To save the West, we must rethink what an atom is. That’s my vision. So you can understand my disaffection when yet another catty, confused dallier attempted to capture venture capitalist Peter Thiel’s worldview for the dying establishment media, this time in The Atlantic story: “Peter Thiel is Taking a Break from Democracy.” The article by Barton Gellman attempts to explain Thiel’s recent renunciation of political donations as a result of being burned out by the lack of return politicians provide his vision to move America towards growth, particularly in, as Thiel calls it, the world of atoms. The article misses the bigger point Thiel makes about the dangers of stagnation in favor of catering to the Atlantic audience’s mirror-induced paranoias about Trump, fascism, and strange libertarian wealth lurking in the shadows to impose its will on the world. Make no mistake, most of the political world misunderstands Thiel’s critique of the West’s lack of innovation. This disinterest in the topic of atoms reveals how shallow politics is at solving any serious problems.
To talk about the atom we must tiptoe with reverence around its cultural debut and simultaneous retirement, the Manhattan Project. The atom bomb project is often touted by Thiel and acolytes, alongside the Moon landing, as one of the last times government did anything innovative in the world of atoms. Thiel’s narrative is that victory in WWII further ennobled America’s technological frontier spirit. Like 1920s cinema, post-WWII era science fiction saw robots and flying cars just around the corner. Then, Thiel laments, beginning some time in the 70s, America started to grow cynical about science and technology and we rested on our laurels to the detriment of wages and real growth.
As a student of Mimetic theory, I agree with the late Stanford anthropologist Rene Girard (who Thiel famously studied under) when he said, “We didn’t stop burning witches because of the scientific method. We discovered the scientific method because we stopped burning witches.” Girard believed that Christianity, with its demystification of nature and rejection of ritual sacrifice, was the driving force behind the West’s great scientific pursuits. Christianity changed the perception of society slowly away from mythology where zero-sum rites of controlled violence kept humanity suspended in an eternal cycle of stasis towards a world in which a future different and better than the past was possible through human creativity and risk-taking. All of this, in imitation of Christ, was to be motivated by love and service towards our fellow human being, made in the image of God and elevated to the status of Temple of God.
The Manhattan Project was not motivated by Christian love. Like any government project, it was motivated by power and violence. When the world-destroying bomb dropped on thousands of Japanese civilians, it was at best, an act of sacrificial violence. This was America’s public rejection of the ethics of the Kingdom of Heaven. In denying the sanctity of the human person, it was a penultimate example of government’s repudiation of the personhood-elevating scientific spirit of Christianity. On an atheistic level, it was the highest achievement of man’s scientific knowledge. In reality, it was America’s civic denial of the Incarnation. A nation once thought to be shining on a hill for Christ was willing to take massive, world-destroying shortcuts to power. A century of amoral endless no-win wars and war profiteering commenced. The bomb swallowed this nation whole.
Already drifting towards a disembodied, Gnostic religion in scientism, the atom bomb cemented America’s new religion. It took physics and enshrined it as the holy of holies of this newly ascendant scientism. This is what I call the Mowgli effect. In Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli could only rule the jungle by his mastery of fire. Whatever field of science could create world-destroying and world-ordering fire like the atomic bomb would enjoy an untouchable status like no other. More than any other field, the reigning theories of physics credited with the discovery of the atom bomb received an undue dogmatic aura that has retarded our knowledge of the atom. To be clear, scientism and its political power did not start here, but its grip was sealed.
If you get the atom wrong, you will get other downstream aspects of physical reality wrong as well—like cells. Divorced from Christian service of the human person, scientism, with its emphasis on government-granted patents and funding, would of course fail to find any serious, non-toxic affordable solutions to cancer, its rise driven by scientism’s promotion of inflammatory seed oils as healthy fats. No wonder the War on Cancer failed. Profit-warped tunnel vision around repurposed chemical weapons and radiation excluded natural dietary corrections and generic drugs from research funding. Monopolies like the FDA and other organs of scientism continue to artificially distort the flow of funding to medical solutions that can be patented—this has nothing to do with the scientific method.
