The subject of Scientology has long been a lightning rod for controversy. The group’s secrecy, mysteriousness, and corporate-like mentality has lead to many people refusing to acknowledge Scientology as a religion, even though it is granted the same tax-exempt status as any other religious organization by the United States government. Because this “religious” group has been so relentlessly attacked by the public, it is important to test the concepts of Scientology scientifically in order to be able to truly gauge the value of it’s methodology in today’s world. Whether or not Scientology is a religion will likely be debated for years to come, but with careful evaluation of it’s main tenets and claims, we can determine whether or not Scientology is a scientifically viable method for understanding the universe. First, I will detail the movement’s history in order to gain a better perspective of the dichotomous roots of Scientology. Next, I will define the basics premises of Scientology (this must be done because the jargon of Scientology builds upon itself, so there must first be a basic understanding of concepts). I will then analyze these central tenets as well as various claims of Scientology scientifically, leading ultimately to either the confirmation or rejection that Scientology is a scientifically based ideology.
The history of Scientology is divided into two areas here so that one can juxtapose the two historical tracks in order to see how the modern Church of Scientology diverged from its roots in Dianetics. First, the history of L. Ron Hubbard and his works will be explained, and then history of the Church of Scientology, which encompasses the histories of the Church as well as its various affiliated organizations, will be discussed.
After attending preparatory school in Virginia and the Woodward School for Boys in 1930, Lafayette Ronald Hubbard began to study at The George Washington University as a student of civil engineering. However, after only two semesters at the school, he was placed on academic probation and left without a degree (Kin 17). Before he began the Scientology movement, Hubbard was a prolific science-fiction writer, receiving acclaim for several of his novels (most notably Battlefield Earth, which was adapted to film in 2000). Around 1950 (there are still debates regarding when several of Hubbard’s writings were truly written), Hubbard wrote what is considered by Scientology as the cornerstone of their belief system – Dianetics. This four hundred-page book that was written within only 6 weeks was controversial from the day it came off of the printer. Hubbard had put forth a radical new method of thinking, or what he saw as an “organized science of thought” (McCall 439). Hubbard incorporated several other methodologies of thinking about the mind from other leading “thinkers” of his time, most notably Freud (McCall 437); however, during the time period when Dianetics first came into the public eye, it was seen a stark contrast to the psychological and psychiatric therapies that dominated that era. It is easy to see why so many people would be intrigued by the possibility of Dianetics’ self-help centered premises, since “Psychoanalysis was too costly for most people… Now, with “Dianetics”, there was a chance to help oneself and one’s fellow man” (Kin 21). The possible economical, psychological, and social implications of this book were just too great to pass up for many people. I will present all of the fundamentals of Dianetics in subsequent passages, but the development of the Church of Scientology as its own entity, as well as the leap from Dianetics to Scientology, must first be examined in order to fully understand the ideology of current day Scientology.
After Dianetics began to develop a following, a “need for coordination and systematic instruction [of auditing] arose” (Kin 21) because at this time readers were left to audit themselves (auditing is one of the most important processes of Scientology and will be discussed in detail later). Hubbard wanted a more streamlined process in order to give the most accurate results possible. Like many things related to Scientology, it is not perfectly clear what organization truly was the first to fulfill this need for coordination and systematic instruction, but the relative consensus is that it was one of the newly developed branches of the “Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundation” in Los Angeles in 1954 (Kin 21). After an apparent legal battle (once again, not fully confirmed), the publishing rights for Dianetics were lost, so Hubbard established Hubbard College (now called the Hubbard College of Administration Intl.) and began using the term Scientology instead of Dianetics (Kin 21). The reason that they used the term Scientology is because it “comes from “scio”, meaning knowing, and “logos”, meaning study of. Thus, Scientology means literally knowing how to know” (McCall 441). Even though the publishing rights would eventually be returned to him, Hubbard continued to use the term Scientology since it had become widely used by the public as a reference to Hubbard’s work. Because of this, in modern Scientology “the significance of the word “dianetics” is reduced to a particular auditing technique” (Kin 22). Throughout this paper, I will not refer to Dianetics as a particular auditing technique within the realm of Scientology; I will only refer to it within the context of the original text of Dianetics – this is so the original belief system of Dianetics can be more easily juxtaposed with the current ideology of Scientology.
