HAS SCIENCE MADE HUMANITY BETTER?
Thinking through historical processes in order to develop a positivist philosophy from which he could develop a secular religion for humanity, Auguste Comte saw three intellectual stages through which human thought had passed: A) the theological stage, with its belief that supernatural characters are at the root of all things; B) the metaphysical stage (occurring between 1300 and 1800) in which abstract forces like ‘nature’, rather than personalized gods, explain everything, and C) the positivistic stage, characterized by a belief in science.
Comte has identified a real progression, but the problem with this evolution is that in fact there is no real progress, at least not between B and C, because science is really nothing more than an analysis and explanation of nature. So, rather than being a great leap forward for humanity, our scientific era is more accurately a period in which nature is better explained than it had been before. Yes, this is a good thing. It is always good to know things better. But, from the positivist point of view that Comte was expressing, and with the advantage of the hindsight of two centuries that Comte himself did not possess, we must ask ourselves: How has our understanding of nature made humanity a better kind of human being? Comte saw science as a progress away from nature. Yet, while science seems to explain everything, it just explains nature, which explains everything – and in Comte’s simplification, that was already happening in the metaphysical period before.
The illusion created by ideas such as Comte’s of positivistic progress away from nature, has in fact had deeply scarring results. The most obvious wound being that which has necessitated the creation of the science of ecology. The irony of ecology is that it is a science created out of the necessity to put nature back on track, because of the damage done to it by the application other scientific developments of contaminating technologies. Through the understanding of nature that ecology gives us, we now understand the urgency to put nature back into the metaphysical space it had before scientific revelations tampered with it. The scientific period that Comte labelled as positivistic has, in fact, been dangerously nihilistic, precisely because it uprooted itself from the metaphysics of nature and lost all respect for the nature that sustained it. The most positivist action we could take now, would be to put all the technology sciences under the umbrella of ecology. In a sense, this would mean embracing the wisdom of the metaphysical age again in which everything is connected, a connection needs to be respected above all else.
The environmental damage we have wreaked on the planet has been far from positivistic, and the only positivism remaining in our nihilistic world is the perverse, suicidal cult of growth and expansion.
In order to continue viewing science as a positive element for human progress, we need to project all sciences through the microcosmical lens of ecology and the macrocosmic eye of cosmology, for it is through these two lenses that metaphysical notions are starting to once again filter into the intellectual mesh of our present age.
THE NEW METAPHYSICAL AGE: COSMOLOGY, ECOLOGY AND SAPIENS-CENTRISM
Perhaps the most important scientific theory for any new-age positivism, is the idea of the cosmological constant, the tiny force of dark matter that is so necessary for existence and is, numerically, so precise that it emboldens existence with deterministic meanings. The Big Bang may have been an accidental phenomenon, but from it developed a physical nature which now works deliberately in the direction of producing conditions to allow the evolution of life forms and the creation of self-conscious Being. The Universe is a physical process geared toward positive evolution, and human beings, as sapiens organisms capable of understanding things, are a central part of Being.
Armed with cosmological and ecological arguments, it is time to swing the pendulum back to the metaphysical age. Cosmology and ecology refuel a human positivism, but to drive the positivistic wagon we need a philosophical pilot. A pilot that is motivated by a belief in the necessity of humanity as a purpose for his or her own mission. The philosophical pilot of the positivistic wagon has to see beyond our nihilistic notions of humanity and put our consciousness and awareness back in the centre again: a sapiens-centrism in which humanity becomes the subject of the universe again (just as in Comte’s metaphysical age).
Sapiens exist in order for the macrocosm and microcosm to be perceived. We stand at the centre of the Universe. Being can only Be whilst sapiens organisms exist. Being is enriched when Sapiens develops its knowledge and creativity to the full.
If the observance of natural laws indicates a determinism that is positive for humanity in that it gives a meaningful answer to the question why we are here, then such a determinism must be considered desirable and worth promoting. If this determinism also indicates ecological values, then this gives us further reasons for embracing the concept. Our survival in a world that is suffering daily deterioration under the impact of our non-ecological behaviour, may depend on it. The problems facing humanity in our relationship with our planet cannot be resolved in a nihilistic system driven by the ethics of growth and sadly lacking in the spirit of real sustainability. For humanity to survive, it needs a positive reason why humanity is here. It needs a sapiens-meaning, rather than squabbling individual reasons.
A METAPHYSICS BIRTHED FROM SCIENCE
But Comte was right enough in seeing that where the three stages of his history cohabitated in the same society, the metaphysical state enacted a kind of deontological mediating role within the antagonistic space between theology and rationality.
What Comte could never dream of, however, was the possibility of a science driven and fuelled by a metaphysics. Metaphysics for Comte was always an ingredient buried in the theological notion and therefore something that science had to eradicate in order for culture to make positive progress. But what happens when the metaphysics is birthed out of science (ecology and cosmology) rather than God? How can theological myths stand up to so much truth?
Likewise, science is equally troublesome if by science we refer to those individuals and their corporations who use the technologies created by science to accumulate power and turn themselves into a race of oligarchical technocrats. When we talk about a science-based metaphysics we are talking about a new relationship with science, undermining the ethical relativity of our present, nihilistic civilisation suffocated by its philosophy of perpetual growth. A ecological-cosmological science-metaphysics demands an equality with nature: Sapiens is in the world, and the world is in Sapiens.
Rather than being a mediator, the science-based metaphysics will probably find itself being attacked from both sides (from both the science-technology world and the world of religion), for it must certainly be seen as a threat to both sides. Between the emperors of accumulation and the dogmas of monotheisms, the only weapon available to science-based metaphysics is the shield of truth. The same shields the monotheisms wielded when they erected their own theological revolutions. But this truth is stamped not with the vague ambiguity of scriptures, but with the authoritative seal of scientific evidence itself. In this way, it is not a threat to the antagonistic systems of science and religion, it is a fusion of the two. And what a powerful new peace-maker this is.
Ecology and the inherent metaphysics embedded in all ecological thought which is that we are all in the world and the world must be protected from our own mad, degradation of the world, is a nascent, antagonistic force against the System. Antagonistic but necessary. Its attack on the system has to be directed more and more forcefully as solutions to the ecological-problem are constantly thwarted. While ecology may be a threat to the System, our System is presently a threat to existence and must therefore be transformed or eliminated. A positive logic that accepts Being over Non-being tells us irrefutably that, despite its present lack of real power, a science-based metaphysics must triumph over the nihilists, technocrats and theologians. Science-based metaphysics is a logical necessity.
 Ritzer, 1996:14, quoted in Mike Gane, AUGUSTE COMTE, Routledge, New York, 2006, p.23