Because people lack the courage or curiosity to question supposedly settled foundations of physics like relativity and quantum mechanics, our physical innovations are stagnating. Smart young minds are chasing money in apps, the world of bits, because information technology is the only tool with which to explore a Gnostic universe. No one wants to say Einstein—a name culturally synonymous with genius—is wrong. No one would ever get published in any peer-reviewed journal of significance, mediated as they are by the group-think of scientism.
To question the existence of gravity or black holes is as taboo as questioning the Trinity in John Calvin’s Geneva. Mono-charge particles—single-charge particles like protons and electrons—have never been proven. They were presumed in the last centuries on account of their being two charges. Their “discovery” had more to do with our “Gutenberg Galaxy” brains, as Marshall McLuhan termed our print technology-oriented perception of the world, than it did any conclusive evidence. Why cannot positive and negative charges be simply two poles of the same magnetic particle? Does our Western left-hemisphere brain conceptually cut and separate even when we don’t know we’re doing it? Why did Newton and others after him conclude gravity was a distinct force from, say magnetic attraction? Is it possible black holes are simple gaping mathematical black holes one gets when calculating the binding of galaxies with gravity rather than magnetism?
Scientism elevates mathematical equations as the principle occupation of physics rather than real world observations. Equations have their role in physics. But today’s physics produces nothing new because it is lost in a fun house of elaborate mathematics that rarely, if ever, touch reality. This is equation-ism and it will continue to lead us to nihilism.
Gnostic scientism produces dilapidated subways and gender dysphoria-inducing apps because it has nothing to say about the Incarnational physical world and lots to say about the detached mind. It hates the body. As a state religion, it sees bodies as expendable cannon fodder, whether for wars or psychological operations to reduce the fertility of its domestic population. Gnostic physics abhors the idea that physics could be much simpler than we thought and that observations of the way the world works could actually expose their equations as a fig leaf for science fiction and specialist circle jerks.
If we are going to take our Christian cultural inheritance seriously, we must start taking science seriously. This scientific spirit cannot make bedfellows with government, because a monopoly on violence cannot know how to self-sacrifice skin in the game for the love of the human person. Thus, Christians must rally the public for cancer cures outside the camp of politics. That’s where Christ won history. Outside the camp of power. Christians must find and support those creating energy too cheap to meter—outside government and Silicon Valley.
The problem with Silicon Valley-inspired tech bro culture is that it is locked in statist Gnostic paradigms of intellectual property patents. It chases overly complicated new drugs promising genetic solutions for 20th century disease epidemics. Rather than having the humility and social bravery to consider repurposed drugs like antibiotics for killing cancer stem cells, we get 6 figure Rube Goldberg machine-like immunotherapy. A true Christian scientist pursues nature to glorify God and love his neighbor. Hence he explores solutions for their own sake even if it means forgoing a patent-protected margin. That fact in no way diminishes the sincere and great work done in existing research, it simply challenges our epistemology for how we begin in the first place.
For years I have been researching what an atom actually is. My work has introduced me to a colorful cadre of lone wolf engineers tinkering on the edges of what is supposed to be possible according to standard model physics. None of the explorers working with atoms I have met are young, venture funded, or university supported. In fact, the boldest have been north of 80—their childhoods had better science fiction, no doubt. My generation came of age with the digital world coming online. They do not think to question scientific truisms like “nuclear fusion is only possible at high temperatures rivaling the sun.” There is no incentive to question it. The government enshrined nuclear energy behind weapons-grade safety glass long ago. But after I spent a cold winter evening in a garage watching a 90 year old engineer demonstrate the process he used to grow gold from other elements—elemental transmutation at room temperature—I know the scientific spirit is still alive.