Around the same time (approximately 1954) that the various “Hubbard Dianetic Research Foundations” were created, the official Church of Scientology was formed in Washington, DC. In the following years, Hubbard continually tried to catalyze the progression of the Scientologist movement by shifting his focus to policy writing – between 1954 and 1959 he wrote over one hundred and eighty policy letters, which tower in comparison to the two organizational policies that were written between 1950 and 1953 (Kin 37). This is where the Church of Scientology starts to diverge from the principles of Dianetics – it devotes the bulk of its time trying to enact regulations instead of trying to further promote the fundamentals of Dianetics. Soon, many internal organizations – referred to by Scientologists as Orgs – were formed in order to more efficiently manage certain areas of interest. For example, the Guardian’s Office branch was formed in 1966 in order to centralize the effort to monitor possible “enemy” organizations, such as the FBI, CIA, and the field of psychiatry (Kin 41). The most notable Org is the Sea Organization (referred to as Sea Org). Hubbard decided to purchase three ships and to continue his research on his Flag Ship (it’s true name is the Apollo, but is always referred to as the Flag Ship) in the middle of the Mediterranean. The Sea Org is considered to be the most “die-hard” group of Scientologists; every member of the Sea Org is given a naval rank, and they all sign billion-year employment contracts (it is expected of the member to return to the Sea Org when “reborn” on their “time track”, more on this later). Leading researchers believe that in reality “Sea Org obligations override many personal and family obligations and responsibilities, and devotion to the Scientology cause often appears to take priority over the needs of children” (Kent 11). All of this gives credence to the idea that the Church of Scientology strayed away from its original intent of ideological enlightenment of the human race.
This division of belief systems must always be kept in mind when discussing Scientology; it would be fallacious to attribute a certain aspect of one section of the Scientology movement to Scientology as a whole. These types of assumptions only further the gap of understanding, so it is important to prevent these from occurring. However, there is also a more useful reason for understanding the differences between Dianetics and the Church – the scope of Scientology is so broad and covers so many areas, there are a multitude of constructs within the Church’s belief system that cannot be tested; Dianetics, however, presents many more opportunities of testability. For instance, in a passage from Dianetics Hubbard claims “a clear can be tested for any and all psychoses, neuroses, compulsions and repressions (all aberrations) and can be examined for any autogenic (self-generated) diseases referred to as psycho-somatic ills. These tests confirm the clear to be entirely without such ills or aberrations. Additional tests of his intelligence indicate to [sic] it to be high above the current norm. Observation of his activity demonstrates that he pursues existence with vigor and satisfaction” (Bainbridge). This is a testable hypothesis because a definitive answer can be obtained – if the “clear” (person free of aberrations, also explained later) fails only a single test mentioned above, then it constitutes a failure in the test. Since there are many testable claims present throughout Dianetics (and a few from within the Church of Scientology), I aim to first test the main aspects of the original Scientology movement (which are mostly based on Dianetics) against the properties of a scientific hypothesis. I will also look for any fallacies present, and will finish by testing specific claims by Hubbard as well as the modern day Church of Scientology. After these tests are conducted, there will be clearer evidence for or against the belief systems of Scientology and/or Dianetics,
The technical language of Scientology can be overwhelming, so I am going to first give all the basic definitions of the most important (in regards to understanding the concepts) Scientological terms; sometimes explanations of one term are explained using a different aspect of Scientology, so this is why I believe it is necessary to give all of the terms at once before examining each one for its scientific merit. Only after the definitions are understood and the basic belief system is thoroughly described will I offer any commentary about a specific claim and its validity.
