Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? (part 9)

Triumph of Daedalus Over Fate and Futility (2017) by Bryan Larsen (bryanlarsen.com)

by Revilo P. Oliver

Superstition Springs Eternal

PLUS ça change, plus c’est la même chose. “New Presbyter is but old Priest writ large.” It is human nature that is meant in the familiar Horatian tag, naturam expelles furca, tamen usque recurret. The illiterate Mediaeval peasant believed that “with God, all things are possible.” His semi-literate modern successor believes that with Science, all things are possible.

“Knowledge is power,” the power that our race desires above all things, the power that not only enables us to subjugate other peoples to our will and partially control our environment, but also fulfills the most profound spiritual need of our Faustian civilization. But what kind of knowledge gives power?

The very title of Lynn Thorndike’s fundamental work, A History of Magic and Experimental Science (3 vols., New York, 1923-1934), reminds us that it was only very late in our history that there was a clear dichotomy between unverifiable tales and theories on the one hand, and on the other, empirically ascertained and universally verifiable facts and rigorously logical deductions made from them. But the distinction was vaguely felt early in our culture. Daedalus is a mythical character, of course, but it was not by invoking gods or unseen powers, but by his skill as an engineer that he made Talus, that wonderful automaton, which guarded the coasts of Crete35; made wings with which he and his son could fly; and even made statues of gods that seemed to move of their own accord and thus mightily impressed the customers of the holy men who kept the temples.36 The myth, which implies a contrast between human ingenuity and supernatural powers, could be taken to presage the well-known innovation of Greek philosophy, the emancipation of the human mind from slavery to superstition.

I believe that the point I am trying to make here is more clearly illustrated by the literature of India, where, in a teeming jungle of endless stories about gods, myriads of other supernatural beings, and theurgic magic, we find the tradition of the Vidyādharas, which probably goes back to the interval between the waning of the old Vedic religion and the outbreak of a second religiosity. In the basic conception, vidyādharas are men who have acquired scientific and technological knowledge, not superhuman beings or sorcerers, and even in such works as the Kathāsaritsāgara in which the basic conception has been almost effaced, it is not incongruous that the parents of a boy hope that he may become a vidyādhara. To qualify as one, you must first have the surgical skill necessary to deliver a child by Caesarian section without harm to the mother. And you may look forward to becoming so technically proficient that you can build a puspaka, an aerial car that will take you anywhere in the world in a few minutes.37

This is a myth, of course, but obviously based on some actual skills that were essentially scientific, such as surgery. There are two things that are significant in the development of the myth.

(1) Although we begin with the conception of men who have by their technical knowledge acquired a certain power over nature, the religiosity that took complete possession of the Indian mind soon credited the technicians with supernatural powers and made them almost indistinguishable from the several races of demons and other supernatural beings who possess miraculous powers. Superstition absorbed science.

(2) Since their technical abilities gave them a power that made them superior to other men, the Vidyādharas, although honored by kings and beneficent to countries that honor them, are a distinct class and therefore many of them seceded from the societies of the multitudes and used their power to found a kingdom of their own, in the Himalayas or over the sea on the island on which they built the Golden City. This further suggests the attitude that the West has generally taken toward its scientists, and the parallel extends even to stories which suppose a secession of the scientists to a realm they have created for themselves by their technology, as, for example, in H. G. Wells’ The Shape of Things to Come or (mutatis mutandis) Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

Science has been almost hypostatized in the public’s attitude toward the results of scientific inquiry, and could be written with a capital letter. The average victim of the public schools today is apt to think that the word designates some kind of single entity instead of a wide gamut that runs from ascertained facts to tenuous speculations.

When we say that “science has proved…” we should mean only that systematic observation by a large number of competent observers, supplemented by empirical verification wherever possible, has made it certain that… Certainty is, of course, subject to the epistemological problem, for which Hume has given us the only possible answer, and the belief that logic — Aristotelian logic — yields valid conclusions. (If it does not, then our species is a biological error that will soon be corrected, and the best thing to do is to stop thinking.)

We can say that science has proved, for example, that the earth is a spheroid that revolves about the sun, etc., that there are slight but ascertained differences in the force of gravity at various points on the earth’s surface, and that cyanide of potassium will end all your worries. This is something quite different from a theory that is generally accepted, but has not been empirically verified, and there is, of course, a vast difference between theories.

