It was during his professorship in the often overlooked departments of philosophy and religion at M.I.T., bastion of scientific and technological research, that Huston Smith became increasingly vocal in his criticism of what he saw as science's overreach of its rightful grasp. Today Smith is widely recognized as one of the foremost authorities on world religions, and a leading exponent of the importance of religious experience and understanding in the modern world. He has given considerable thought to the relationship between science and spirituality, and when we embarked on our own investigation of this subject for this issue of What Is Enlightenment?,
we knew that it would have to include his passionate critique of the role of science in our time.
A professor of philosophy and religion at several noted American universities for over fifty years, Smith is the author of many books, including the classic text The World's Religions,
which has sold over two million copies. He recently became known to an international audience through Bill Moyers's widely acclaimed PBS series The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith
. A central theme in Smith's work is his assertion that while the scientific method is enormously powerful and has yielded great benefits, it has definite limits. In his book Beyond the Post-Modern Mind
he writes: "Were we capable of keeping . . . science . . . in its place, there would be no problem, but the triumphs of science have been too impressive to allow this. Method has mushroomed into metaphysics, science into scientism, the latter defined as the drawing of conclusions from science that do not logically follow. . . . Scientism is a mark of our times, one we are all victims of and responsible for: in Descartes's fall, we sinned all."
While primarily a scholar, Smith has also spent many years as a practitioner of Christianity, Sufism, Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, and Vedanta. Reading Smith's books or hearing him speak, one encounters a man whose humor and soft-spoken eloquence never disguise his bold and unwavering message: that the spiritual dimension of life and the sense of the sacred are of the utmost importance for the fulfillment of our humanity. He laments, quoting Saul Bellow: "It is a long time since the knees were bent in piety." In a time when this perspective is often considered to be old-fashioned or too absolute, we are impressed by Huston Smith's strength of conviction in what, to him, is perfectly obvious. His fearless stand against scientific materialism and existentialism within the very institutions most responsible for the promotion of these views is remarkable and inspiring. His voice is a touchstone in today's bewildering world of modern philosophies—a world in which it is all too easy to lose one's way.
The following interview was conducted by Michael Toms for New Dimensions Radio