The first term that needs clarification is charge.L. Kin defines charge as “a mental energy phenomenon felt by anyone who experiences something unpleasant, dangerous or lethal, something – in a word – which goes against his idea of optimum survival concerning any aspect of his life” (14). So when charge occurs, the brain is reacting to a perceived threat to survival (on any level, not just physical). This reaction is manifested through emotions such as “anger, fear, grief, apathy or death wishes” (Kin 15). Scientologists then trace these emotions (dubbed misemotions in Kin’s book) back to their original incident “where the first contrasurvival effort (illness, accident, violence, prenatal stress) occurred” (Kin 15). This incident is known as an engram. These engrams are what Scientologists aim to eliminate via auditing. The term auditing developed from the Latin “audire”, which means “to listen”, so auditing is defined in Scientology simply as “listening” (they “listen” using a device called an E-meter). However, this definition doesn’t do it justice – auditing is revered as one of the most important steps in the methodology of Scientology for many reasons that will be discussed later. In order to fully understand the reasoning behind auditing, the concept of Clearaberrated – or in other words, they are completely “free of all potentially restimulatable material and can live and act without interference from unwanted thoughts, emotions, physical sensations or pains” (Kin 16). So in summary, in order to be a Clear (the term clear is used both for the “action” of becoming clear and for a person who has become clear of engrams), a person must completely erase all of their engrams via the process of auditing. This methodology is coined “dianetic therapy” in today’s world of Scientology because as stated previously, Dianetics has been reduced to a particular auditing technique. must first be known. Clear is the ultimate goal for any Scientologist – a state in which all of a person’s engrams have been erased, and they are no longer
All of the previous terms dealt with the explanation of “dianetic therapy”, but there are many more that need to be explained in order to gain a true hold on the wide-sweeping scope of Scientology. One such term is the whole track, which is defined as the total amount of recallable time on a person’s “track”. At this juncture, it doesn’t make much sense, but it is crucial to Scientologists because their views on a multitude of issues depend on what the longest possible “track” of time is. Over time, the scope of the whole track has shifted, but according to L. Kin, “later research showed it was in excess of four quadrillion years of recallable time” (23). This concept of time is a central tenet in what Scientologists believe to be the definition of the make-up of a life organism. Another tenet of that same claim is the concept of theta. Scientologists define theta as the “life force” that is derived from thought instead of matter; they believe that “all physical or psychic phenomena are derived from thought” (Kin 25). Hubbard summarized the effect of these and other tenets when he claimed “a life organism is composed of matter and energy in space and time, animated by theta” (Kin 25). This is listed as Dianetic Axiom number 11 by Hubbard, and is viewed by many as one of the most influential statements in creating the philosophical basis of Scientology. Out of this concept, Hubbard developed many claims about the history and the current state of the universe. Not all of these will be discussed, but the most prevalent claims that spawned directly off of this Axiom are those involving space and time travel. Hubbard says that a thetan (described by Kin as an analogous term for “theta being”) operates independently of its host body, so in reality it can “animate” any body it wishes. A thetan is not constrained by the other tenets of his claim; the claim is only a summation of all of the different variables, they are not dependent on each other. Therefore, by using Hubbard’s original claim as his basis, he claims that a thetan can move freely on the whole track to whichever point in space and time he wishes, and can use whatever matter available to be able to carry out whatever original intentions he had. Hubbard also notes that this is the reason aliens can be present on Earth without being detected – their thetans are present, but they have taken human form, so it is impossible to differentiate them from Earthlings. This is just one example of this axiom in action, but it adequately represents the method of reasoning that Hubbard used when forming the Scientological belief systems.
I will first apply the scientific method to each of the previously discussed basics of scientology in order to determine which hold up to scientific scrutiny and which do not; from there, I will test several of Hubbard’s personal claims as well as several claims from the Church of Scientology against the criteria of adequacy to see if they are consistent with the properties of a good hypothesis. It is important to examine each of the basics of Scientology thoroughly before testing any claims made by Hubbard or other Scientologists; it gives an idea of how plausible the belief system as a whole is, and will offer insight as to whether or not Scientology is truly entrenched in science and only uses scientifically based postulates to support its claims. Hubbard claimed “there are no tenets in Scientology which can not be demonstrated with entirely scientific procedures” (McCall 442), so if his statement is true, all of the basics that I am about to discuss will be able to be fully explained through science and scientific reasoning. If any of these tenets are found not to be able to be tested scientifically, then Hubbard’s statement must be false, giving evidence that Scientology’s structural makeup is at least partially flawed.