Strictly speaking, biological evolution must still be described as a theory, because, for obvious reasons, it is impossible both to reproduce the evolution of a species in a laboratory and to observe it as it occurs. It has, however, been possible to reproduce some of the processes postulated in the theory, notably, the production of biological mutations by radiation and certain chemicals. Some details of the evolutionary process remain obscure; some unessential elements have had to be modified by, e.g., the need to calibrate determinations of date made from the isotope of carbon; and there was a minor deflection of theory caused by an extremely clever hoax, the “Piltdown man,” of which, however, the net result was beneficial.38 The theory is supported by a vast amount of evidence that seems susceptible of no other explanation, ranging from fossils and related geological determinations to extant species that are before everyone’s eyes. We are all familiar, for example, with dogs, coyotes, and wolves, which are so related anatomically that they must belong to a single genus and have evolved from a common ancestor, and yet, although capable of interbreeding, have great innate differences, even within subspecies. (All “Liberal intellectuals” know that there are no such differences, and that it is only vile prejudice and the ultimate sin of discrimination that denies Pekinese employment to herd sheep and prevents ladies from holding Great Danes on their laps, but have you ever tried to adopt a wolf, an admirable animal in his way, as a household pet?)

Although it must be classified as a theory, biological evolution has an extremely high degree of probability, since it is the only way to account reasonably for the development of organic life, all alternative hypotheses that have been thus far suggested having been disproven, since they could not be reconciled with the vast mass of indisputable data. For all their quibbling and distortion of evidence, the “creation scientists” can support their predilection only by postulating not only the existence of a god (for which there is no valid evidence) but of a god who is both omnipotent and malevolent, engaged in the sorry business of deluding us. There have been efforts to produce some sort of compromise, sometimes by persons who seem to hold impressive credentials as technicians of a high order.

Maurice Chatelain says that he designed and supervised the extremely complicated means whereby the various “Apollo” craft that were sent to the moon were controlled and communication was maintained with the ones that were manned.39 He also says that some of the men who made the round trip to the moon saw “flying saucers” that were keeping them under observation or felt the impact of thought waves from the wonderful “extraterrestrials.”40 That is far from certain, but let us not quarrel with a man’s first chapter. Mr. Chatelain and his faithful computer had a high old time as they analysed the mensuration of early civilizations that have left monuments and decipherable records, and used the mathematical factors he thus obtained to interpret a vast welter of archaeological evidence, ranging from the certain to the enigmatic and including a few hoaxes. A candid reader of the first part of his book will wonder whether the fatras of purported evidence produced by Mr. Chatelain and his hard-working computer may not contain data of value in elucidating the highly obscure problem of the early movements of the several races of mankind over this planet, although, of course, he will refuse to be bewildered into the conclusion that “astronauts from outer space first landed about 65,000 years ago to foster a new race of earthlings” by producing us hybrids; they inseminated Neanderthal females and thus engendered the Cro-Magnons and hence our race.

Now no one could be more pleased than I by the racial implication of the conclusion for which Mr. Chatelain, according to his publisher, has provided “undeniable proof.” In the language of co-eds, I should love to believe it, and I should be glad to assume that it was only by oversight that the “NASA scientist,” so thoroughly versed in all the problems of travelling in space, forgot the question of how my uranobatic ancestors, whencesoever they came, were able to travel faster than light or find a convenient time-warp through which to drop in our vicinity. But the great scientist’s cloak does not cover his cloven hoof. He tells us that his astronauts came “from another world, just as the Bible tells us,” but he does not give us a specific reference to that wonderful story-book and I am willing to bet that if you read through it, you won’t find a word about the astronauts, unless they were the “sons of God” who seduced maidens and engendered giants (Nĕphîlîm)41and, dear me! I must cover up that blot on my family’s escutcheon. And this isn’t even the worst of it, for we are invited to believe that the “extraterrestrials” are still with us, since they must have been slipping secrets to that old hokum-peddler, Edgar Cayce.

I have wasted your time and mine on the great scientist from the Space Agency because his is the best modification of the theory of biological evolution that I have seen – although I should add that I have little leisure for reading low-grade fiction and may have missed some corkers. I shall not detain you long with the inevitable improvement offered by Marc Dem.42 The chief astronaut was, of course, our old friend, Yahweh, who was a “master of space travel, a military expert, and… an excellent geneticist.” Magnanimously wishing to help Aryans and other low hominids, he produced a masterpiece, a male Jew, but although male Jews should have found Aryan bitches as attractive then as now, Yahweh saw that wouldn’t do, and he did a spot of surgery and manufactured a Jewess so his Master Race could breed pure. It is true that some of us lower animals are so wicked as to be disobedient to our divinely appointed supervisors, even though Yahweh in 1917 sent a satellite to Fatima, a little village in Portugal, to warn us. (He couldn’t find London, Paris, or Berlin – or perhaps he just missed his aim.) Well, we’ll get it in the neck for our perversity, and it seems that Jesus is on his way right now in a “flying saucer,” estimated time of arrival unstated.

