Science and the anthros – a guest post by Jim

Regular readers of the Stroud News and Journal ( yes, they do exist ) will have noticed a running correspondence on the dangers or otherwise of wifi. It began a few weeks ago when a correspondent claimed that there were 25000 studies proving that wifi and similar signals were dangerous to human health. I responded pointing out that the World Health Organisation report which refers to the 25000 figure actually says that a review of the studies to date provides no conclusive evidence of a risk to health.

Note there is no mention of Steiner in this but I do know that the writer is a local Steiner teacher who has previously written to the SNJ promoting an anti vaccination stance. In this she referred to the link between MMR vaccine and autism ‘proved’ by Dr Andrew Wakefield. Yes, that’s right – the same ( ex) Dr Wakefield struck off for malpractice and dishonesty following the scandal of the thoroughly debunked MMR autism link.

Anyway, the wifi debate continues until this week it was joined by our old friend Richard House, another Steiner supporter though still without mention of Steiner. This was a gem of a letter full of ‘paradigms’ and ‘science as a social construct’. Once again it seeks to portray the scientific viewpoint as narrow and reductionist compared with the “post materialist” science expanded by spiritual cosmologies. This view he claims is supported by ‘prestigious’ organisations such as the Scientific and Medical Network. I looked this one up as I was not familiar with it. I’m still reading through the material but it seems a very mixed bag. It does indeed have some serious names involved – I noted Jocelyn Bell Burnell as one speaker. It appears to provide a forum for scientists who are also religious to discuss matters of interest, which is all perfectly reasonable. However reading through the lists of papers and talks I also saw an awful lot of guff about cosmic consciousness, how quantum entanglement provides a theoretical foundation for astrology and so on. I think that ‘prestigious’ is being used in the archaic sense of the word – pertaining to illusion or trickery.

I particularly liked Dr House’s claim that empirical science is incapable of investigating the effects of radiation on the human organisation because of its faulty or distorted metaphysical assumptions about reality. So does he mean that wifi is damaging some part of me that exists in his imagination but not in mine? Well I think I can live with that!

We have seen before how the anthros love to clutch at any shred of scientific support whilst at the same time never missing an opportunity to disparage science. The original writer on the wifi risk claimed support from another ‘prestigious’ outfit called the British Society for Ecological Medicine which on closer examination proved to have a membership drawn mainly from the alternative medicine field – homeopaths, reiki practitioners, reflexologists and the like. Whilst criticising the vested interests of ‘big pharma’ she was quite happy to call on the evidence of those selling radiation protection devices of questionable value.

No doubt this debate will continue but let’s try to remember that scientists and those preferring the scientific viewpoint are human and of course can sometimes close their minds. That often happens when a new theory emerges which challenges the current one. But if sufficient evidence emerges to support the new theory it is rare for science not to come round and accept it. It is not the sign of a closed mind to dismiss something for which there is no evidence ( such as spirit realms ) or which the available evidence contradicts ( such as homeopathy ). To go against this seems to me the sign of a mind so open that it lets in every bit of rubbish that is blowing in the wind.



    • Jim

      Well, there’s certainly nothing narrow about that response Nick.

      I meant also to say in my post that I resent the implication that many anti-science zealots make that that if you uphold science you must be cold and lacking humanity. As though you can’t appreciate art, music, literature, nature, friendship, love and so on without also embracing ‘spirituality’. I don’t mind them calling those things spiritual if they must provided they don’t insist on the supernatural element. Personally I just regard those qualities as essentially human.

  1. Helen

    I only read the letter today – who knew it was possible to get so many nonsensical words and ideas into one SNJ letter?
    One good thing is that he mentioned spirituality twice; “spiritual cosmology” and a “spiritually attuned worldview” – at least this will alert some people to the fact that Dr House is a Steiner person and not just a random crackpot working alone..
    The science group of the Anthroposophical Society have mentioned the Scientific and Medical Network as one of their partners, as I mentioned in a previous post about Prince charles

    • Jim

      Well to be honest Helen I would wish to counter such nonsense even if it was just ordinary stupidity and nothing to do with Steiner. But it is very much part of the Steiner worldview. In some ways ordinary stupidity is preferable – the combination of intelligence with malign nonsense is much more sinister.

      • Helen

        It’s a demonstration of how anthroposophy works on the mind. The fact it is shrouded in so much mystery because of the inaccessible (to most people) texts and the aura of sophistication provided by the involved plot lines draws seemingly intelligent people in, I believe. The way that certain knowledge is limited to a privileged few – “the first class” in this case, is typical of the way groups like the anthroposophists attract followers. They see themselves as a superior group because they “understand” all this tripe.
        Do I sound angry? Yes, well if they confined themselves to meeting in darkened rooms I wouldn’t be so bothered, but this stuff is rapidly getting out of control in education and the care sector.

    • Jim

      Sadly I was so exasperated by his patronising nonsense that I gave way to sarcasm rather than reason, but sometimes you just can’t help it.

      Gnomes eat brain cells – do you see now how it all makes sense?

      • Helen

        Perhaps if the anthros force-fed them biodynamic veg instead they wouldn’t be so evil – the gnomes I mean.

        I don’t think you can reason with anthroposophists – as you point out in your letter, when you make stuff up you can never be wrong.

        • Jim

          True but it’s important that the non anthro readers who might be taken in get to read a reasoned argument as to why people like House are talking nonsense. The simple truth is that the paradigm shift view of science is not universally accepted and even on its own terms the so called “spiritual cosmology” guff would not qualify. Einstein you could count as marking a paradigm shift – Steiner is just the same old magical thinking tricked out in new language.

  2. Jim

    The SNJ letters continue to debate the philosophy of science – alongside the usual letters about potholes and big cats at large ( that always seem reminiscent of labradors ). Odd but that’s Stroud for you.

    Dr Houses latest line is to attack the very notion of evidence in science. I suppose that’s understandable if you wish to assert notions for which there is no evidence or which the available evidence flatly contradicts. But the best he can do is say that evidence is often fabricated or abused. Well yes, scientists sometimes do that as do all manner of new age cranks. But what is it that exposes their falsifications? Better evidence of course. So that hardly undermines the very notion of scientific evidence.

    He also explicitly referred to Kuhn on science so exposing his wilful misreading of his theory. But still keeping quiet about the Steiner connection. Tempting to bring that out……….

  3. Jim

    In the latest instalment of the SNJ science debate Graham Kennish has entered the fray, accusing me amongst other things of “scientism”. This is a favourite line of attack for the anthros and other woomeisters. It has various meanings but for them a general air of disparagement. At its mildest it simply means favouring science as the best method of understanding the physical world. I’m quite happy to embrace that definition.

    Stronger definitions include the supposed belief that science is the only method for understanding all aspects of life and experience. I, and I suspect most scientists, reject that utterly. Probably the only people who really come close to that view are some popular science writers who know the best way to sell books is to make wildly exaggerated claims. In that context I’m not sure whether Richard Dawkins should be considered a scientist or a popular science writer.

    Science can give us knowledge of how people actually behave, as opposed to how we think they behave, but it’s seems to me not very convincing in its attempts to explain why they behave that way. Nor can it explain why Bach is better than Abba, let alone why some people inexplicably believe the opposite! Be that as it may I’m quite happy to accept that there are aspects of life where science does not rule but that is not enough for the Anthros – they want to deny science even in the areas where it is competent and assert instead their own pseudoscience.

    It’s all very amusing. Except it’s not really funny when you remember they want funding to teach this rubbish to children.

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