The first basic tenet of Scientology to be examined is charge. As stated previously, charge is basically the brain’s reaction to a perceived threat to survival. Then, the charge manifests itself in various ways – anger, fear, grief, etc. So when the concept of charge is looked at as a hypothesis to the observation of “misemotion” phenomena, it does start to fit more comfortably into the scientific method. There is a phenomena observed, and now there has been a hypothesis proposed that explains the phenomena – “misemotions” are occurring because they are the end result of the brain’s reaction to a perceived threat of survival. When assessing the plausibility of this hypothesis, it does seem understandable that the brain would experience a perceived threat to survival, and that “misemotions” are the manifestation of this reaction to this perceived threat. So far, the concept of charge lives up to the scrutiny of the scientific method. However, there is another step that must be fulfilled in order to gain significant confidence in this hypothesis – there must be properly performed experimental tests of the hypothesis’s predictions by independent experimenters. I have not come across any evidence that this hypothesis has ever been tested either by Scientologists or members of the scientific community, so in this respect, the concept of charge has failed miserably. This may be due to the fact that it would be hard to establish the exact cause of the brain’s reaction. In other words, even if we did see a manifestation of the brain’s reaction to something via “misemotions” (this could be done using an MRI or other brain mapping techniques), it is not likely that researchers could ever specifically pinpoint exactly what the brain is reacting to. The “threat to survival” aspect of the hypothesis is too broad of a concept; the only possible way that it could be corroborated would be if it is discovered that a specific area of the brain is aroused when “misemotions” are experienced, and that this area of the brain is the known to be the only possible area associated with experiencing a threat to survival (and is dedicated solely to this purpose). As of now there is no scientific research that establishes any of what I have just discussed. Therefore, since the hypothesis of charge is not a scientifically tested hypothesis at this time, it would be erroneous to use charge as a tenet of Scientology according to Hubbard’s statement since it cannot be demonstrated with entirely scientific procedures.
Even though all of these concepts are extremely interdependent and would become obsolete after the hypothesis of charge is rejected, I must discuss them with the assumption that all of the other tenets that any given hypothesis relies on are true, solely for argument’s sake. So when discussing our next topic – engrams – it is assumed that the hypothesis of charge is indeed true. Earlier, I said that Engrams are defined as the original incident “where the first contrasurvival effort occurred”. This concept doesn’t even pass the first step in the scientific method – there is no possible way that you can observe the phenomena of an engram, because the whole concept behind engrams are that they are incidents in the past that are restimulated by the person over and over again. So the only logical hypothesis for this concept would be something more in the realm of the concept of restimulation instead of engrams, something such as: If a person has experienced a restimulation, then it was caused by an engram. Restimulation is the only part of the whole concept of engrams that is even remotely observable, so that is why the hypothesis must be geared toward it. However, as soon as we move on to the next step in the scientific method, we see that even restimulation constitutes a bad hypothesis – the mechanism is not plausible at all. Every aspect of the concept of restimulation is based on the idea that a person can retrieve accurate memories from their past; however it has been proven scientifically that memories are not literal translations of the past, but are very susceptible to a variety of influences. Since there is no scientific basis for this necessary component of memory retrieval, the hypothesis based on restimulation cannot be scientifically proven. As stated previously, restimulation is the only area of the concept of engrams that is observable, so since it has no scientific basis, there can be no hypothesis about engrams that would withstand scientific scrutiny.
As stated previously, the process of auditing is central to Scientology’s methodology of redemption (becoming clear). Just as engrams are heavily dependent on charge, auditing is heavily dependent on many things including engrams, the E-meter, and the concept of clear. Auditing is a process and not an ideology, so it is easier to test because there are common procedures that must take place and there is specific equipment utilized that can be examined. L. Kin explains that “in an auditing session the auditor asks his client about times of trouble in his life and helps him to discard upsetting memories in such a way that they can be looked at with ease” (14). Originally, the auditor identified the upsetting memories “by observation of the pc’s skin colour, eye brightness, emotional tone and degree of introvertedness” (24). Before moving on to modern day methods of auditing, we must make sure to examine the older methods to see if they will hold up to scientific scrutiny. The answer is a resounding “no”. The main methods for obtaining data are all based on the auditor observing certain physical characteristics of the preclear; naturally this is leaves the door completely wide open for bias on the part of the auditor. Also, there aren’t any specific standards as to what the auditor is looking for: Is there supposed to be a dramatic shift in these characteristics during the auditing session? Is the preclear supposed to exhibit a specific characteristic over a sustained period of time? What if the preclear only exhibits a few of the characteristics? The list of questions is endless. There is no standardized methodology using this technique, therefore this type of auditing cannot be considered scientific.
