The Calamity of Scientific Gnosticism

by James Lindsay

If we think of the general madness of the world at the present in terms of the familiar biological taxonomical hierarchy: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, and Species, while something like “Critical Whiteness Studies” might be a species within the Critical Race Theory genus, which is in turn classifiable in the neo-Marxian Family, Marxian Order, and Hegelian Class, the question arises: in what the Kingdom are all these interrelated insanities to be found? I assert that it is that ancient parasitic bugbear known as Gnosticism. In fact, the systematic Hegelian project and especially Marxism, which materialized it, would therefore define the Gnostic phylum of Scientific Gnosticism (though, by definition, “scientistic” would be better) that completes the taxonomy. Whatever might be said about other branches in Kingdom Gnosticism, Scientific Gnosticism is perhaps the most calamitous ideological phylum human beings have so far managed to contrive. Within that phylum, though taxonomically placed otherwise, we would find all of the failures of Communism, Fascism, and National Socialism, for example. We will also find our present plight, the so-called “public-private partnership,” which synthesizes Communism and Fascism into one new terror to be managed technocratically, in mockery of the science it will invoke to establish yet another unnecessary tyranny upon the world and its generally innocent people.
The essence of Gnosticism can be expressed in three beliefs. These are (1) that it is not you or your theories that are wrong, but the world itself; (2) that we have been flung into this miserable and intolerable condition against our wants; but (3) are able to attain a consciousness, a knowledge—a Gnosis—that will allow us to repair the world and ourselves. In this regard, Gnosticism is a perverted impulse toward progress, which describes the circumstance in which we have improved our ability to live in the world through a better understanding of it and ourselves in it. That is, progress means better according our lives with reality as it is and thus doing better in reality. Gnosticism turns progress upside-down—inverts it—by reframing it away from the effort to prosper in the world as it is and toward remaking it into a world that is not and, because this non-reality is essential to the Gnostic project, cannot be.
In that regard, Gnosticism is the perversion—the inversion—of epistemology, which is how we might go about knowing what we know and that we know it. Philosophically speaking (which is to say loving wisdom, not mistaking ourselves for the wise), knowledge is a tricky matter. While theologies are content to assert an absolute Truth in the Deity, they also, when mature, also insist that man’s fallibility and limitation prevents him from knowing that Truth as the Deity would. In other words, while there may be some absolute Truth, it is not man’s lot to know it within the circles of this world. To capital-K (or G) Know would position us as gods ourselves—and so whispers the Serpent of Genesis—which is out of accordance with the order of Creation. God’s mind is not our mind, and our minds are not equipped to fathom the ways of the Deity. Instead, we must be content to pursue or to love knowledge, or wisdom, and, if theological, God, and to pursue it as best we may in humility and in recognition of our proneness to error.
The theistic Gnostic, often theosophists, turns this upside-down. Absolute knowledge is available and hidden from us by those who have ordered the world. God is not the Creator who put order to the world and then called it good; He is a tyrant and the warden of a universal prison locked from within, keeps that which is truly Good for Himself, and by maintaining for us a state of ignorance keeps us enslaved. Knowledge of the higher truth, that the Garden is in fact a prison, sets us free of it, at which point we can reshape the world nearer to our hearts’ desires. Religion and Truth merely have to be exposed as the limiting lies that lead us to see the chaos of our lives as ordered, but in ways beyond our knowledge, and our misery as contentment and even joy. Accordingly, Knowledge of the Absolute Truth, Gnosis, is the way to true freedom. We just have to bite into the fruit, and capital-G Knowledge is ours.
So much for premodernity. Theistic Gnosticism is its own set of phyla in our taxonomical tree. In the modern era, epistemology has shifted into the scientific. Where many of the theologically savvy have recognized the scientific method as a tool to gain provisional and limited knowledge of God’s creation, they have come into harmony with those who see order in the brute fact of Nature herself. Science becomes the method by which we ask hard questions of the world, whether it be named Creation or not, and seek to ascertain what we can of its order. There is no shortcut to this process. Science is intrinsically agnostic—without Gnosis. Science, when it hasn’t ossified into some doctrine of scientism, proceeds entirely on the assumption that we do not know. Whereas The Science is settled; the science is never settled. Every hypothesis can be challenged. Every claim to knowledge can be overturned, especially any claim to Knowledge. Science is therefore by definition anti-Gnostic, just as are the healthy expressions of theistic faith. To allow the category error, Nature, whether product of God or not, has ordered the world as it has, for reasons that may forever remain inscrutable to us, and by our application of reason (gift of God or not), we might come to understand some portion of the order in which we live.
