Posted by: gcarkner | September 18, 2012

Scientism Investigation Part 2

Scientism Under the Microscope

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Science by any measure is impressive in its proven and disciplined methods, its growth of findings. Despite popular belief, the integrity of scientism, on the other hand, is very shaky; most scientists do not share its arrogance. It is still, however, a strong influence within the Western cultural ethos. But scientism does not square with established science. Rather, it involves a perversion of the principles  and methodology of science; this  confusion needs to be clarified. This is part three of my blog on scientism, an ongoing series.

Point 2.  Scientism Actually Perverts the Core Principles of Science: A reductionist epistemology morphs into a reductive ontology.

a. The empirical principle or test for scientific theories turns into exclusivistic empiricism under the influence of the ideology of scientism: this is the conviction that any belief must be scientifically testable and controllable to gain credibility or have merit.  There are many beliefs and assumptions required by science itself which do not pass the empirical test. Thus, exclusivistic empiricism is a self-defeating, unsustainable position. Further science doesn’t address some of the most important human questions: e.g. morals, political rights, meaning and religion. This reveals a problem of intellectual hegemony.

b. The objective approach of observation and measurement of the physical, immanent time-space-energy-matter world, under the influence of the ideology of scientism, morphs into naturalism. Naturalism implies a Closed World System or Immanent Frame (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Chapter 15), the belief that no transcendent God exists, nothing but material dimensions to life exist (materialism: all can be explained in terms of matter). This move from a properly limited epistemology (restricted variable science) to an ontological belief (naturalism) is a logical non-sequitur, an untenable philosophical move. Scientism promotes a materialist metaphysics and a reductive ontology, without properly defending such a position.

c. With regards to the method of control, prediction and repetition in scientific investigation: mechanistic, quantifiable analysis, under the influence of scientism, morphs into the belief that ‘all is machine’ including people, bringing one to the reductionistic conviction of mechanism. This entails for instance the belief that humans are ‘nothing but’ their neurons or genetic markers, their physics and chemistry, i.e. their machineness. Scientism encourages us to explain all phenomena (including the spiritual, mind, soul or self) in terms of this lower dimension of reality; the higher phenomena are explained in terms of the lower descriptions.

d. The important openness of scientific theories to future correction (critical realism), under scientism’s ideological influence,  corrupts into a utopian fantasy of optimistic progressivism, the belief that science will bring inevitable material progress and wellness to all. It is the wrong kind of hyper-optimism, given that history has shown that science offers good and bad (modern medicine and nuclear warfare, access to resources and pollution).

The principles of science are valid and necessary to the discipline; the philosophical extrapolations of scientism are fallacious leaps of bad faith, meta-physical claims which are beyond scientific proof or demonstration. This extrapolation of science to the ideology of scientism is deemed inappropriate, and unscientific. Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Peter Medawar (Advice to a Young Scientist, p. 31) senses the problem with scientistic exclusivism:

 There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare … that science knows or soon will know all the answers to all the questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way nonquestions or pseudoquestions.

It is inappropriate for a scientist to pontificate on issues outside her field (even when this is welcome at a public level), just as it would be for any other discipline or person of expertise. Scientists are out of their own legitimate bounds when they make such metaphysical claims, or when they vouch for strict materialism or mechanism. They have no authority or jurisdiction to reduce reality to the level at which they study it (E.F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed).

Ontological claims about the nature of reality are not scientific claims. When used this way, it automatically falsifies and perverts perceptions, and causes confusion. It can also be mobilized as a form of deceptive manipulation. Unfortunately the new atheists (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris) inappropriately use the logic of scientism to support their naturalistic philosophical bias and to discredit religion (revealed by Alister McGrath, The Dawkins Delusion; John Lennox, God’s Undertaker). They claim to be without faith, but actually reveal a strong faith in, and conviction about, ideological scientism. It amounts to a mythologisation of science.

Gord Carkner

Come and hear Tom McLeish, British biophysicist on November 2 & 4, 2016

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