Contra Scientism

Few things are more tedious than the shrill and narrow-minded insistence that science is the Arbiter with the Answers. When I read scientists who grossly overestimate their abilities and are blind to the limitations of science, I cringe. Inside their meta-scientific box, everything makes sense in a tautological and clumsy way. Such thinking generates artificial clarity and feels robotic; it lacks what I would call suppleness and openness. I alluded to this the other day in my post on Pyrrhonian skepticism.

The world would be a better place if Sam Harris, Jerry Coyne, and their ilk immersed themselves in this methodological and non-mystical bath. Because they don’t strike me as the types who can do this (and aren’t inclined to read Nietzsche with either understanding or appreciation), they will have to be satisfied with Austin Hughes’ New Atlantis essay on “The Folly of Scientism.”

But this won’t work either. Why? Because it is a counter-polemic to people who specialize in polemics. It fights the battle on their turf. When the blind don’t know they are blind, or refuse to acknowledge their lack of insight, this will never work.

Once you’ve made up your mind that something is or is not the case, you have closed off all further investigation and obliged yourself to defend that position dogmatically. It’s ironic that scientists would take a position so antithetical to science, which at its best is open-ended inquiry into things that are subject to constant revision.

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15 thoughts on “Contra Scientism

  1. Lillian Cannon

    Thanks for the link to such an interesting piece. I am pleased to see such a distinguished scientist as Dr. Hughes take on the growing strength of scientism, and especially his takedown of evolutionary psychology.

    I suspect, in my very non-falsifiable way, that the reason why those people stay inside their box is because they, like so many in our culture, are incapable of incorporating or even seeing non-material ways of looking at the world. This comes out as denial of ethical or emotional concerns or disinterest in any spirituality. Since they are so uncomfortable with these “softer” issues that have to be argued with ethics and values, they prefer to stay inside the box with their cold, hard numbers that won’t require them to go out on a limb to defend what they think is right. They feel less exposed if they can point to a statistical model, as though God were there to say, “Dr. So-and-so is right.” It reveals a lack of emotional and spiritual development, which is ironic, considering how they are approaching the status of a priestly caste, as Dr. Hughes said.

  2. Dr. David Tee

    You don’t have any option other than global skepticism because you don’t accept the Word of God. Barring that, everything you assert is subject to insurmountable doubts. You simply can’t know anything about the world without the guidance of the Father.

  3. Cris Post author

    Did you think before you asserted that I don’t have any other options? The options are actually limitless: rather than being a skeptic, I could be a dogmatist. Or I could accept any one of the thousands of religions and forms of other belief that have existed in human history. Or I could be a syncretist and accept them all. Or I could reject them all and be an atheist. This is how things work for those who happily don’t accept your either/or binary between belief/non-belief.

  4. Curt Kiloton

    When I was a child I was torn between the science that was being taught in my public school and the religion that was being taught in my catholic after school religion classes.
    For years I did not fully accept western scientific materialism because of one historical event. That event was the death of both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the same day of July 4th 1826, the 50th anniversary of the Decleration of Independence.
    Over time though as my understanding of the contridictions of the Bible grew, and as my understanding of the philisophical srewyness of monotheism grew I decided that this historical event, which occured on July 4th 1826, must really be just an unimportant historical coincidence. I totally forgot when Adams and Jefferson died.
    But some years ago I began studying other world religions and world outlooks. Then earlier this year I rediscovered what I had forgotten about Adams and Jefferson. I realized that I could again see it for what it is. Evidence that there is something more going on in our earthly exsistance that just particals moving around and banging in to each other and changing shape.
    In fact I would go so far as to say that anyone who can not recognize that as evidence that there is something beyond which science can explain is not only a terrible scientist, if they are an American, they are a complete idiot. I will give non Americans the benifit of the doubt because they may be unaware of who John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were and the relationship that they had to each other and to the nation that they both led.
    I could finally accept the nearly simultaneous deaths of the two men as a sign of something funny going on here because I understood that one does not have to chose between scientific atheism on one hand and monotheism, let alone biblical literalism, on the other hand.
    My current choice is the theory advanced by Onion Magazine which is that we on planet earth are a crime drama on TV in a parallel universe.
    Aliens, yes those who fly around in the UFOs are the camera crews, the set crews, sound crews and so forth. The General Organization Directorate is a small group of Alien script writers that direct history. They do cameo appearences too. Harry Mulisch recently left the stage of history. Tom Fontana is still here.

    Our programs first season premiered in the fall of 1963. There will be a big celibration for our 50th anniversary. All evidence that the universe exisisted before 1963 was placed there by the set crew. All evidence that that what we see as the universe is some billions of light years large is an illusion created by computer graphics. If you think that is funny Laura Croft is laughing at you because the joke is on you.

