The Cult of Lay-Positivism
By Equanimous Rex
Source: Modern Mythology
Science. Does the word bring images of space ships and high-tech equipment doing miraculous things? Wonder drugs and new solutions to old problems? Good, because this article isn’t a declaration that science is evil, or dead. Keep that shining gaze on the things that amaze you, and buckle up.
Never before has it been so easy as in the modern era to find something to fill a person’s God-Hole with. What’s a God-Hole, you ask? Well, put simply its a metaphor for the part of our psyche where religious surety and faithful fanaticism would have been reserved for Yahweh and his earthly cohorts, as was the case with generations and generations of many of our ancestors. These days you can’t walk three steps without crushing some cult or dealing with apologists for yet another embryonic subculture, and one of the most wide-spread and pervasive modern cults is that of the materialist–positivists.
You might not be familiar with the names but you’re definitely familiar with the faces, the words, the general attitudes of the MP’s. They tend to identify themselves by their atheism though their atheism is the least descriptive part of their belief system. Erroneously, MP’s have been in the spotlight for so long that nowadays people assume that if you are an atheist, you must fall in line and along trends of attitudes of this group, despite the fact that an atheist could be a Buddhist, LaVeyan Satanist, religious naturalist, believe in the supernatural, ghosts, psychic powers, or what have you, (since none of these things are theoi, or gods). MP’s on the other hand are intrinsically opposed to the study of or contemplation of seemingly paranormal or preternatural phenomena.
Likewise they have taken hold of the term “skeptic” and have become its face in mainstream discourse. These days all you have to do to be thought of as a skeptic is to, firstly, tell everyone quite loudly that you are one, and secondly, start engaging in specified, surgical doubt of only the belief systems and ideologies you are already antagonistic towards, while neglecting to perform the same upon anything you tacitly presume to be true. Engage in rampant polemics against your opponents and frequently craft apologetics for your own beliefs, use your inquisitiveness and doubt like a blade with which to carve out the proverbial flesh of those whom you despise ideologically. This is far from philosophical skepticism as it was originally intended, but as long as you tell people often enough you are a skeptic, you must be one.
The combination of a certain brand of materialism (philosophical monism, in which they deem all things that exist are material) and positivism (belief that everything that exists can be verified scientifically and anything that can’t be verified scientifically doesn’t exist) forms a unique cocktail, an anti-belief based upon a sense of superiority against all other beliefs. “You have beliefs. We have facts.” It is a potentially useful worldview, which many people use as a metric with which to quantify worthiness, but use is only the same as truth to the strictest of pragmatists.
Most proponents of MP eschew philosophy as navel-gazing aphorisms and platitudes, seeing the field as the decrepit grandfather of science. Given that they are mostly unaware of philosophy — due to their aversion — they don’t usually know that their beliefs fall squarely under philosophy, and they don’t usually seem to know that there are still to this day debates about the validity of their philosophical presuppositions.
Again, being critical of the philosophies of positivism and materialism is not being anti-science, though such a claim is inevitable should you question the sacrosanct nature of anything tangentially related to science or adjacent to science. Karl Popper — the guy who came up with the concept of falsifiability — was a major opponent to positivism, for example. They’d probably say he was anti-science as well, though that is entirely inaccurate.
This isn’t a condemnation of (most) scientists. I’ve had the pleasure to meet a few over the years and I’ve always found them quite humble in terms of facing the mysterious of the universe. They were the least likely to make outrageous claims or swerve outside of their proverbial lanes. The problem lies mostly with what I’ve come to think of as “positivist laity”.
The “lay-person” is a concept found generally from religion, and refers to someone who is not a part of the clergy, who are not ordained or educated on the ‘inner mysteries’ of the religious order. They are deferential to the priests and clerics and put great faith in them but do not themselves have the same information, education or knowledge.
The materialist-positivist laity seems to consist of people who have no formal or informal education dealing with the scientific method(s) or in the fields of science. They often come from a Post-Christian background (at least in the United States) and are angry that they believed the literalism their parents or geographical region shoved down their throats. They end up seeing a few debunking videos, or those in which someone who is self-identified with atheism points out the inconsistencies of the Christian cosmological mythos. They start to notice that the explanations and descriptions of the world that scientists and science educators give are more functional, and are trusted to be provable, even though the concept of ‘proof’ is mathematical, not scientific.
Either way, for whatever reason, they come to replace Yahweh and his priests for their conception of Science and it’s own educated, inner-circle experts. Once again, not a critique of science nor atheism. Not even really a critique of materialist-positivism. We must focus on the issue at hand. Large swathes of lay-positivists are turning the concept of science into a cargo-cult religion, using it to fill in their empty God-Hole and clutching to their conception of a cohesive and explanatory world-story.
It was the jobs of priests for thousands upon thousands of years to give the simple folk a world-story, without such as story anxieties rise and existential doubt creeps in. The crafting and dissemination of a world-story has since been split up from between priests to spread into other areas and specialists such as philosophers, academics and of course, scientists.
Science isn’t a religion. Science isn’t a good many things. For example, science isn’t technology, which would probably shock quite a few lay-positivists. Humanity used and invented technology since as far back as we can find evidence for humans at all. We created aqueducts, agricultural technology, wartime technology, shipbuilding and navigational technology, calendars and time keeping technology, architectural technology, psychological techniques and so on and so forth, well before science was a twinkle in the eye of natural philosophy. People with no education on science or without any formal training to this day still invent new technology. So, next time someone points to a piece of technology and tries to conflate it with science, keep this in mind. One cannot simply anachronistically and retroactively claim for ‘science’ everything which works or is useful, though this does not prevent some from attempting such a thing.
Science is also not ethics. Nor can science tell you what to do with the information you glean from the universe via science. I’m sure people will disagree, but I’m also sure most of them are not scientists and/or do not have a clear understanding of the scientific method(s). Not every moment of clear-thinking and rationality is science, not every free-thought is evidence of science in the works. By trying to make it appear as though everything which makes sense and works is science, lay-positivists have before-the-fact designated everything that is not science as nonsensical and nonexistent.
Intuition and introspection are cast aside by positivism because they are not scientific, and I agree wholeheartedly that intuition can be flawed, rife with bias and misconceptions. But it’s a ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ scenario. Don’t forget that most of us get up every day and manage to navigate this world without using the slightest bit of the scientific method. For instance, we’ve got inductive, deductive and abductive reasoning, none of which are isolated to scientific methods. You’ve got examples of people thought to be great scientists in bygone eras who never used an ounce of empiricism to figure out their great contributions. (Galileo, for example, used rational but non-empirical means to infer a heliocentric model).
Science isn’t a cult, a religion, or anything of the sort. But lay-positivism stands to become just that. People seeking to fill a God-Hole, to give their life a sense of meaning and to provide a cohesive world-story so that they do not feel they exist in a state of uncertainty and chaos. Nietzsche, Freud, Feuerbach, and many others have recognized this fact: the need for Gods is not so easily replaced as the Gods themselves are. If scientific findings are used with an ideological agenda to offer fragile humanity a security blanket against the cold, unpredictable unknown, misrepresented and misunderstood by those who have never even bothered to Google “scientific method” who are merely disenfranchised with their old Church, it very well stands that the word “science” will be appropriated akin to the terms “skepticism” and “atheism” to refer to specified, pigeon-holed belief systems, made sacred and subject to no criticism.
“Meet the old laity, same as the new laity.”