In 1952, the E-meter was introduced by Hubbard and instantly became the new standard for detecting engrams that needed to be discarded. Kin describes the E-meter as “a simple Wheatstone bridge which measures the resistance of the body as influenced by the electrical field around it…when the pc contacts a charged area on his timetrack (restimulation), the electric field around his body is affected and causes a reaction (a “read”) on the E-meter’s needle…the validity of needle reads is confirmed by the pc changing to the better, i.e. realizing something about the connectedness between past incidents and his present condition, brightening up and recovering physically and emotionally” (24). First, lets examine the claim by Scientologists that the validity of the E-meter is proven when the pc shows a “change for the better”. This is a classic ad hoc claim – Scientologists are using the “result” of the reading as the evidence for its validity. Obviously this is not scientific evidence that the E-meter is valid (and subsequently solidifying the auditing process), but it also does not completely dismiss the possibility of the E-meter being an effective tool. So the question remains – is there any scientific evidence in support of the E-meter? The answer to this was given in a 1971 US District Court ruling, which stated “the E-meter has no proven usefulness in the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of any disease, nor is it medically or scientifically capable of improving any bodily function” (Wikipedia). This ruling dealt Scientology a huge blow because as stated before, auditing is a cornerstone of Scientological methodology; now that they could not claim that the E-meter was scientific, they had to come up a way to explain why the E-meter is still the most important and reliable tool of Scientology. They did this by publishing a disclaimer that stated: “By itself, the E-meter does nothing. It is an electronic instrument that measures mental state and change of state in individuals and assists the precision and speed of auditing” (Wikipedia). Even though Scientologists are trying to neutralize the statements in the US District Court ruling, it seems that they have actually strengthened the conclusion that auditing is not scientifically based – they flat out admitted that “by itself, the E-meter does nothing”. The E-meter is the only part of the process of auditing that has the possibility of being purely scientific – everything else, as stated before, is interfered with by various fallacies and other problems. When used by itself, the E-meter could have been a non-biased method in which to obtain the information needed from the preclear, but since Scientologists have admitted that it does nothing by itself, the only possible scientific basis for auditing has now been proven to be unscientific.
It is evident from the previous passages that there are many problems with the basics of Scientology, but even so there are still claims by Scientologists that are important to examine, even if they are based on faulty premises. One such hypothesis posed by Scientology is used to explain the incident of the “basic engram” on the time track of Earth. Hubbard describes how “all people who ever lived on Earth were affected by it either directly or indirectly, all history shaped by it, all culture dominated by it” (Kin 47). This basic engram was caused by Xenu, the leader of a galactic confederation that consists of 21 suns and 76 planets. 75 million years ago, Xenu utilized the process of “implanting”, which is defined by Kin as “installing attitudes and opinions into another by the use of force, drugs, electric shocks, or a combination of the three” (47), in order to control the human race for Xenu’s ultimate purpose – to make the Earth commit “planetary suicide” (Kin 48) via technological advances that mirror the technical civilization of 75 million years ago (more on this in a moment). I will examine this grandiose statement using the criteria of adequacy; if it fulfills all the criteria, then we will know it is a solid hypothesis; if not, then we know that this idea doesn’t hold up to scientific standards. The first criteria is testability – it is quite obvious that there isn’t going to be any possible way to test this hypothesis… we cannot obtain proof of Xenu’s existence (much like the way God is an untestable subject), we have no method for dating any of this back to 75 million years ago, and so on. This hypothesis is not fruitful – it tries to explain the origins of pain and suffering, but is so wide-sweeping and inclusive that it is doubtful it would ever be able to explain anything more than what it originally set out to explain. This definitely defies existing theories of the history of the universe, so it also fails in the realm of scope. And lastly, it severely lacks the kind of conservatism reserved for a good hypothesis, so it fails on this front as well. The criteria of adequacy show us that this claim in no way, shape, or form is even close to being considered a scientifically rooted hypothesis.
