Blinded by Scientism (1 Viewer)

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Brennan77

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This is a subject I think is at the heart of disagreement in the modern world. Regardless of one's religious belief, the idea or presumption that science is the only source of objective observation and truth is ultimately absurd. It cannot stand up to its own criteria and is self-refuting. What's worse is that it leads to all sorts of ridiculousness in practice and puts us further from understanding the human experience and the nature of reality. I find that when I encounter large disagreements in worldview, it's often linked to this subject.

I'd like to submit a two part article by a Aristotelian / Thomist philosopher that I have enjoyed reading lately, Ed Feser. The article is now a bit dated but remains relevant. He's since come out with another book on the matter. Aristotle's Revenge, which I plan to attack soon.

Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently “anti-science.” There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it “therefore” has no rational foundation at all. It is evident even in secular conservative writers like John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald, whose criticisms of their religious fellow right-wingers are only slightly less condescending than those of Dawkins and co. Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism—“faith” is often pitted against “science” (even by those friendly to the former) as if “science” were synonymous with “reason.”

Despite its adherents’ pose of rationality, scientism has a serious problem: it is either self-refuting or trivial. Take the first horn of this dilemma. The claim that scientism is true is not itself a scientific claim, not something that can be established using scientific methods. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically. For scientific inquiry itself rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists; that this world is governed by causal regularities; that the human intellect can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since science presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. And if it cannot even establish that it is a reliable form of inquiry, it can hardly establish that it is the only reliable form. Both tasks would require “getting outside” science altogether and discovering from that extra-scientific vantage point that science conveys an accurate picture of reality—and in the case of scientism, that only science does so.
Part I
Part II
 

GMRfellowtraveller

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I agree on principle, but I bet we come to vastly different conclusions
Science is obviously very important- we probably wouldn’t have 80% of our advancement without science/technology
We did not discover new lands bc of some spiritual quest, but bc we learned how to build boats
BUT
while science can provide us with the ‘how’ it does not do a great jump of explaining the ‘why’ - and the why is certainly part of the human experience
Brennan you obviously lean on religion for your WHY, while I tend to lean on “poetry”
Yours probably gives you answers that you find comfort in
Mine gives me questions that I find exciting
 

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This is a subject I think is at the heart of disagreement in the modern world. Regardless of one's religious belief, the idea or presumption that science is the only source of objective observation and truth is ultimately absurd. It cannot stand up to its own criteria and is self-refuting. What's worse is that it leads to all sorts of ridiculousness in practice and puts us further from understanding the human experience and the nature of reality. I find that when I encounter large disagreements in worldview, it's often linked to this subject.
I'll dive way outside my depth.....

I think the author is trying to split science and philosophy when the reality is they are both reasoned ways to explain the world and human experience. Religion is the shared mythology/culture/experience that provides a narrative for philosophical thought. I do agree people should be studying classical thinkers.

I don't think scientism is at the heart of our disagreements. I think there are two core world views which we can see playing out in a world transitioning from organized religion. We have people who believe in a capitalist, Darwinian, hierarchical structure that distributes people on a bell curve but allocates resources on a j curve (Heirarcial). They believe people belong and naturally sort into their correct hierarchies and that anything that potential incorrectly distributes people or resources is evil (a religious term). We have people who believe in democratic, all men are created equal, socialist ideal that seeks to allocate people and resources along a line as parallel to the x-axis as possible (Democratic). Religion in the western world has been hierarchial. As our world has moved from Hierarchial to Democratic, in many ways due to scientific advancement providing ample resources, hierarchical beliefs and religious structures are being threatened. Participation in organized religion is on a steady decline. The narrative from some is that scientism is the replacement. So we see Hierrachial/Religious organizations and people reject science. The problem is that both science and philosophy require some essential components: reason, an agreement on the meaning of words (language), and integrity. As these organizations reject these components for fear of losing their structure, they threaten the very things that provide stability to societies.

I don't think science replaces religion. Humans may not need the same hierarchies and mythologies, but I believe we still need spirituality, philosophy, community, and service. Religion just might not be the one-stop-shop for most people in the future.
 
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Brennan77

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I agree on principle, but I bet we come to vastly different conclusions
Science is obviously very important- we probably wouldn’t have 80% of our advancement without science/technology
We did not discover new lands bc of some spiritual quest, but bc we learned how to build boats
BUT
while science can provide us with the ‘how’ it does not do a great jump of explaining the ‘why’ - and the why is certainly part of the human experience
Brennan you obviously lean on religion for your WHY, while I tend to lean on “poetry”
Yours probably gives you answers that you find comfort in
Mine gives me questions that I find exciting
I agree very much on the first part of your post. I have always loved science even from my childhood, especially as it pertains to broader questions of the universe and physics. I just like to know how things work. As the article states, scientism is attractive precisely because science as a discipline works so well.

