Posted by: gcarkner | September 29, 2012

Scientism Investigation continued…4

Scientism Entails Logical Problems as noted by Philosophers

This is the fourth instalment on the ideology of scientism as we bring it to the bar of academic scrutiny:

Scientism as a philosophical claim of knowledge monopoly becomes shipwrecked on its own rocks, so to speak. The key claim of empiricism or positivism (that only what is empirically testable is true) cannot be justified empirically. The argument lacks substance, and appears self-contradictory. Famous positivist A. J. Ayer himself eventually admitted that his system was bankrupt. The claim that only factual statements have validity is itself non-factual, speculative, even closed-minded. Let me explain.

We are continually challenged by the reflective meaning in the minds which we use every day. Without this reflective meaning, we would be far less human and much more dysfunctional. Confronting determinism and the loss of free will, English scholar C.S. Lewis exposed another internal contradiction (coherence issue) in scientism. It leads us down a path towards an irrational position. It actually undermines human reason if we naively buy into its philosophical naturalism as a worldview (closed world picture) along with its reductionism of the human. Lewis writes (Miracles, . 15)

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motion of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true … and hence I have no reason to suppose my brain to be composed of atoms.

Reason has to be more than brain, more than a mere neuro-physiological process. When we are asked to believe in reason deriving from non-reason, we uncover another logical non-sequitur. There must be some kind of transcendent, self-existent reason in order to justify and comply with human rationality and the very legitimacy of scientific discovery. Reason cannot be reduced to physics and chemistry, or we have lost it in a kind of philosophical meltdown—lost the transcendence of mind over body that we clearly need in order to flourish. Alvin Plantinga also speaks profoundly to this issue in Where the Conflict Really Lies, Chapter 10.

Logical Consequences Scientism pushes us towards complete irrationality: mind, reason, will and thought end up having no real existence; they are reduced to mere epiphenomena of matter (the only real thing). By collapsing everything into the physical, scientism implicitly undercuts the very validity of rational thought, and commissions science itself to a virtual and unfortunate intellectual cul de sac.

One also loses free will in the process as we will explain in a later blog post. According to Christian Stanford Neurobiologist William Newsome, our brains grow new neural networks as we are educated and learn new skills, a phenomenon known as plasticity. This indicates the importance of the top down (mind-to-brain), as well as the emergence from the bottom up (neural networks as the infrastructure of mind), without which it is impossible to function normally. Newsome also reflects upon the concept of emergence: the idea that mind emerges from the complexity of brain. Clearly it is at least this complex, but probably still more complex than that, especially when we realize the importance of reflective transcendence (res cogitans). The debates continue, but some things are quite clear.

Scientism deprives science of other types of reason (approaches to truth), which can enrich and empower it; it represses the complexity of the world that actually exists. D. Stephen Long (Speaking of God, p. 135) wisely notes:

Every account of reason assumes something beyond it, some enabling condition that makes it possible but cannot be accounted for within its own systematic aspirations.

James Cushing agrees with the need of reason beyond scientific reason (Philosophical Concepts in Physics: the historical relationship between philosophy and scientific theories). He  notes that there are actually several philosophical concepts in physics, without which physics would not be the successful science that it is today.

We propose that the reasons of faith and the reasons of science are mutually enriching if understood in proper perspective. Perhaps it is possible to receive the gift of faith and the gift of science together as mutually compatible guests in our intellectual home . They need not be opposed to one another says Owen Gingerich, Senior Astronomer at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Professor of Astronomy and the History of Science at Harvard. As a scientist with a profound grasp of historical scholarship, he has few peers (reference below in The Book of the Cosmos)). Creation (the natural world), although significant, is not self-interpreting; its meaning, if it has any, resides beyond it; creation/nature is a brute fact until we give it value. The problems we are discovering in the ideology of scientism are a sign which points beyond the world of immanence, to a transcendent dimension, a transcendent dimension without which we cannot function. What think ye?

Gord Carkner

Question: Why is it that so few PhD students in the sciences and engineering ever take a course in the history or philosophy of science?

Further Reading: book by Nancey Murphy & Warren Brown, My Neurons Made Me Do It?; C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man;

Chapter 85, The Book of the Cosmos (ed. Dennis R. Danielson): “Do the Heavens Declare?” by Owen Gingerich

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