Why god and intuition are not suitable for science
This blog is part of the “RFT Dictionary” series. RFT stands for Relational Frame Theory, an incredible theory that explores the relationship between language and behaviour. RFT can be challenging for newcomers to grasp, as it incorporates numerous terms that may seem like a foreign language. That’s why these blogs exist—to serve as a sort of dictionary for RFT. The bolded words in the text can be found in the dictionary, providing definitions and explanations to enhance your understanding.
In previous blog posts, we have seen that what you consider as true is, among other things, dependent on your world view (the lens through which you view the world), also known as a world hypothesis. In the last blog post, we explored the criteria a world hypothesis must meet in order to be suitable for science. A world hypothesis is deemed suitable if it allows for the confirmation or refutation of a claim made by someone. This confirmation or refutation should be possible through measurements and logic. I would like to illustrate this by discussing two world hypotheses in which this principle is lacking and thus are unsuitable for science: Animism and Mysticism.
Animism is the belief that a spirit, deity, or divinity is responsible for certain phenomena. For example, it suggests that Thor, the god of thunder, is responsible for causing thunderstorms. There are many variations of animism, ranging from the belief that every tree and river has its own god or spirit, to the notion that there is a single god who determines everything. And there are many other variations in between. All these variations assume the existence of a divinity, which explains why the world is the way it is. This divinity is not directly observable, and this, in itself, is not a problem for science. There are scientific disciplines that rely on indirect measurements or phenomena that are not directly perceptible. Occasionally, such matters are labelled as pseudoscience, but generally, it is not a limitation to approach the indirectly observable aspects scientifically. So, that the divinity can only be indirectly observed is not the entire reason why animism is not suitable for science. To understand what does make it problematic, we need to consider the following.
In most cultures, certain individuals (such as priests, imams, nuns, etc.) have more direct contact with the divinity or divinities than others (the common people). For simplicity, let’s refer to all these individuals who have contact with the divinity as “priests.” These priests can inform the common people about the motives of the divinity. Thus, the divinity is not directly observable except by the priests. Therefore, the truth can only be traced back to what these priests say. Their claims cannot be confirmed or refuted by others because they hold exclusive access to the divinity. Consequently, all truth is mediated through them. Essentially, we can only rely on the stories told by those who have contact with the divinity, i.e., the priests. The truth they convey is impossible to refute or confirm. It is this combination that poses a problem for science: the divinity is not directly observable except by a select group, who must be believed on their word. The notion that something is true because someone says so is referred to as dogmatism. Animism often leads to dogmatic situations. The fact that a priest’s dogmatic claim cannot be refuted renders animism unsuitable for science.
The mystical experience forms the foundation of mysticism. The mystical experience is often described as a state in which one feels a sense of unity with all there is. This feeling is so powerful that it is perceived as the truth. There is no other truth beyond this. This intense feeling is also referred to as intuition or Love. Intuition or the feeling of Love becomes the criterion for truth: something is true if your intuition or feeling indicates that it is true. Your feeling becomes your truth. Truth, in this context, is limited to the individual and cannot be refuted or confirmed by others. Therefore, it is not suitable for science.
We cannot claim that mysticism itself is not true; it can be a valid way to approach life, just like animism. However, mysticism is not suitable for science because it cannot be refuted or confirmed by others. It holds a highly personal perspective on truth.
A little side note: Mysticism can transition into animism and dogmatism when an individual’s mystical experience becomes a teaching or a belief system.
Animism and mysticism not better than science
Animism and mysticism are neither fundamentally more nor less true than world hypotheses that are suitable for science. Both are valid ways to navigate life with, if one prefers to do so. The reason they are not suitable for science is that the truth is not shareable with others: you cannot refute or confirm someone’s claim. In the case of animism, the truth lies in the hands of a select group (the priests), and in the case of mysticism, the truth is within the individual’s grasp only (one’s own intuition). Perhaps science may arrive at similar conclusions as certain mystical or animistic traditions. That is entirely possible, but the approach to those conclusions comes from a different perspective—a perspective that allows for the possibility of confirming or refuting claims. Alternatively, there might emerge a world hypothesis that can bridge mysticism and/or animism with science. Pepper’s world hypotheses are not fixed, so new possibilities may unfold. If that happens, there must be room to refute and/or confirm claims made by others, based on a truth accessible to everyone.
Next week, we will explore Pepper’s first world hypothesis which is suitable for science: “formism”
Pepper, S. C. (1942). World hypotheses: A study in evidence (Vol. 31). Univ of California Press.