Hypnotized by the unparalleled predictive and technological successes of modern science, contemporary intellectuals infer that scientism must be true, so that anything that follows from it—however fantastic or seemingly incoherent—must be true as well. But this is sheer sophistry. If a certain method of studying nature affords us a high degree of predictive and technological power, all that shows is that the method is useful for dealing with those aspects of nature that are predictable and controllable. It does not show us that those aspects exhaust nature, that there is nothing more to the natural world than what the method reveals. Neither does it show that there are no rational means of investigating reality other than those involving empirical prediction and control. To assume otherwise is fallaciously to let one’s method dictate what counts as reality rather than letting reality determine what methods are appropriate for studying it.
That said, this isn't so much about religion vs science as it is understanding that science itself relies upon certain metaphysical presuppositions that cannot by definition be submitted to the scientific method. Therefore, scientism as a world view is self refuting. There is no necessary conflict between science and religion, much less science and philosophy.

As for your second part, a discussion about our motivations and resulting satisfactions in religious pursuit may be better for another thread. As it relates to the subject of scientism, I would say that I don't entertain religion for comfort. In fact, it's not always that comforting. It's quite demanding and difficult, actually. And it's closely related to certain philosophical understandings of reality and how we come to know it. I submit myself to certain ideas and ideals because I believe they are true, not because of a practical effect, though that is certainly worth discussing.
 

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There are so many things I want to counter from those quotes. This one actually made me laugh, though:
There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim)
Scientism is just a word that the apologists have re-purposed in order to build yet more straw men and apologetic narratives against science, as science continues to chip away at the myths and legends of religions.
 
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Brennan77

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There are so many things I want to counter from those quotes. This one actually made me laugh, though:


Scientism is just a word that the apologists have re-purposed in order to build yet more straw men and apologetic narratives against science, as science continues to chip away at the myths and legends of religions.
This is the sort of response I'd like to see us rise above. I'm not interested in a pissing match. You complain about straw men but then hyper generalize about "apologists", a word which you regularly use out of context and incorrectly. Do you have anything to say about the actual content of the article? Do you understand that the article is not "against science" and is actually defending it? If you think "scientism" isn't a useful term or that it incorrectly describes a commonly held world view, please say why and contribute in a positive way.
 

SystemShock

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This is the sort of response I'd like to see us rise above. I'm not interested in a pissing match. You complain about straw men but then hyper generalize about "apologists", a word which you regularly use out of context and incorrectly. Do you have anything to say about the actual content of the article? Do you understand that the article is not "against science" and is actually defending it? If you think "scientism" isn't a useful term or that it incorrectly describes a commonly held world view, please say why and contribute in a positive way.
You continuously accusing me of not understanding what I am reading and using terms incorrectly is getting very old.

Yes, Both Hawkins and Hitchens state (or stated in the case of Hitchens) that religion has no scientific foundation. And indeed, religion has no scientific foundation. None. If it does, show me.

Here is another gem:
Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism—“faith” is often pitted against “science” (even by those friendly to the former) as if “science” were synonymous with “reason.”
What does the author mean, 'as if "science" were synonymous with "reason'?

The author in no way is defending science, please. He's putting philosophy above science, which in turn it is a not-so-veiled attempt to validate religious philosophy. The author couldn't help himself, and had to post links to 2 of his books at the end of the article, which tells you, well, tells everyone what this article is really all about.
 
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Brennan77

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You continuously accusing me of not understanding what I am reading and using terms incorrectly is getting very old.

Yes, Both Hawkins and Hitchens state (or stated in the case of Hitchens) that religion has no scientific foundation. And indeed, religion has no scientific foundation. None. If it does, show me.
When I suggest that you aren't understanding something I'm not trying to be rude. You often argue in broad condescending strokes against caricatures that haven't been presented to you.

For instance, the author is not arguing that religion is founded in science. He's saying that the success of science does not invalidate other forms of coming to know things or that there are even other forms of things to know.

Here is another gem:


What does the author mean, 'as if "science" were synonymous with "reason'?