This agnostic fact of science bears a number of relevant consequences. One is that, since science is interested in ascertaining provisional truths about all that is, a Scientific Gnosticism must seek to call truths things which are not. This is why non-reality is essential to Scientific Gnosticism, and the form it takes is Theory. Theory sits atop reality and provides the right understanding, such that those who embrace Theory are the only ones who can truly understand reality. Socialism can only be properly understood by Socialist Man, who is a Scientific Gnostic. Another consequence readily follows. Scientific Gnosticism is scientistic, not scientific at all. It uses the prestige of science as a pretense to its own insight, but it is a counterfeit and an inversion in the same way that premodern Gnostic cults are counterfeit, inverted religions, which the faithful call “heresies.” One familiar is here reminded of the feminist philosopher Kelly Oliver, who called for a revolution against the “absolute authority of recalcitrant Nature” in a now-infamous 1989 paper in a paragraph in which she asserts that we can be freed from that prison by abandoning “true theories” and “false theories” for “strategic theories.”
Some in the modern era—notably G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx in his wake—believed that such an understanding of the emerging epistemology of that era, science, presents only a low-level understanding of the world as it is. Theirs is a world that becomes, not a world that is, and it does so through the intrinsically negative process of highlighting “contradictions.” Unless a claim to direct revelation is made, contradictions are a typical route to Gnosis for the Gnostic. As the Serpent whispered the first “contradiction” in Genesis—that ye be made in the image of God but are not as God—so raged Marx that the very point of understanding the world is to change it, by “ruthless criticism of everything that exists,” no less. And so Death entered the world as answer to the rebellion against the order of the world, which, in fact, will not change.
The term for “science” in German, Wissenschaft, carried less strict a meaning in the 19th century than its contemporary translation in English, and it was with that Wissenschaft that these German modern-era Scientific Gnostics worked. That Wissenschaft more accurately refers to “knowledge” than to the more specific term, “science,” and the systematic speculative idealist Hegel separated it into two levels: Verstand (“Understanding”) and Vernunft (“Reason”). A nearer articulation of the meaning of these terms, however, would be (agnostic) understanding (of provisional truths about the world) and (Gnostic) Theory, which is to say systematic contextualization—that is, ideology—of that understanding and everything else.
For Hegel, this meant that his own systematic philosophy was the better understanding, the Wissenschaftlicher, of Understanding (and therefore also not wrong). This is a great, and Gnostic, intellectual swindle. Hegel’s “philosophy,” for an actual philosophy it is not, becomes the doctrine through which all knowledge is put into its proper context. Hegel’s “Reason” is the Absolute, which those with Theoretical consciousness bring to completion. Thus, in Hegel, in Marx, and in their intellectual descendants throughout this taxonomical tree, who are in the current end “Woke,” we have the emergence of a “Scientific Gnosticism” that, in our own era, is often mockingly referred to as “The Science.” That a Scientific Gnosticism is, itself, an oxymoronic contradiction in terms is no impediment to The Science, because in-contradiction is its authentic state of being. That’s because it is an inversion of science done in the name of “progress” that seeks to remake the world rather than to understand it and to prosper in accordance with it.
Marx was quite explicit about The Science, which he referred to as Wissenschaftlicher Sozialismus—usually given as “Scientific Socialism,” though the suffix -licher implies that it is more scientific (than science, one might presume). Scientific Socialism is an approach that went on to mischaracterize lowly Verstand science as “bourgeois science,” which in turn led to the unnecessary deaths of possibly more than a hundred million people in the Soviet Union and China. Recalcitrant nature, contra Kelly Oliver, retained its recalcitrance despite the strategery of the Theory.
Strategic theories, Gnostic Theories, turn out only to be good for obtaining power and abusing it, but they cannot deliver Utopia, no matter how many Theorists (Marxian, neo-Marxian, or Woke) spin them in new ways. They cannot remake the broken world into which we have been flung because it is not, in fact, broken in the first place. Vernunft (Theory, usually named Reason) isn’t very reasonable. Socialist Man doesn’t, as it turns out, know better, and he will never be able to reorder the world nearer to his heart’s desire.
Couldn’t we say, though, that that was then and this is now, and we’re no longer in the modern era but the postmodern, in which Scientific Gnosticism cannot be because there is neither Science nor Gnosis to be had? That was the postmodernists’ contention, anyway. All science, all knowledge, all truth is a proud claim to Gnosis, and that, they seem to assert, cannot be had anyway. So we might read Lyotard on the “postmodern condition” or understand Foucault’s dire warnings about biopower. “It’s not that everything is bad; it’s that everything is dangerous”: all progress is an illusion, and the world cannot be remade, nor us within it. Even the neo-Marxists of the late 1960s—undoubtely Scientific Gnostics of the first order—cleaved their Gnosticism in this direction, which is to say in the negative. Negative thinking becomes positive, admonished Marcuse, and the revolutionary potential of the movement is located within the absence of liberation while retaining consciousness of its historical possibility. It may not be possible to cast a positive image of the Utopia, claimed Adorno, but Utopia exists in the negative. Utopia is the possibility of what may be when all oppression is removed. Put otherwise, we might not know what Heaven will look like, but it’s not this and we’ll know it when we see it—now get in the car. This is still Gnosticism, and their mode, profoundly modernist even as it flirted with the postmodern, in the Scientific mold.
Regarding the challenge of postmodernism proper, at least three things must be said. First, the postmodernists, for all their insights and astute warnings about The Science, failed to understand the science it mimics. Second, though their dialectics turned almost completely negative, not even they gave up on Gnosticism. Instead, they retained it in different shape, so that the remaking of the world and Man within it was made totally internal and subjective. Their goal was to reject all meaning and truth, and this is but an avant garde, nihilistic, fashionably 1970s-French way of asserting that they in some way knew so much better, better enough to be able to sit aside from the whole world and shit on it at every turn. Third, their critique, even for what worth it retains in spite of these contradictions and confusions, doesn’t matter because in the years since postmodernism came to America, the Scientific Gnostics merely figured out ways to incorporate it into their Scientific Gnosticism—and they won the fight.
The result of the postmodern turn in Scientific Gnosticism wasn’t its end; it was its kaleidoscopic (literally, that’s their word for it) explosion. Now Gnostic consciousnesses proliferate at the level of identity politics, and these define the entire collection of genera in the “Woke” family or families in our taxonomical hierarchy. Queer Theory sees “queer” as an “identity without an essence,” and so every narcissistic adolescent obtains a specialized Gnosis of the world and its functioning located firmly in their own unstable sense of self that is contextualized by The Science of sex, gender, and sexuality. Race is socially constructed and imposed, says Critical Race Theory, so only by understanding yourself in terms of its structurally deterministic machinations can Gnostic awareness of Race Theory be rightly obtained. Understanding systems and their operation through the black magick of socialization awakens a Gnostic consciousness in every conceivable domain of identity, but Scientific Gnosticism it remains. Postmodernism didn’t kill Scientific Gnosticism; it merely pushed it deeply into the plural.
In this way, we can understand the madness of the current world. Gnosticism is again ascendant in a new postmodern and scientistic form, and Gnostic cults have captured countless people and far too many institutions. The trouble is: they think they Know, and they think that with their Knowledge, they can remake the world and those who are so unfortunate to inhabit it in its Fallen form. As a result, droves of otherwise sensible human beings yet again feel as though they have been flung into a broken world and, with the right Theory, the right Gnosis, they can properly contextualize all that they think they understand and so remake the world and themselves to match.
In practice, then, because these are metaphysically based cults, all stories, including stories about data, must serve Theory because Theory is the map to that Absolute knowledge—consciousness, be that class, feminist, critical, racial, or otherwise—that God and Nature otherwise would withhold from us, no matter how good our theology or our instruments. In this understanding, we can see that nothing has changed and that the “liberation” held out as Theory’s promise is false. Recalcitrant nature—human and otherwise—will remain recalcitrant. Second reality will not become reality. Theory put into practice will fail. They will not achieve “liberation” because liberation from reality is not possible, no matter how self-indulgently miserable and resentful anyone becomes by believing they capital-G Know what they can only pretend to know.