Anthroposophy as a Science, not a Religion

For political reasons related to litigation in the U.S. for the purpose of banning WE from public schools funded by tax payers, it has been important for Waldorf critics to establish that anthroposophy is a religion. I have no opinion about the politics involved, but seek to approach the subject itself as honestly as I can.


From: Tarjei Straume
Subject: anthroposophy as a science, not a religion
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 23:57:04 +0200

Because several subscribers to this list have asked me to to explain what is meant by anthroposophically oriented spiritual science being called a science, and why anthroposophy is not a religion, I will attempt to provide a rudimentary answer below, with the following limitations and disclaimers:

1) I am not a practicing spiritual researcher, and I am not a trained scientist in any field. I am not a science teacher; in fact, I am not a teacher at all. The point is that I am a layman when it comes to any kind of science, and any questions raised that belong to the field of professional scientists who read the approapriate scientific journals and so on, will be ignored by Yours Truly, whose scientific updates are limited to popular science magazines, television programs, and news reports in the media.

2) Although I am a Waldorf parent in Norway, where the question as to whether or not anthroposophy, or WE for that matter, is a religion or not, has zero implications what legislation and funding of schools are concerned, I have absolutely no personal preferences what the legal public school controversy in America in relation to Waldorf is concerned. None whatsoever, except that truth and honesty about anthroposophy should not be compromised by either side. And I do suspect that the temptation to bend or twist the truth for political purposes is equally present on both sides of the fence in this controversy, and that this is why the question about whether or not anthroposophy is a religion has become such a hot potato on this list. Thus honesty and objectivity is blurred by political motives on both sides.

3) I am perfectly aware of the objections raised against the claim that anthroposophically oriented spiritual science is a science, namely that it is a mumbo jumbo pseudo-religious hocus pocus cult and so on. I have already made my comments to such endless tirades that will undoubtedly follow this post, and I see no point in repeating them.

Spiritual science is called a science because the mode of cognition employed is taken from the activity of natural-scientific research, and because its findings are explained in a language that can be properly understood only when met by a thinking that is familiar with the world of science.

In his preface to the first edition of "Occult Science, an Outline" (1909), Rudolf Steiner writes [with my comments, and a footnote, in brackets]:

"A word may also be addressed to those already predisposed to give the book a sympathetic hearing. [Because my posts are addressed to the lurkers on the list, I see no point in wasting time bickering and nit-picking with biased objections here.] Although the book concerns researches beyond the reach of the sense-bound intellect, nothing is here presented which cannot be grasped with open-minded thought and with the healthy feeling for the truth possessed by everyone who will apply these gifts for human nature. The author frankly confesses: he would like readers who will not accept what is here presented on blind faith, but rather put it to the test of their own insight and experience of life. [This does not only refer to the spiritual test of supersensible research, but to the test - unquestionably valid - of open-minded thought, the test of healthy human intelligence and reflection.] He desires careful readers - readers who will allow only what is sound and reasonable. This book would not be valid if relying on blind faith; it is of value only inasmuch as it can pass the test of open-minded thinking. Credulity too easily mistakes folly and superstition for the truth. People who are content with vague belief in the supersensible may criticize this book for its excessive appeal to the life of thought. But in these matters the scrupulous and conscientious form of presentation is no less essential than the substance. In the field of Occult Science irresponsible charlatanism and the highest truths, genuine knowledge and mere superstition are often separated by a thin dividing line, and it is all too easy to mistake the one for the other."

When speaking about religion, Rudolf Steiner talked about "mighty pictures" that stimulated the life of feeling, and he pointed out that the life of thought was neglected in religion - at least to a certain extent. In the fifteenth century a certain change of consciousness began to take place in the human soul, an objectifying of the intellect so to speak, that began with the inventions and discoveries of the fifteenth and sixteenth century and culminated with the explosion of scientific inventions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries,

According to the anthroposophical view of human evolution and of history, the development of objective intellect capable of modern scientific research has a purpose - a higher, divine-spiritual purpose. Man has to a considerable extent turned his back on this purpose by applying his entire intellectual capacity almost exclusively to external pursuits, practical life, technological inventions and so on. In the spiritual sphere, we have been satisfied with the simple and the child-like. Many scientists exercise brilliant critical thinking in physical research, but when approaching the riddles of the soul, of death and immortality, of the meaning of existence and religion, they are satisfied with what old scriptures are saying on unquestioned authority. There is little will to find answers to such riddles by own effort. A few philosophers and poets get away with it as long as they don't call their quest a science. They get away with it because they're artists, thus enabling their critics to dismiss all of it as speculation and fantasy that artists and poets alone are permitted to engage in.

(Texas is a perfect cultural example of the dichotomy here described. They have the most advanced science in the world, side by side with the most boneheaded, ignorant fundamentlism ever found among modern Christians. There are also advanced philosophers in Texas at the universities and so on, but that is beside the point.)

Rudolf Steiner's claim may be formulated as follows: Scientific pursuit has been enabled by the forces of evolution that have made the mind independent, self-dependent, and capable of objective logic. In this process, it has been necessary to experience thoughts not as living beings, but as dead abstractions controlled by thinker or the cognizer. The time is ripe, therefore, to use this gift for what it was intended, namely to replace religion and abstract metaphysics in a new approach to understand our existence and our relationship to the spiritual, to God. A new science is needed - not a new religion, but a new science - a science extended to include the spiritual as well as the physical aspect of reality. This, said Steiner, is the will of the gods, and their purpose with the evolution that has placed man on his own two feet, letting go of the apron strings by which he has hitherto been clinging to the higher powers, and still wishes to cling to. He must let go of them. (This is why Steiner admired atheists and valued them more than theologians, who merely gleaned their wisdom from what was merely handed down to them from the ancients.)

Dan Dugan made the claim in an earlier post that Rudolf Steiner was not a scientist, giving rise to the endless dispute about what science is, and what a scientist is, by definition. Rudolf Steiner was first of all an epistemologist. and epistemology is the science of all sciences. In "Truth and Science" (1892), he writes in "Preliminary Remarks":

"Epistemology is the scientific study of what all other sciences presuppose without examining it: *cognition* itself. It is thus a philosophical science, fundamental to all other sciences. Only through epistemology can we learn the value and significance of all insight gained through the other sciences. Thus it provides the foundation for all scientific effort. It is obvious that it can fulfill its proper function only by making no presuppositions itself, as far as this is possible, about man's faculty of knowledge. This is generally accepted. Nevertheless, when the better-known systems of epistemology are more closely examined it becomes apparent that a whole series of presuppositions are made at the beginning, which cast doubt on the rest of the argument. It is striking that such hidden assumptions are usually made at the outset, when the fundamental problems of epistemology are formulated. But if the essential problems of a science is misstated, the right solution is unlikely to be forthcoming. The history of science shows that whole epochs have suffered from innumerable mistakes which can be traced to the simple fact that certain problems were wrongly formulated. To illustrate this, we need not go back as far as Aristotle's physics or Raymond Lull's *Ars Magna*; there are plenty of more recent examples. For instance, innumerable problems concerning the purpose of rudimentary organs of certain organisms could only be rightly formulated when the condition for doing so had first been created through the discovery of the fundamental law of biogenesis. While biology was influenced by teleological views, the relevant problems could not be formulated in a way which could lead to a satisfactory answer. For example, what fantastic ideas were entertained concerning the function of the pineal gland in the human brain, as long as the emphasis was on its purpose! Then comparative anatomy threw some light on the matter by asking a different question; instead of asking what the organ was "for," inquiry began as to whether, in man, it might be merely a remnant from a lower level of evolution. Another example: how many physical questions had to be modified after the discovery of the laws of the mechanical equivalent of heat and of conservation of energy! In short, success in scientific research depends essentially on whether the problems can be formulated rightly. Even though epistemology occupies a very special place as the basis presupposed by the other sciences, nevertheless, successful progress can only be expected when its fundamental problems are correctly formulated."

The reason why Steiner had the greatest interest in Immanuel Kant was that the latter was generally considered to be the founder of modern epistemology. And it was Kant's dualism, drawing an eternal, inviolable, uncrossable frontier between the known and the unknown, between the here and the beyond, between science and religion, that Steiner confronted with his monism. Kant postulated that there was something beyond the reach of human cognition that could only be speculated upon and theorized about. Steiner, on the other hand, claimed that anything permanently beyond the reach of cognition and the grasp of knowledge had to be dismissed as pure superstition. By monism, Rudolf Steiner meant that everything in existence is within the grasp, or potential grasp, of human cognition, and that everything else - a postulated, unexperienced something "out there" - should be dismissed. (This kind of monism has nothing whatsoever to do with epistemological or moral relativism, and it is certainly no threat to medical research and practice, like John Morehead and his fellow Protestant theologians speculate.)

If Kant is indeed the father of the epistemology usually applied in conventional natural science, and if Steiner has indeed established that the premises of this epistemology is flawed, we're dealing with a pioneer in the philosophy of science that is comparable to Galileo and Copernicus. It took a long time before the Western culture learned to adjust from a reality based upon theology and astrology to physical science, from a geocentric to a heliocentric astronomy. This went contrary to everything they had understood as the very foundation of reality on which the ancient scriptures were based.

Steiner is not suggesting that we should go back to the Middle Ages, or to the Gnostics, or go back to the Bible and Aristotle and Plato. He is saying none of these things. Steiner's suggestion is to become aware of latent faculties of clairvoyance that will develop in the future in humanity, and to discipline these faculties and use them in scientific research - *spiritual-scientific* research.

I have pointed out earlier that the classification of anthroposophy as a religion may be justified from a certain point of view for various reasons. By the same token, it is perfectly justified to classify anthroposophy as part and parcel of the New Age Movement. But these classifications are true only when seen from a specific vantage point from the outside; they have to be abandoned for a proper investigation and study of anthroposophy. Because the bottom line is that anthroposophy is not a religion; it is a science. Rudolf Steiner made that very clear, and if we back off on this in order to meet the demands of the Scientific Community and various other papacies around the world that have not questioned or re-examined their own epistemology, we are violating intellectual honesty and denying the revolutionary epistemology outlined above. And epistemology is, after all, the science of all sciences.


Tarjei Straume

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