Concluding our survey of “creation science,” which we mentioned only to delimit the theory of biological evolution and emphasize its high probability, we find an instructive contrast in the theory of quarks, which are all the rage nowadays and even come in “colors” and “flavors.” You have doubtless encountered, in up-to-date writers, references to quarks as though they are as certain as the appearance of the sun over the horizon tomorrow morning. Any hylologist, if he has a sense of humor, will adapt the well-known jingle and tell you, “I’ve never seen a quark; I never hope to see one.” Quarks are as imaginary as fairies, but with the difference that they were imagined by some rational man who felt that he would start screaming when the next discovery of a subatomic particle was announced. (The total was well over a hundred when I last noticed, and it was sure to increase the next time someone got busy with a cloud chamber and sorted through ten or twenty thousand photographs to find one that showed a streak that mathematically shouldn’t have been there.) It was obvious that something was wrong, and that hylologists were in the position of the man who anchored his yacht in a tidal estuary, saw the moon set through the porthole of his cabin, and awoke in the morning to see through the porthole the, sun rising in the west. Quarks were imagined as a hypothetical possibility to simplify an absurd complexity, but it is discouraging to see that the theorists are finding mathematical reasons for multiplying them, so that they now come in assorted “colors” and “flavors” (mere nonce-words to designate differences between them). I can’t tell you whether quarks exist or not, but I have an uninformed suspicion that they will soon have to be simplified theoretically to something more fundamental and bipolar. At all events, it is well to remember that quarks are merely speculative, but will at least warn you to keep your fingers crossed when you try to follow debates about the ultimate structure of the atom as imagined by various theorists. You can’t blame the physicists: they are, I am sure, doing their best – but remember that whether quarks are or aren’t will not in the least affect the bang of a hydrogen bomb when it is detonated or the advisability of being elsewhere (if you can).

In every field of legitimate scientific investigation, there are ascertained facts, which are indubitable (unless we want to suppose that instead of being sane we are really drunk and attending a Hallowe’en party in a madhouse). And there is a wide spectrum of accepted theories, which range from fairly close approximations of certainty to speculations that are no more substantial than cobwebs, however fashionable they may be for the nonce. Each, unfortunately, must be judged on its own merits, and certainly not in terms of what may be said about it in the weekly bundles of tripe that housewives innocently buy in the proletarian emporia that have replaced grocery stores.

The hypostatized Science does not exist: there is no such entity. There is only the scientific method, which is uniform, whatever its application. It is applied, with greater or less rigor and success, in many legitimate sciences, which are fields of inquiry into the natural laws that govern the real world, and between which there is a certain interrelation and often interdependence. We may properly hope and even expect that continued application of the scientific method will further augment our knowledge of the real world and increase our control over the forces of nature and perhaps yield spectacular demonstration of that control, such as atomic power, by which the public, not improperly, judges the efficacy of research. But there are many things which are clearly impossible. No application of the scientific method will ever raise the dead, reverse the direction of time, or make politicians honest.

At the present time, the likelihood of major advances in scientific knowledge is steadily diminishing. The causes of that decline are many, chiefly political and social in their origin, and so complex that any examination of them would take us far beyond the limits of this essay, but a little reflection will identify at least some of them. It is one of history’s ironies that diminution of what we may expect in the future accompanies an increasing tendency to expect the impossible – to assimilate the scientific method to witchcraft, a magical means of transforming reality.

I find a poignant pathos in several communications from young men that I have seen in various “right wing” journals. Inspired by a legitimate pride in the scientific accomplishments of our race’s Faustian civilization, and by our subjugation and colonization of all continents before our race succumbed to a cunningly induced narcosis – at least we may hope it’s narcosis and not death-throes – they enthusiastically propose an Aryan colonization of other planets, of which they have read in “science fiction,” so that we may abandon this too polluted spheroid to our enemies!

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Source: Liberty Bell publications; transcribed by Racial Idealism

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