Sunday, June 18, 2006


Comment on "Introducing Follies of the Wise" by Frederick Crews, posted on on 16th June 2006.

Whenever I try to comment on any of the varied forms of the science vs. religion controversy, I find myself in a very awkward position. Since I stand outside all of the contending camps, every one of the opponents assumes that I am aligned with the opposite side and I end up falling with bad company. Let me therefore state at the outset that I am radically opposed to all theology, supernaturalism, and otherworldliness. Hence I side with Professor Crews when he attacks all varieties of pseudo-science; and yet I find that I have a quarrel with his general stance or perhaps with his emphasis.

Professor Crews writes, “We chronically strain against our animality by inhabiting self-fashioned webs of significance – myths, theologies, theories – that are more likely than not to generate illusory and often murderous ‘wisdom’.” I love this. In fact I have been saying it in almost the selfsame phrasing in all of my published books and in many of my published articles. But I suspect there is an important difference of attitude between us here. I glory in the web of myths and theories I inhabit and see that as what constitutes my humanity. As a human being I live in a dream world of our own making, including the E=mc² which you can never locate anywhere out there in the objective world but is a formula created by Einstein’s mind, with which we can work wonders with the phenomena of the world. The “illusory and often murderous ‘wisdom’” that our myths generate are, in my view, a necessary danger which we must be prepared to face and for which there is a remedy. The remedy is to acknowledge that our myths are myths, that our theologies are fables and fairy tales – some beautiful, some atrocious –, and our theories .. well, ‘theory’ is too flabby a terms: theories of physics, theories of economics, theories of education, theories of medicine differ widely, but in the end they are all conceptual schemes that enable us to deal with natural phenomena.

In my view, those who oppose or try to curb the claim of scientific empiricism to have sole jurisdiction over factual questions – both the theologians with whom I have no sympathy and the idealists with whom I sympathize – defeat themselves on two counts: first by making truth-claims and secondly by venturing into the perilous arena of causation. Both ‘truth’ and ‘causation’ are slippery, much entangled themes surrounded by much confusion. Fortunately (for me), I do not have to touch these hornet nests. I surrender both fields unconditionally to empirical science.

If a poet were to say that poetry is a vehicle of truth, I would fully sympathize with her/his claim but say that s/he is foolish in using the term ‘truth’. Let us assign truth to objectively observable facts. Poetry is not concerned with facts. Poetry discovers reality, or rather, creates reality. (Don’t jump to my neck yet; hear me out.) I maintain that the same holds true of philosophy. Philosophy mistakes its proper character when it seeks or claims to lead to discoverable or demonstrable truth. Poets have the advantage over philosophers here in that poets are free of the error of most philosophers in confounding the role of philosophy with that of science.

At this point the scientific empiricist/materialist might say, “Well, if you reject entirely the claims of theology and even of metaphysics to objective truth, I have no problem with conceding you your poetical truth.” I wish it were as simple as that. For my main concern is to emphasize that our subjective life, that the myths we create, that the ideas, ideals and dreams we breed, are what constitute our distinctive character as human beings and our proper worth; that our ideas, ideals, and dreams are our reality and the sole locus of reality .. aye, there’s the rub! For just as I conceded to science all truth I want science to concede to poetry and philosophy all reality.

This is not to contend about a word. Humanity badly needs to sift its values. As much as we need rationalism and freedom from superstition, supernatural illusions, and otherworldliness, we also need release from the false values of the materialist and worldly ideology and values that reign supreme even in putatively religious societies. Today, religion claims to be the sole custodian of spiritual values. We need a purely human spirituality. Science is not in essence or in principle opposed to that. But science in campaigning against the false claims of theologians and metaphysicians to objective knowledge, unwittingly shoves spiritual values into obscurity. We have to draw a clear line between the realm of objective fact, the domain of science, and the realm of ideals and values, the domain of philosophy, a philosophy that lays claim to no discoverable or demonstrable truth.

D. R. Khashaba