Scientism Is Gnosticism
Eric Voegelin, of “Don’t immanentize the eschaton!” fame, penned a small monograph exploring his favorite subject, gnosticism: Science, Politics & Gnosticism. It is a slim book not as well organized as some of his other writings (what came first would have been better coming last), but it is valuable in its succinct differentiation of those intoxicated with the idea of man’s perfection, and those who soberly acknowledge Reality.
Voegelin lists six traits of gnostics:
The last one, in the context of Science, is best summarized by the hackneyed phrase “more research is needed.”
Science doesn’t appear directly in Voegelin’s list of gnostic movements. These are “progressivism, positivism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, communism, fascism, and national socialism.” Incidentally, he’d have no trouble adding Woke & DIE to this list, both cancerous forms of progressivism. Equality is as gnostic as you can get.
Forms of Science are there, like positivism; and of course Marxism and psychoanalysis claim to be sciences. But Science (also knowledge) cannot properly be considered gnostic, because discovering the cause of certain observations carries no moral meaning—though what to observe can. It’s only when we pass from Science to scientism, the belief that Science has, and must have, all answers, that we reach gnosticism.
Gnostic movements are just that, movements. There must be progress, there must be an ever-accelerating rush to the End Of History. All the best philosophers, like Comte, Kant, Condorcet, agree. “According to the Kantian idea of progress, humanity is moving in an unending approach toward the goal of a perfect rational existence in a cosmopolitan society”—stop me if you’ve heard that one before. Amusingly, though Kant foresaw the aggregate of man reaching perfection, he did not believe there would be “salvation for the individual man.” That attitude, too, is now common.
The number three retains a mystic significance for gnostics. There are always three ages of man: ancient, medieval, modern. Hegel thought there were three ages of “freedom: antiquity with its oriental despotism, when only one was free; then aristocratic times, when a few were free; and now modern times with all are free.” Hegel confused freedom with liberty to do that what is right.
Marx of course sliced his three ages by the primitive communism of the proletariat, the reign of the bourgeois, then the glorious classless society. Schelling “distinguished three great phases of Christianity: first the Petrine, followed by the Pauline, which will be sealed by the Johannine phase of perfect Christianity.” Synod on Synodality, anyone?
Comte’s divisions were a world “first theological, a second metaphysical, and a third phase of positive science.” Even if philosophers have abandoned formal positivism, as a whole we have not.
Before Science there was only profound ignorance. Then came Bacon. D’Alembert, de Maistre reminds us, insisted “Bacon was born in the depths of the most profound night.” Yet somehow, he never told us how, he, Bacon, could see! The radiance of a future Science through gnosis was gifted to him, and he became its prophet. The utopian age of Science would come when people were prepared via familiarity with his novum oragnum, his gnostic New Instrument.
The “I **** love Science” hardcore atheist Reddit crowd feel this. Man was mired in gloom, then came an awakening where Science was discovered, and we can now look forward to downloading ourselves to the cloud, living forever in computerized bliss.
But because the reality cannot be changed, “every gnostic intellectual who drafts a program to change the world must first construct a world picture from which those essential features of the constitution of being that would make the program appear hopeless and foolish have been eliminated.” Like, say, removing private property, proscribing “white supremacy, or, under scientism, quashing “science denial.”
Which brings us back the beginning of Voegelin’s book. There has emerged, he says, “a phenomenon unknown to antiquity that permeates our modern societies so completely that its ubiquity scarcely leaves us any room to see it at all: the prohibition of questioning.”
He doesn’t mean the always present “resistance to analysis” or the power of emotion over thought.
That this happens with scientism I don’t need to defend. But it is an odd kind of gnosticism, that which is known to be false is believed true, and where all are demanded to swear to the falsity. It is as if the gnostics think that if only enough people believe hard enough, the falsity will become truth.
And we’re right back to the Meta Fallacy.
Buy my new book and learn to argue against the regime: Everything You Believe Is Wrong.