Posted by: gcarkner | September 24, 2012

Scientism Investigation continued…3

Part 3. Scientism is not honest about the methodological limitations of science

Let us extend the point in Part 2 of our scientism critical investigation. We must look briefly at science’s own self-limitations. Science or natural philosophy has its own integrity when it does not exceed its proper limits and seek to police the other questions we are allowed to ask, or invade illegitimately the territory of other disciplines. In general, science is appropriate to the study of cause-effect relationships at the physical level of being (efficient causes), but not appropriate to adjudicate questions of purpose, meaning or worldview (final causes). The following important limitations ensue.

a. Science begins with certain assumptions about the world and its own procedures, but it cannot prove them scientifically, nor are they based on experiment; they are taken on as assumptions, in order for the scientific enterprise to proceed. Many operating assumptions originated in a theistic philosophical context in the seventeenth century at the dawn of Western scientific revolution, with the dominating idea of an ordered universe established by a Creator (Colin Russell, Cross-currents: interactions between science and faith). The rationality of the world, the rational ability of the scientist and the fruitful connection between the two, are assumptions without which a scientist definitely cannot proceed. Science needs a philosophical/theological framework within which to operate (i.e. a suitable worldview). Science is derived from the rational method of philosophy and is dependent on it for estimates as to the meaning and value of what is proposed, observed, discovered and interpreted. Theology and philosophy provide science with key givens. Science in fact is not intellectually self-sufficient, but needs a faith infrastructure to be complete and whole; it can only claim (mythologize) intellectual independence artificially. D. Stephen Long (Speaking of God, p. 135) understands this:

Faith adds less a material content to geology, physics, mathematics, evolutionary science, economics, etc., than the form within which they can be properly understood so that they are never closed off from the mystery that makes all creaturely being possible.

b.  Science cannot legitimately address several of our most important human questions; it has no official monopoly on the questions humans should address: questions of morality, global or individual meaning, questions of ultimacy, questions of qualitative distinctons, or purpose: e.g. the famous Liebnitz’ question: Why is there something rather than nothing? Important things such as truth, meaning, purpose, goodness, community are not scientific facts or points of scientific conversation. They are immaterial relations and yet they are critical for human flourishing, sense of self and a robust vision for the world and the history in which we are deeply embedded. In fact, many things which are essential to personhood (thoughts, emotions, imagination, dreams, secrets, hopes, fears, doubts, longings) are not visible under the microscope, or examinable in a test tube. Yet, they constitute key dimensions of the self or core essence.

Thus, a scientist has no grounds for pontificating on the existence or non-existence of a Supreme Being or evaluating the danger and benefits of religion. Such claims are academically out of bounds; it is a philosophical, historical or theological claim, outside of the arena of scientific expertise and methodology. Sometimes we are so amazed by science’s success that we can become blind to the fact that it is actually a very restricted (and incomplete) form of knowing. Epistemological humility is called for as a good way to proceed. Hubris gets in the way of good science. Many of our top scientists realize that openness to other venues of insight is needed to complement scientific expertise. Einstein worried about the ethical and political implication of splitting the atom, and knew that science in itself did not have the answer. Science as a discipline has integrity when it does not exceed its proper limits and seek to rule out certain questions, answers or postulations as a fait accompli.

Gord Carkner

p.s Lighter Side of Scientism with John Cleese:


English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d...

English: Albert Einstein Français : portrait d’Albert Einstein (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: