Steiner's attitude towards science


Reading Rudolf Steiner carefully, I find him continually specifying the scope of validity of scientific endeavor (and its importance) while emphasizing the necessity of a complementary (and not opposing) effort from another angle. Yet his is continually accused of "science bashing", both inside and outside of the Anthroposophical movement. Those thinking themselves more generous grant him merely an "ambivalence" towards science.

am·biv·a·lence, n.
1. uncertainty or fluctuation, esp. when caused by inability to make a choice or by a simultaneous desire to say or do two opposite or conflicting things.
2. Psychol. the coexistence within an individual of positive and negative feelings toward the same person, object, or action, simultaneously drawing him or her in opposite directions.
Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, 2003

In the following quotes I find him to be neither uncertain and vacillating about, nor harboring negative feelings towards science. He is merely stating its scope.

"Not so long ago it was still possible to believe that natural science - which is by no means unappreciated by spiritual science but is as regards to its great advances fully valued - had the means to solve all the great riddles of human existence. But those who have entered with heightened inner faculties into the achievements of modern science have been increasingly aware that what natural science brings as a response to the great questions of human existence are not answers but, on the contrary, ever new questions.

"It is neither possible nor desirable to forestall the science difficult investigations of nature, for this is necessary of modern man is to introduce anything advantageous into his daily life.

"Hence those who have come together in the Anthroposophical Society are of the opinion that in spiritual science or Anthroposophy a bond is to be created between the great advances associated with natural science and the religious life of man. If we enter into the real significance of natural science we can say that it leads to a picture of the world in which the essence of man's nature has no place. In saying this I am not expressing my own view, but what becomes clearly evident when we study scientific research with an unprejudiced mind; for only an age which - though with justice admiring scientific knowledge - has been unable to recognize its limitations could deceive itself about this. Individual scientists have long recognized certain limitations; and the speech that Du Bois-Reymond gave in Leipzig in the seventies, which ended with the admission 'ignorabimus', 'we shall never know', has become famous. This eminent scientist meant by this that however much we may investigate the mysteries of nature with the methods of natural science, we shall never ultimately be able to discover what lives in the human soul as consciousness or understand what lies at the foundation of matter. Natural science is of little use when it comes to understanding matter and consciousness, which are in a certain sense the two poles of human life. It could be said that natural science has forced man as a spiritual being out of the picture of the world that it is building up. This can be seen if we take a look at the ideas which have emerged from a scientific foundation regarding the evolution of the Earth."

Rudolf Steiner, Lecture of 16 October, 1916. GA35, in English as "Approaches to Anthroposophy", Rudolf Steiner Press, Sussex, 1992. Translated by Simon Blaxland-de Lange.

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This page contains a single entry by Daniel Hindes published on February 20, 2004 10:22 AM.

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