Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Wednesday Whimsey: Metaphysics, gnostics, sceptics and a defence of creationism

Let me start, dear reader, with the one clear fact in all this – there is a “creation”. OK it could be an entirely accidental creation, it could be a glorious combination of accident and subtle external intervention or the Great Goddess Woo might have made it from tears at the death of her pet dog. What you believe here isn’t important – what is important is enquiry – asking the question.

And this is where we have to distinguish between the sceptic’s question and the Gnostic’s question. Not only to recognise the distinction but also to appreciate that the two questions are complementary rather than conflicting. The scientist asks how it all came about – what was it that start the ball rolling (or the big bang banging if you prefer). And this is an important question to which there is no true answer merely a search for truth through the raising of further questions.

Now the Gnostic question is different – it is a metaphysical question rather than a matter of sceptical or scientific enquiry. It is to ask why. And this is done in the same spirit of enquiry as the scientist’s question. But with one major difference in that this enquiry does not provide an answer because the question is phrased in a way that makes it impossible to answer. Thus asking, “is there a god”, allows us to explore both sceptical enquiry of this question and also to consider the idea of godhead and the meaning of existence.

I do not claim superiority for either of the two questions – if I want to understand the world so as to exploit the wonders of the creation then I require scientific enquiry. Metaphysics – despite the misplaced claims of some – does not cure disease, bring riches or provide food and shelter. What metaphysics does do is to provide a context for us to consider why we love our partner, why we value community and how we deal with birth or death. I do not believe that scientific enquiry can fully answer these questions. And, more importantly, to attempt to use scientific enquiry in these matters is to use it as a tool of metaphysical rather than sceptical enquiry.

Under these latter circumstances, sceptical enquiry is no better than Aristolean logic, rabbinical discourse or the various tools of theological enquiry – from gnosis to Augustinianism. Which is not to say that sceptical enquiry cannot be used to examine metaphysical questions but that such a method of enquiry does not provide a less faith-based answer to those questions than other tools of enquiry.

So when we attack “teaching creationism” from the basis of science, we are right only so long as we are concerned with the teaching of science. We cannot say that stories of creation – however told – have no value and should not be allowed. This is to cut off reasoned metaphysical enquiry using a range of methods by saying only one method – sceptical enquiry – is valid in the exploration of metaphysics (which rather contradicts the central tenets of scepticism, of course). The term “teaching creationism” requires qualification – the addition of other words: “as scientific fact” or “as part of a science course”, is needed for the criticism to be valid.

Trying to understand the magic of creation using only scientific or sceptical enquiry does not work. We can explain and describe bits of that creation but the full appreciation requires other methods and other tools. The scientist tells me that The Gentry are just an ancient myth but I know the truth of it, I know the scientists are wrong. There really are fairies at the bottom of my garden.



Anonymous said...

I think your distinction is very much in line with the one I draw here: "Science is science. Religious faith is religious faith. If I have questions about how the universe is constructed, how it works, its history or its physical future, I’ll consult the former. If I have questions about how I should live in that universe, I’ll consult the latter."

Julian said...

Hi Simon,

Interesting article. I'd like to share my perspective, as a practicing Gnostic. While yes, there is the question of 'why we are here', the methodology is what separates the Gnostic view from the Scientific view, and makes them opposed to each other. For a Gnostic, finding the 'why' of things is important, but we must also know how to find such things. It's not through speculation, belief, or dogma, but through spiritual practice and experience. Science approaches things through what's externally observable, Gnosis approaches thing through what's immediately available to the consciousness. For science, gnosis is subjective, for gnosis, science is an intellectual bubble, just waiting to be popped. Consider how little science can explain psychic phenomena, and how little they really know about human psychology.

You can find more info about modern gnosis here:, and feel free to check out my blog at:

Anonymous said...

Reall? Fairies at the bottom of the garden? Reall? An elected official said this?

Simon Cooke said...

Perhaps dear Anonymous you need to check the places I am ward councillors for before you make these observations!