The author in no way is defending science, please. He's putting philosophy above science, which in turn it is a not-so-veiled attempt to validate religious philosophy. The author couldn't help himself, and had to post links to 2 of his books at the end of the article, which tells you, well, tells everyone what this article is really all about.
The second part of the article is about this concern. If we do not appeal to philosophy to understand the nature of things then we cannot make any claims to objectivity through scientific study, especially with regard to mathematical abstractions like physics.

So no, science is not synonymous with reason. If we are to learn anything at all from science, we must presuppose reason and the validity of our observations, which means we presuppose something of the reality of the world around us and our ability to rationally interaction with it. Science presupposes philosophy. The problem with scientism, the belief that science is the only avenue to truly know things, is that it is completely unaware of it's own philosophical presumptions.

Also, I presume that the author agreed to write the article for this publication in exchange for the promotion of his books. It's a common practice to write articles or do interviews in exchange for the mention of your new publications. Even if you consider it contemptible, it really has nothing to do with the content of the article. However, I do like the writing of Feser. I'll gladly send you a copy of one of his books at my own expense if you would be interested.
 

SystemShock

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You often argue in broad condescending strokes against caricatures that haven't been presented to you.
Fighting fire with fire.

For instance, the author is not arguing that religion is founded in science.
"Or so they claim" implies it.

He's saying that the success of science does not invalidate other forms of coming to know things or that there are even other forms of things to know.
Exactly, yet science does invalidate other forms, especially those forms that are based on believing on things without any proof.

The second part of the article is about this concern. If we do not appeal to philosophy to understand the nature of things then we cannot make any claims to objectivity through scientific study, especially with regard to mathematical abstractions like physics.
I disagree.

So no, science is not synonymous with reason.
It is certainly more rational than religion.

If we are to learn anything at all from science, we must presuppose reason and the validity of our observations, which means we presuppose something of the reality of the world around us and our ability to rationally interaction with it. Science presupposes philosophy. The problem with scientism, the belief that science is the only avenue to truly know things, is that it is completely unaware of it's own philosophical presumptions.
And I am saying, there is no problem here. Science and the scientific method have proven to be the best way to learn about our world, i.e., truly know things.

Also, I presume that the author agreed to write the article for this publication in exchange for the promotion of his books. It's a common practice to write articles or do interviews in exchange for the mention of your new publications. Even if you consider it contemptible, it really has nothing to do with the content of the article. However, I do like the writing of Feser. I'll gladly send you a copy of one of his books at my own expense if you would be interested.
Not interested, but thank you. As for the promotion of the books, that's fine. What I am saying, the subject matter of the books is very telling as to the purpose of the author.
 

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This is a subject I think is at the heart of disagreement in the modern world. Regardless of one's religious belief, the idea or presumption that science is the only source of objective observation and truth is ultimately absurd. It cannot stand up to its own criteria and is self-refuting. What's worse is that it leads to all sorts of ridiculousness in practice and puts us further from understanding the human experience and the nature of reality. I find that when I encounter large disagreements in worldview, it's often linked to this subject.

I'd like to submit a two part article by a Aristotelian / Thomist philosopher that I have enjoyed reading lately, Ed Feser. The article is now a bit dated but remains relevant. He's since come out with another book on the matter. Aristotle's Revenge, which I plan to attack soon.



Part I
Part II
This feels like a reaction to Stephen Jay Gould.


I somewhat remember having this discussion in a philosophy class. I think I was in the group that felt that perfect segregation isn't actually possible.
 

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This feels like a reaction to Stephen Jay Gould.


I somewhat remember having this discussion in a philosophy class. I think I was in the group that felt that perfect segregation isn't actually possible.
But it is. At their core, science and religion are opposites.
Science's default position is not believing.
Religion's default position is believing.
Science attempts to invalidate.
Religion attempts to validate.
Science has a method that requires observation, testing, falsification...
Religion assumes based on faith.

You can sit on a beach and philosophize why the tides go in and and out, and rationalize it is Neptune who's doing it, but it is science that will show you it is gravity.

You can watch a person with polio not be able to walk and philosophize why he can't walk, and rationalize it is a punishment from a god or question whether they are objectively not able to walk, but it is science that will show you it is a virus that causes muscle weakness.

To me, the idea that science cannot prove itself because it assumes an objective world that philosophy doesn't, is asinine.

So next time you (the generic you) have a headache, philosophize if you really have a headache, or even a head... or take the freaking ibuprofen. Your choice.
 
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Brennan77

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This feels like a reaction to Stephen Jay Gould.


