One really annoying thing about mysticism of various flavours is the propensity of its followers to appropriate the language of science and the natural world. This is especially galling since those same followers cry loud and long about how XXXX (insert brand of mysticism) is outside the realm of the physical world and therefore is not susceptible to measurement or observation by those pesky science types.
We have many, many examples, from the very basic to the absurd:
- Energy – used by a whole host of alternative medicines as being the basis of diagnosis and healing – for example, acupuncture, and ‘laying of hands’
- Quantum – oh boy is this one popular. Look no further than Deepak Chopra.
- Frequencies, resonance – the hilarious ‘power balance’ band, various crystals and so forth
- Nanocrystalline – the invention of a hitherto unseen structure in which the potency of homeopathic remedies lurks.
I’ve just scraped the surface here, but you get the idea.
But this practice hit a new level of absurd on ABC Radio National, on their last program of ‘The Spirit of Things’. I happen to catch this while in the car, and needing a distraction from the cricket. It was a talk by a Jeremy Begbie, a musicologist and Christian theologian, who was giving a talk entitled ‘Music, Modernity and God‘ . Of course I was hooked.
Now I must admit to only hearing the first half of the talk, but I think I got the gist. Unfortunately, there is no transcript or podcast available for this episode because, according to the ABC, Mr. Begbie cites copyright issues.
This lecture had to be one of the most puerile and condescending pieces of nonsense I have ever heard. Let me summarise it in one sentence, to spare you the painfully obvious exposition: He uses the metaphor of multiple harmonics in the vibration of a piano string as justification for the existence of the ‘holy trinity’ as one entity. Oh my. It’s as if he sat down with his pen and thought: I know a bit about music – so in what way can I draw all sorts of parallels and inferences from the well-known science of simple harmonic motion to prop up my spiritual beliefs?
That took half an hour. He took us on a magical journey by creating his own straw-man – starting out with the position that things in the material world can’t occupy the same piece of space at the same time. But wait, no, maybe it is possible after all. Hence the vibrations of a string containing harmonics, which co-exist with the fundamental note. He then went on to do this to death by claiming that the harmonic enriches the fundamental. More correctly though, it’s the combination of the harmonics and fundamental which end up being more pleasing, rather than the fundamental being any better itself, but then I’m nitpicking.
He actually missed a golden opportunity to consider all the other things that co-exist in the same space at the same time, ranging from quantum superposition at the atomic level, to interfering light beams at a more macroscopic level.
Under the heading of Modernity, he also went on to talk about freedom, and that in this modern world people have the freedom to act as they wish, rather than be subject to the fates. However, he then made the preposterous statement that in the modern world “People were indeed free to follow the word of God”. Some freedom.
But what’s the whole point of this I ask? Why does he need to invoke the language of science or art or music to justify the metaphysical? Aren’t words like apostasy, heretic, begat, mystery, trinity, miracle, exegesis, revelation, holy, spirit etc etc sufficient?
My view is that, like efforts of struggling homeopaths, this is just another cynical marketing exercise designed to achieve some credibility without any evidence. It’s a bit like those sad christian rock bands which aim to convert the lost youth of today by ‘speaking to them in their own language’.
Please, get your hands off my science words, or else use them properly – by doing science.