broad theory of natural philosophy that gathers elements from the Russian Orthodox Church along with Eastern and Western philosophic traditions.
All in all, looks like we have the tools to change locations – or at least we are getting there, both technically and culturally.
Contemporary science is anything but secular – and it is certainly not altruistic. Its motives are still tied to a capitalist system that is about to crash. Unless the scientific institution chooses to part ways, it is deemed to collapse too.
Alas, the crash of capitalism will not lead us immediately to a superior system because, as of today, there isn’t one. No one can know for sure, but capitalism has been showing its (terrible) flaws for a long time now…yet, we are still clueless.
For the past century or so, we have put far too much confidence in hard science – physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry. Maybe the answer lies within science, yes, and maybe there is no need to escape this planet. Soft sciences have been systematically overlooked in this discussion. Economy, political science and social sciences in general may provide an out. An out that is far more feasible and sensible than relocating the entire world population in a different solar system.
Are we willing to do what it takes to make our own society viable? Will that prove harder than leaving our own home? Guess we will find out soon enough.