I somewhat remember having this discussion in a philosophy class. I think I was in the group that felt that perfect segregation isn't actually possible.
I'm not so sure that it's a direct reaction to Gould. At face value I'd say that there is truth to his ideas as it pertains to particular disciplines and types of study. Science studies the material world around us and the natural workings and rules of the universe, for example. However, as expressed in the linked article, science does rely upon certain philosophical presumptions in order to function.
 

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Science as a practical discipline, ie putting a man on the moon, minuscule hard drives holding billions of books, etc. is different from science as an explanatory discipline. The latter will always go beyond the empirical, and perhaps even more importantly, there are an infinite number of explanations that can adequately explain the observable.
 

SystemShock

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Science as a practical discipline, ie putting a man on the moon, minuscule hard drives holding billions of books, etc. is different from science as an explanatory discipline. The latter will always go beyond the empirical, and perhaps even more importantly, there are an infinite number of explanations that can adequately explain the observable.
Science is science. You can't put a man on the moon without being able to explain combustion, propulsion, friction, gravity, atmosphere, etc.

And by explaining, I don't mean merely observing what it looks like. I mean cause and effect.

One may be able to come up with an infinite number of explanations of the observable, but "adequate" doesn't make that explanation valid.

The Vikings explained thunder as Thor striking an anvil with his hammer in the heavens; that may have been an adequate explanation to them at that time, but obviously it is not remotely close to explaining thunder.

That's not the same as answering the question "if I toss a rock into the air, why does it fall back to the ground?" with "because it is heavy". That's a valid observation, but to know the cause of why the rock falls back to the ground, you will have to find out what makes the rock "heavy".
 

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That said, this isn't so much about religion vs science as it is understanding that science itself relies upon certain metaphysical presuppositions that cannot by definition be submitted to the scientific method. Therefore, scientism as a world view is self refuting. There is no necessary conflict between science and religion, much less science and philosophy.
This sentence throws quite the proverbial red flag. Let's hone in on it for a moment. Here, you seem to be presupposing yourself and inserting that presupposition in this statement. I don't understand this nor do many who understand that the scientific method is a logical sequence of observing the world based on our physical abilities. I also don't subscribe to nor care to subscribe to the notion of the 'metaphysical' at all, nor do most who use the scientific method to observe the world around them.

If the direction is to ultimately equate fundamentalism with this newfound term 'scientism', then I think the author does a decent job in attempting. 'Leveling' is one way (albeit a tired way) to attack a stance, but I don't think it's a productive one. It's the same argument occasionally used when an atheist and theist debate. The theist will infer that the atheist is religious too -- only their religion is a lack thereof. A quite obvious cop out. While I believe strongly that people shouldn't be reliant completely on a scientific source, I think that as a general rule the process is the best we as humans have for determining what is real or not real in our world. As well as arriving at 'we just don't have enough evidence but this is what we observed'.

Lastly, you say there aren't conflicts with religion and science. That couldn't be more untrue to anyone who understand how the world works and then proceeds to reads religious texts and their supposed 'miraculous' occurrences.

Locally, just look at the many stories in the modern day Bible. Noah's ark, talking snakes, the parting of seas. Not even to mention humans coming back from the dead. We could go on. Unless everything is a parable -- you'll have a hard time making religious happenings bend to the simple tests of scientific inquiry.
 
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Science is science. You can't put a man on the moon without being able to explain combustion, propulsion, friction, gravity, atmosphere, etc.

And by explaining, I don't mean merely observing what it looks like. I mean cause and effect.

One may be able to come up with an infinite number of explanations of the observable, but "adequate" doesn't make that explanation valid.

The Vikings explained thunder as Thor striking an anvil with his hammer in the heavens; that may have been an adequate explanation to them at that time, but obviously it is not remotely close to explaining thunder.

That's not the same as answering the question "if I toss a rock into the air, why does it fall back to the ground?" with "because it is heavy". That's a valid observation, but to know the cause of why the rock falls back to the ground, you will have to find out what makes the rock "heavy".
You cannot explain gravity. You can only describe its effect.
 

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Isn't "describing its effect" the same as "explaining"?
No, it isn't.

We know what gravity does but we have no real understanding of what it is.

And gravity is not the only mystery by any stretch. Mathematic explanations of the behavior of the universe fall apart inside black holes. The moment of the Big Bang defies the math as well, never mind what preceded the Big Bang.

The universe is accelerating outward, which is explained by theories of dark energy and dark matter, things we cannot detect. Science has a theoretical faith in the existence of these things because the universe is accelerating and something must be making it happen.

Science at its limits becomes very philosophical and must ultimately admit "we don't know".
 

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