Dr. Rupert Sheldrake on scientific dogma

In this video, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, of Clare College (a college within the University of Cambridge) outlines ten beliefs that have become dogma for the majority of scientists and well-educated people. There isn’t time in the video to get into sufficient detail, but I will definitely be reading his book, “The Science Delusion,” as many of these remind me of issues I have continually brought up with my atheist/materialist friends.


If you don’t think there is dogma in science, head over to YouTube and check out some of the responses to this video, including calls for it to be censored. For several years I have been convinced that we have as much to fear from scientific dogma as from religious dogma. “We already know that such and such is impossible. How dare you entertain these ideas.”

Dogma is dogma, and fundamentalism is not exclusively the domain of uneducated religious fanatics. Perhaps we have a great deal more to fear from fundamentalism that does not know it is fundamentalism, that wears a lab coat and comes to us in the guise of scientific knowledge. I am a great supporter of science, to the chagrin of some of my religious friends. But I grew up a religious fundamentalist. I know what fundamentalism, and the dogma that gives it life, looks like. Where science frees us from fundamentalism it does us a service. Where it leads to a new fundamentalism, it drops us in the same ditch on the other side of the road.

Here, according to Dr. Sheldrake, are the ten dogmas of science:

1. Nature is Mechanical (i.e., works like a machine)
2. The Total Amount of Matter and Energy Always the Same
3. The Laws of Nature are Fixed
4. Matter is Unconscious
5. Nature is Purposeless
6. All Biological Inheritance is Material (i.e., coming through genes only)
7. Memories are Stored as Material Traces in the Brain
8. Minds are Confined to Brains
9. Psychic Phenomena are Illusory
10. Mechanistic (Western) Medicine is the Only Kind that Really Works

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  • Joy Arbor

    Dave, I came over to your blog to find something interesting that might help me turn away from a useless obsession (how to keep yourself from wasting time on things that are truly unimportant and just there to be distractions from real and important things — so so hard!!! but I’m trying!), and you never fail me! I took a history of science course in college and learned there that people were sure that their state of the art science was absolutely true in other ages too — right before some scientific discovery turned it on its head. So since then, I’ve been pretty skeptical when scientists and the people who have turned science into a religion insist that the science we say we understand now is true. Yes, until the next scientific discovery comes around. If scientific understanding is a process, then we should realize that right now we may be going down some roads that we may realize later are dead-ends.

    Moreover, the idea of mechanistic medicine especially is under serious and scientific scrutiny in some quarters. The placebo effect itself — the idea that a person may get better or think they are getting better from believing they are taking something to make them better — shows that there is a lot more going on than simply mechanistic science. The beliefs of the person actually have an effect on the health of the individual, something we’re now beginning to understand because thoughts and emotions have hormonal causes and effects. Now, I think that the hormone explanation is only part of it — of course this would just be a more complex mechanism. What we need, I think, is a more complex notion of the self, one that demonstrates the complex interactions inside the self and between the self and others. There is science on this, but it’s not been integrated into these dogmas.

    Dave, have you ever seen Mindwalk, a strange little film with Liv Ullmann, John Heard, and Sam Waterston based on the ideas of Fritjof Capra? It sounds like the set-up to a joke: a poet and a politician are visiting Mont St Michel and run into Liv Ullmann, a physicist who tells them all about the limits of mechanistic science and our world’s “crisis of perception.”

    But what I really dislike among scientists and scientific believers is the lack of humility, which should be fundamental to science considering the history of science, just as, I believe, fundamentalists of all stripes should have humility because they are not God and are hubristic anytime that they or anyone purport to know as much as or more than God. Humility.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking “mindwalk” here. This is very important stuff.


    • You always have great thoughts to add to my posts. Sometimes better than the post itself! Thank you so much, Joy.