Another claim that has received much attention from scholars is when Hubbard stated, “about 70% of the physician’s current roster of diseases falls into the category of psychosomatic illness” (McCall 440). When the criteria of adequacy are applied, this claim seems to fair quite well in comparison to the previous one, however a closer examination proves that this is not the case. Even though this claim appears to be more testable than the previous, in reality there is no possible way that anyone could test all of the diseases on the Earth to determine if they are psychosomatic illnesses or purely physiological illnesses – it would take way too much money, time, and manpower, and there is always the possibility of new diseases being discovered that could skew the data already obtained. It is unclear if the next criteria, fruitfulness, would be fulfilled by this claim. It could potentially answer more questions than it set out to explain, but it is unknown if these answers would be accurate enough to be considered fruitful. This claim is not in line with existing theory, so its doubtful that the criteria of scope would be fulfilled either. Simplicity is not at all a characteristic of this claim; it would involve a much more complex mind-body system than has ever been discovered. Lastly, much like the other claims of Scientology, this claim fails the criteria of conservatism. It would completely change the medical field from a more physiological based methodology into a mind-body methodology of treatment. It would even completely negate today’s biopsychosocial model of health psychology; it is safe to say that this claim is not conservative. So why, then, does Hubbard make this claim if it is obvious that the majority of these criteria wouldn’t be fulfilled, thus making his claim unscientific? McCall gives a very legitimate reason for this, “Although modern mainstream psychiatry no longer argues that common medical illnesses are primarily caused by neurotic processes and best treated with psychotherapy, these ideas were common in psychiatry from 1920 to 1950″ (440). This is where the mystery of Hubbard’s claims finally comes into plain view – earlier, I described how Xenu’s plan for Earth was to make it commit “planetary suicide” through technological advances that parallel the technical civilization of 75 million years ago. So what exactly was this ancient civilization like, and what did Hubbard mean when he used the term “technological advances”? Oddly enough, “the style and taste of those days corresponds to the thirties of this [the 20th] century” and the weapon of choice for Xenu was the hydrogen bomb (which he supposedly dropped into volcano craters). All of these things having one main trait in common – they converge on a timeframe of AD 1920-1950. Is this just a coincidence? It seems that even Hubbard will admit that Scientology is inextricably linked to the time period in which it began when he stated, “Scientology…was born in the same crucible as the atomic bomb” (McCall 446). When viewed within the context of the time period, it is much easier to understand these strange claims by Hubbard – he was simply reacting to nuclear threat that all Americans felt at that time in history. Urban elaborates on this and explains how ” Scientology in fact embodies many of the obsessive concerns with secrecy, information-control, and surveillance that ran throughout Cold War America” (Urban 356). So, while the possibility still exists that many of the aforementioned claims of Xenu, hydrogen bombs, prevalence of mental illnesses, etc. are indeed true, none of them can currently hold up under scientific scrutiny, and all can be explained by simply taking into account the time period in which they were formulated.
Scientology sets out to answer many of the questions that have been asked since the beginning of man, but it is evident that when examined through the lens of science, it offers no rational explanations. While there are a few tenets of Scientology (mostly that originated from Dianetics) that are relatively close to being considered a scientifically sound hypothesis, most claims fail miserably to live up to scientific standards. That, coupled with the numerous fallacies that the Church of Scientology exhibits today (post-hoc thinking, constant appeal to Hubbard’s authority), leads to the conclusion that Scientology is not a rational, scientifically based methodology of thinking. The extraordinary claims of Scientology simply lack the extraordinary evidence needed to prove its validity. Of course, just like any other erroneous claim, Scientology cannot ever be rejected outright. It is always possible that if Scientology refines its techniques and decides to revert back to its original intent – furthering the understanding of Dianetics – then it could eventually settle on testable claims that might be verified scientifically. As for the foreseeable future, however, Scientology will not have any solid scientific evidence to stand on.