Site menu:


Science and Tradition

... it is normal for humanity to live in a symbol, which is a pointer towards heaven, an opening towards the Infinite. As for modem science it has pierced the protecting frontiers of this symbol and by so doing destroyed the symbol itself; it has thus abolished this pointer, this opening, even as the modem world in general breaks through the space-symbols constituted by traditional civilizations; what it terms 'stagnation' and 'sterility' is really the homogeneity and continuity of the symbol.(1) [Understanding Islam, p. 30-31].

(1) Neither India nor the Pythagoreans practiced modern science, and to isolate where they are concerned the elements of rational technique reminiscent of our science from the metaphysical elements which bear no resemblance to it is an arbitrary and violent operation contrary to real objectivity. When Plato is decanted in this way he retains no more than an anecdotal interest, whereas his whole doctrine aims at installing man in the supra-temporal and supradiscursive life of thought of which both mathematics and the sensory world can be symbols. If, then, peoples have been able to do without our autonomous science for thousands of years and in every climate, it is because this science is not necessary; if it has appeared as a phenomenon of civilization suddenly and in a single place, that is to show its essentially contingent nature.' (Fernand Brunner: Science et Réalité, Paris, 1954-)

Modern science blithely rejects the traditional without being aware of the fact that this rejection comes up against the unlikely disproportion between the intelligence of the believers and the hypothetical absurdity of their beliefs, or also against the no less impossible disproportion between the intelligence of the Sages and the supposed absurdity of their convictions and their inmost motives. Man is intelligence, therefore wisdom and contemplation and consequently tradition; to detach man from the latter, far from rendering him independent, is to deprive him of his human quality. [Treasures of Buddhism, p. 46].

Modem science, as it plunges dizzily downwards, its speed increasing in geometrical progression towards an abyss into which it hurtles like a vehicle without brakes, is another example of that loss of the "spatial" equilibrium characteristic of contemplative and still stable civilizations. This criticism of modem science - and it is by no means the first ever to be made - is made not on the grounds that it studies some fragmentary field within the limits of its competence, but on the grounds that it claims to be in a position to attain to total knowledge, and that it ventures conclusions in fields accessible only to a supra-sensible and truly intellective wisdom, the existence of which it refuses on principle to admit.

In other words, the foundations of modem science are false because, from the "subject" point of view, it replaces Intellect and Revelation by reason and experiment, as if it were not contradictory to lay claim to totality on an empirical basis; and its foundations are false too because, from the "object" point of view, it replaces the universal Substance by matter alone, either denying the universal Principle or reducing it to matter or to some kind of pseudo-absolute from which all transcendence has been eliminated.

In all epochs and in all countries there have been revelations, religions, wisdoms; tradition is a part of mankind, just as man is a part of tradition. Revelation is in one sense the infallible intellection of the total collectivity, in so far as this collectivity has providentially become the receptacle of a manifestation of the universal Intellect. The source of this intellection is not of course the collectivity as such, but the universal or divine Intellect in so far as it adapts itself to the conditions prevailing in a particular intellectual or moral collectivity, whether it be a case of an ethnic group or of one determined by more or less distinctive mental conditions.

To say that Revelation is "supernatural" does not mean that it is contrary to nature in so far as nature can be taken to represent, by extension, all that is possible on any given level of reality, it means that Revelation does not originate at the level to which, rightly or wrongly, the epithet "natural" is normally applied. This "natural" level is precisely that of physical causes, and hence of sensory and psychic phenomena considered in relation to those causes. [Light on the Ancient Worlds, 34-38].