The Positive Role Played by Science During Its Period of Negation of Philosophy, Religion and Art

The rise of Science and its triumphant march to the forefront of Western civilisation was accomplished through struggle against prevailing religious traditions and dogmas, and was seen as a threat which led to persecution, including torture or retraction under threat of torture, of scientific insights and ideas.  The result appears to have been to set up a conflict whereby Science used its strength of reliance of reproducible facts and the tremendous results it was achieving in the physical life and well-being of man, to beat down the power of Religion in order to rise up itself.  Thus was set up a dynamic whereby Science took on religion, philosophy, art and literature as not being realistic and not achieving the kind of results that Science could show.  Sri Aurobindo calls this a period of “negation” which set back these other disciplines enormously as they were being minimized in relation to the power of Science in its ascendancy.  Some of this was also due to the fact that over time these disciplines had become far too abstract and divorced from the reality of life and its meaning to a great degree.  The period of negation helped to return each of these disciplines to their original basis and roots and thus, provided a new strength for the to rise anew in a more powerful and effective form.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “in its war against religious obscurantism Science almost succeeded in slaying religion and the religious spirit.  But philosophy had become too much a thing of abstractions, a seeking for abstract truths in a world of ideas and words rather than what it should be, a discovery of the real reality of things by which human existence can learn its law and aim and the principle of its perfection.  Poetry and art had become too much cultured pursuits to be ranked among the elegances and ornaments of life, concerned with beauty of words and forms and imaginations, rather than a concrete seeing and significant presentation of truth and beauty and of the living idea and the secret divinity in things concealed by the sensible appearances of the universe.  Religion itself had become fixed in dogmas and ceremonies, sects and churches and had lost for the most part, except for a few individuals, direct contact with the living founts of spirituality.  A period of negation was necessary.  They had to be driven back and in upon themselves, nearer to their own eternal sources.  Now that the stress of negation is past and they are raising their heads, we see them seeking for their own truth, reviving by virtue of a return upon themselves and a new self-discovery.  They have learned or are learning from the example of Science that Truth is the secret of life and power and that by finding the truth proper to themselves they must become the ministers of human existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 8, Civilisation and Barbarism, pp. 78-79