Gnosticism is a belief system which rivaled Christianity for dominance during the first few centuries CE and has influenced other belief systems since, probably including Christianity. “Gnosis” (gnōsis) is simply the Greek word for “knowledge.” Gnosticism was important enough to early Christians that an entire book was written by Irenaeus, the bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon in France) to denounce it. Here is a brief description of Gnostic cosmology (how the universe is organized), put together by me from various sources:

In the beginning there existed one true and omnipotent God composed only of spirit (Bythos). This divine spirit reproduced, forming other divine but lesser spirits in the form of couples called aeons. The first generation was Caen (Power) and Akhana (Love). Some of these couples then mated and so created a divine realm with each generation increasingly separated from the true god and thus less perfect. The next generation produced Nous (Nus, Mind) and Aletheia (Veritas, Truth). The fourth produced Sermo (the Word) and Vita (the Life). Next came Anthropos (Humanity) and Ecclesia (Church), followed by Bythios (Profound) and Mixis (Mixture), Ageratos (Never old) and Henosis (Union), Autophyes (Essential nature) and Hedone (Pleasure), Acinetos (Immovable) and Syncrasis (Commixture), Monogenes (Only-begotten) and Macaria (Happiness); emanated from Anthropos and Ecclesia: Paracletus (Comforter) and Pistis (Faith), Patricas (Paternity) and Elpis (Hope), Metricos (Maternity) and Agape (Love), Ainos (Praise) and Synesis (Intelligence), Ecclesiasticus (Son of Ecclesia) and Macariotes (Blessedness), Theletus (Perfection) and Sophia (Wisdom). A shadow came into being and this shadow became matter. One Aeon, Sophia, exceeded her bounds by attempting to comprehend the entire divine realm. The the illegitimate offspring of Sophia bring about the creation of the world.

Adapted from two sources:

One of the first things that you might notice about this explanation for the universe is that it is quite complicated, violating the rule of Occam’s razor — that “Entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” Generally, we take the simpler explanation that fits the facts as the more potent.

These ancient Gnostics were so silly to have this complex explanation of things, wouldn’t you say? Now, consider this cosmology:

The universe in its largest aspect is the expression of curved space and time. Four fundamental forces hold sway. There are black holes and various infernal singularities. Popping out of quantum fields, the elementary particles appear as bosons or fermions. The fermions are divided into quarks and leptons. Quarks come in six varieties, but they are never seen, confined as they are within hadrons by a force that perversely grows weaker at short distances and stronger at distances that are long. There are six leptons in four varieties. Depending on just how things are counted, matter has as its fundamental constituents twenty-four elementary particles, together with a great many fields, symmetries, strange geometrical spaces, and forces that are disconnected at one level of energy and fused at another, together with at least a dozen different forms of energy, all of them active.

David Berlinki, The Devil’s Delusion

This is a description of the current state of theoretical physics. If you encountered someone on top of a mountain saying this stuff, I’m sure you’d call for someone to help him before he hurt himself.

Now (again)[1], I am not a “science denier” — but one has to understand the fundamental nature of science, which is always speculative. Going back 500 years or so, we had to more or less start from scratch by dropping different sized rocks off of a tower. Everything in science is initially speculative, until it later becomes “settled science.” But, then, sometimes “settled science” is overturned or at least enhanced (think Galileo, Newton, Einstein, quantum mechanics).

When science finds the old paradigms to be too cumbersome, the search for a new one begins. Thus, we gave up the geocentric explanation for the motion of the planets when the model had too many special cases. While the race among physicists for a better unified theory continues, the rest of us are supposed to accept that whatever they say is gospel truth in the meantime. (For more on this, read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.)

There is no doubt that science is very useful. But the pretension that science has all the answers has to be countered by a knowledge of how science actually works. We can’t uncritically accept that current “settled science” is “universally and in all ways true” any more than we would accept Gnostic cosmology.

[1] I’m told that all of the listed things in the quote are all manifestations of the “four forces” of modern physics which further reminds me of four elements “Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.” The point is not to make fun of these ideas but to point out that science (originally called “natural philosophy”) is always pursuing truth but never arriving at it.

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