Science vs. Scientism Part 2

In reaction to the previous post, someone commented on a Facebook thread:

Scientism does not exist, it is a strawman created by occultists and wizards whose arguments are five hundred years out of date.

Here is the truth about scientism, from an atheist philosopher of science:

Let’s… call the worldview that all us atheists (and even some agnostics) share ‘scientism.’ This is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science’s description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when ‘complete,’ what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today.” – Alex Rosenberg, from his book The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions

Alex Rosenberg co – directs the Center for Philosophy of Biology at Duke University. By the way, this quote was not intended by Dr. Rosenberg as a satire, but promoted as a legitimate philosophical position. To see how well Dr. Rosenberg’s claims hold up to scrutiny, watch this debate.

To see a critique of scientism from a non-theist, see the Amazon book review of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality by Massimo Pigliucci.


9 thoughts on “Science vs. Scientism Part 2

    1. There are several things I can think of off the top of my head that cannot be figured out by science.

      1) Truth.
      2) Logic.
      3) The real existence of the world around us.
      3) The general reliability of our senses to observe the world.

      These are things that cannot be figured out by science. These things must be assumed for science to work.

      1. Jared replies to the comment that the following can’t be “figured out by science”…

        “1) Truth.
        2) Logic.
        3) The real existence of the world around us.
        3) The general reliability of our senses to observe the world. ”

        You had two 3 ) which I assume is either ironic or a test but for point 4 what you seem to have forgotten is that one of the advances of the scientific method is to not accept our senses as being reliable.

        And for a good reason because science has figured out that our senses are unreliable. Any criticism of the senses is self-defeating because if the sense are reliable then they are reliable for science (so science is wasting time worrying about something that doesn’t exist), and if they are unreliable then critic has no mechanisms to compensate.

        I will go through the others in turn,
        1) Truth – is what is true and true are things that are congruent to reality. Science asymptotically approaches the truth and unlike religion or pseudo-science doesn’t have the presumptions to declare things true without proof. Science also has mathematics and that does have truths with proofs but mathematics deals with abstracts not concrete.
        2) Logic can be figured out by science and mathematics. All the laws of logic are discoverable and make sense because they make sense in matter. The stability of matter ultimately comes from the Pauli exclusion principle. Without stable matter there would be no logic.
        3) This is incoherent; Science is about discovering the real existence of the world around us. Anyone critical of what science is doing needs to come up with a better mechanism of discovering the real existence of the world around us.
        3)/4) – was covered further above.

      2. Interesting response Lincoln, but I stand by my original comments (with the exception of two threes, which was a typo).

        I’m afraid you have done absolutely no damage to the notion that truth, logic, reality, and the reliability of our senses must be assumed in order to do science. In fact, everything you say proves rather than disproves it and you have not successfully demonstrated that science proves truth, logic, reality, and unreliable sense perception.

        Let’s start with the most fundamental thing–truth.

        How does science asymptomatically approach truth without first assuming there is such a thing as truth?

  1. Truth is what is true and what is true is what is congruent to reality. Science doesn’t determine what is true but what is reality. Mathematics has a process of determining truth within its abstract realm and mathematics is emergent from reality.

    Your question should be, “How does science asymptomatically approach truth without first assuming there is such a thing as reality?”

    Now that’s the real question and science assumes that there is a reality which is called nature that is observable around us. There is the idea of a brain-in-a-vat but even that construct will have a constructed reality and thus things which are true within that reality. Such twists to existence remain a problem for everyone though and are not a unique problem for science.

    Is it a problem to assume that there is a reality around us ? Those that argue it is a problem are stretching extreme scepticism into an absurdity. Is that what you are promoting – Absurdism ?

    I’m still bemused that you have not accepted that our senses are unreliable. Why do you keep going on about how science must assume our senses are reliable when I have outright stated that science does NOT assume our sense are reliable. So it is quite the reverse – science assumes that our senses are unreliable. It knows our sense are unreliable, vis-a-vis optical illusions, and such unreliability is a problem for religious first person experience and eye witnessing. It is not a problem for science.

