An Interview with Wolfgang Smith
on Science and Philosophy

Biographical Data

Wolfgang Smith graduated at age 18 from Cornell University with a B.A. in mathematics, physics, and philosophy. Two years later he took an M.S. in theoretical physics at Purdue University, following which he joined the aerodynamics group at Bell Aircraft Corporation. He was the first to investigate the effect of a foreign gas on aerodynamic heating, and his papers on the effect of diffusion fields provided the key to the solution of the re-entry problem for space flight. After receiving a Ph.D. in mathematics from Columbia University, Dr. Smith held professorial positions at M.I.T., U.C.L.A., and Oregon State University till his retirement in 1992. He has published extensively on mathematical topics relating to algebraic and differential topology.

From the start, however, Smith has evinced a dominant interest in metaphysics and theology. Early in life he acquired a taste for Plato and the Neoplatonists, and sojourned in India to gain acquaintance with the Vedantic tradition. Later he devoted himself to the study of theology, and began his career as a Catholic metaphysical author. Besides contributing numerous articles to scholarly journals, Dr. Smith has authored three books: Cosmos and Transcendence (1984), Teilhardism and the New Religion (1988), and The Quantum Enigma (1995).

Inner Explorations: Tell us what motivated you to write on philosophical subjects.

Wolfgang Smith: More than anything else, it was the recognition that science is a doubled-edged sword. On the one hand there is scientific truth, a bona fide knowledge of a special kind; but that knowledge is accompanied in practice by a syndrome of philosophic assumptions which are generally mistaken for scientific truths. It became clear to me, moreover, in light of the metaphysical traditions, that these scientistic beliefs (as I call them) tend to be spurious, and deleterious to our spiritual well-being. I became convinced, in fact, that the spiritual and moral decline of modern civilization--our estrangement from spiritual reality--is due in no small measure to the scientistic world-view which has been foisted upon us in the name of science. I therefore made it my business to detect and expose the principal scientistic dogmas affecting contemporary civilization.

IE: Can you give an example of a prominent scientistic belief?

WS: As a major example I would mention the Darwinian theory of evolution, which (contrary to official belief) is not in fact a scientific hypothesis corroborated by empirical facts, but a philosophic tenet masquerading in scientific garb. As one molecular biologist has put it, Darwinism is ultimately "no more and no less than the great cosmogenetic myth of the twentieth century." The genre of scientistic myth, however, is not limited to the sphere of biology; it is to be found even in the physical domain. When it comes to psychology and the social sciences, moreover, it appears that myth actually predominates. I have explained and documented these contentions in my first book.

IE: You allude to the philosophic traditions; could you tell us more about that.

WS: Early in life I came to the conclusion that the major pre-modern schools of philosophy exhibit a remarkable unity. It is almost as if they were dialects of a single primordial tongue, or pictures of a single subject taken from different points of vantage. One needs of course to get beyond the surface, beyond the outer forms, to detect that kinship and compatibility. And so I discovered, in what I term the great traditions, a standard of philosophic truth. There are truths about God, man, and the universe, I found, which have been known since the dawn of human history. It is we, generally speaking, who have forgotten these truths! My writing, thus, has a double thrust: the conquest, first of all, of scientistic illusions, complemented by a recovery of metaphysical truth--a glimpse into this forgotten realm.

IE: In your most recent book you deal with the enigmas of quantum theory. Can you tell us what you have done?

WS: Since 1927 physicists and philosophers have debated the nature of physical reality on the quantum level in an effort to resolve certain apparent paradoxes. The latest physics seems not to fit the accustomed world picture. From the outset I suspected that the problem lies in a deviation from the perennial philosophic norm; but what precisely was the offending postulate? And by what tenet must it be replaced? And how can physics be re-interpreted, following upon such metaphysical rectification? These are the questions which intrigued me; and the answers presented themselves in due course. The offending dogma, I found, is an assumption, introduced by René Descartes, which underlies our customary interpretation of physics. That postulate, however, has become so ingrained in the contemporary scientific mentality that it has been consistently overlooked even by theorists intent upon the resolution of the quantum enigma. Yet it turns out (as I have shown) that the paradoxes in question disappear of their own accord the moment physics is re-interpreted on a traditional metaphysical basis.

IE: Is this book accessible to the general reader, and how has it been received in the scholarly world?

WS: Yes, like all my books, The Quantum Enigma is indeed accessible to the general educated reader. I have made sure of that. As to its reception so far, I am pleased to note that the book has sparked considerable interest in philosophic circles, for example, among Thomists, who are very pleased. There are signs today of a reaction, not only to scientistic dogmatism, but to postmodernist deconstruction as well. The time is ripe for a return to the metaphysical traditions, even though the mainstream institutions of learning will presumably continue to pursue their anti-traditional course for some time to come. The advantage today lies with small as opposed to large-scale intellectual communities.

IE: What advice do you have for the seeker of truth?

WS: Know from the start that all truth derives from the Word of God and thus partakes of the sacred. Cultivate purity, knowing that this constitutes a precondition to the reception of truth. Learn once more to revere what is worthy of reverence. Cast off the profane and irreverent persona of the modern intellectual, and cultivate the spirit of discipleship. Learn to receive the gift of faith; know that faith is the seed of wisdom.