    1. Science doesn’t determine reality. In fact science doesn’t do anything, but scientists assume reality, observe what they can–the natural world–and draw conclusions about the reality of the natural world based on their interpretation of the data. While it may be true that the natural world is all that can be empirically observed, it is begging the question in favor of naturalism to assume that the natural world is all that exists.

      And while it is true that science has been able to uncover things like optical illusions that show our senses can be wrong, when such illusions are discovered presumably the scientist’s senses and reasoning abilities were functioning well enough to accurately observe the data which indicated the illusion. Otherwise, the scientist would descend into the absurd level of skepticism you describe.

      You still have not really answered my question. I asked you to show that truth is not assumed in order to do science, and you provide me with completely contractory statements.

      If truth is what is congruent to reality (a point on which we agree) please explain exactly how science (or rather scientists, since as I pointed out science itself doesn’t actually do anything) determine what is reality, but not what is true?

      If truth is not assumed there would be no point in scientists attempting to determine what is true about the natural world. At best they might concoct a vivid mythology like the Hindus who believe that the physical world is “maya” or illusion. You seem to be confusing epistemology–how we know truth–with ontology–what truth is. Science can be used to tell us true things about the natural world. It cannot tell us whether such a thing as truth actually exists.

  2. That is why science uses methodological naturalism. It is the assumption of naturalism. There is no “begging the question in favor of naturalism to assume that the natural world is all that exists” because if anyone can show that metaphysical naturalism is true or false then the burden is theirs to come forward with the evidence. Meanwhile methodological naturalism will suffice and it works well. Please note the precise wording of where I use methodological and where I use metaphysical. This is at the heart of the strawman attack against science (or scientism or materialism or physicalism or naturalism or even atheism) and that is conflating the assumption or methodological position with the metaphysical or strong or philosophical position.

    I think we have addressed the unreliability of the senses and if someone has a method that is better than what is used within the scientific method to work around the known unreliability then the burden is theirs to present the method. Many complain about scientific method but never actually offer anything better.

    Rather than me being confused it is you; it has taken a number of posts for you to even admit the unreliability of the senses and now you are still tilting at the strawman of truth in science even though I stated that if you want proofs and truth then you should be looking at mathematics. The scope of science is to discover the reality around us that we know as nature. It is provable that we cannot know everything (for many reasons from the Uncertainty principle through to there being an uncountable number of undecideable problems in this universe).

    Your position is like those that assume atheism means the positive claim that there is no god rather than the assumption that there is no god pending evidence to the contrary and equally methodological naturalism is the assumption of naturalism pending evidence to the contrary. Those that attack science or atheism based on those philosophical positions are creating a stick to beat their own back and should be focusing on providing the necessary evidence that refutes the assumptions.

    1. I think you have rather hit the nail on the head there Lincoln in making the distinction between methodological and ontological or metaphysical assumptions/positions.

      That is not to say that Jared has not made some salient points about what has been characterised as “scientism”, a world view that undoubtedly exists, both amongst scientists and the “apologists of science”, and that apparently doesn’t understand the distinction you have drawn. If his criticisms are taken as directed at scientism, rather than “science” (which I think was the original intention), then they are valid.

      As a practicing scientist myself, I also lament the rise of the worldview he is criticising. I’ve posted on something similar here:

      I think that a large percentage of the misconceptions about science that Jared mentions arise from the mistaken belief that “science” itself (never mind “scientism”) is somehow separate from “philosophy” (considering that you are engaging in a debate utilising concepts drawn from philosophy of science, Lincoln, it’s clear that you are not the kind of “scientismist” Jared’s original post was aimed at). Clearly, science is (not “is merely”, just “is”) a branch of philosophy (as is theology). There can be no (absurd) notion of “science superseding philosophy” if this simple fact is understood. It’s important to note, however, that is often the apologists of some of the outspoken scientists mentioned (e.g., Dawkins), rather than those scientists themselves, who fail to understand this fact (although numerous famous scientists have said some very silly things about “philosophy”…not always in jest).

      P.S. I think the philosophical position Jared was espousing was Phenomenalism, not Absurdism.

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