  5. Curt Kiloton

    I forgot to mention why I think that all history before 1963 is an illusion, including our implanted memories. The General Organization Directorate wrote something in to the planetary history that is totally not belivable. That is the reported score of the 1940 NFL championship game. The devil is in the details. If you believe the reported history of this game I have a 50 million dollar book to sell to you. If you admit this that this game really never happened then you have to question everything about history.

  6. Cris Post author

    Mr. Kiloton — this is the first time in a long time that I’ve been at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say.

  7. Curt Kiloton

    Well it would be quite hard to make any measuremments of something that you could not see hear smell feel or in any other way detect.
    Science might have an important role to play in this production but Art is the star.

  8. Curt Kiloton

    The scope of the production is so grand that it almost boggles the imagination. The crime drama takes place inside of a larger story which is like Swiss Family Robbersohn or perhaps comparable to Lost although about that I am not sure as I only watched one or two episodes of the first season. Anyways it starts with the crash of an interdimentional transport craft which leaves all of the survivors with amnesia. Niether the survivors or the offspring have any idea why thhey are there. But this plot line takes place inside of still a larger plot line which is a psycho docudrama. It is an experiment to determine whether or not carbon based intellegence (humans for short) are capable of free will. The docudrama takes place inside of a mystry program which the mystry is did silicon based intellegence (AI machines for short) create carbon based intellegence or vice versa. Or will there be a surprise ending in which both were created by something else altogether different.
    Something that you should not forget. When psychologists are doing an experiment they go to great lengths to conceal the purpose of the experiments from the test subjects, to include giving them misleading information about the experiment. If the test subjects knew the purpose of the experiment they might have a motive to try to influence the results.

  9. Joe Miller

    “Anyways it starts with the crash of an interdimentional transport craft which leaves all of the survivors with amnesia.”

    What is the spaceship made out of?

  10. Cris Post author

    I don’t know what they do. I’m asking whether you measure your thoughts. If so, how do you do it?

    If you aren’t getting any thought measurements, how do you know that anything you think you have experienced is real?

    We could just start by doing simple measurements to verify some of your ideas (as presented here) but that wouldn’t take us very far, would it?

  11. Curt Kiloton

    Say you know what I find funny. Experiments have been done that show human undeerstanding of space and time are not what they seem to be. The scientific community does not really understand space or time. We percieve a 3 dimentional universe although many scientist say that if string theory is correct there are more than three dimentions. If our understanding of space and time are wrong,
    and it seems that they are, anything could be right. So I find it funny that almost all people do not believe in what I believe in.
    But of course scientists do not want to believe in something just because it is fun. No that is to artistic and does not conform to the rules of evidence. Scientists have rules for evidence. Yet scietifically speaking John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are just two men. Two men of many that died on July 4th 1826. Most scietistists do not see any symbolism in the death of these two men on exactly the same day but also on the fourth of July. Mainstream scientists who can not see July 4th 1826 as profoundly significant are seriuosly warped. Of course they are not alone.
    I on the other hand am not warped I am curved.

  12. Curt Kiloton

    Chris and Joe,
    By the way, why were you asking me if I measure my thoughts? Was that a back door way to interogate me? Did you want me to reveal whether I favor the metric measurement system or the normal measurement system therby providing key information about my pschological background?
    Joe, I do not know what the interdimentional craft was made of. As far as I know the General Organizational Directorate has not wrote that in to the script yet so if you really want to know you will have to stay tuned and see whether or not it is revealed. You might have to wait a very long time though as there are many far more important things that have to bbe written in to the script than that. Further more if and when the directorate gets around to be advised that they will insert many clues designed to mislead you. Then if one day they decide to reveal the answer to your question you can never be sure thatg it will be the final answer. They can always change the answer and then build a cover story fvor why the first answer was wrong.
    I have very little access to what is going on in the puzzle palace where theay work. My role in all of this is a low level location scout in a minor sub division. I get just enough tidbits to allow me to speculate. But those in the lofty levels of the directorate know that speculation can be dangerous.
    Today for example my employeers sent me to a chapel high on a hillside overlooking the city of Franfurt from the north. Now those who give me my orders know that I will draw certian infrences from today’s assignment. I know that they know that I know that they know. So a cat and mouse game ensues in which they send me on many a wild goose chase so that I can no longer tell the ddifference between a reel assignment and a goose chase. I could take a stab at when and where the next shooting will be but it would be nothing more than a hazardous guess. This is important
    becuase if word of this information leaked out it could draw a lot of onlookers which would significantly raise the costs of production maybe even throwing it behind schedule.
    One thing is clear though. The events of july 4th 1826 are a clue to something. My intuition honed by years of training is that one infrence that we can draw from it is that we are being watched. That is of course not enough to know where we stand in the rating overall or even in our time slot.
    We know that we have not been cancelled yet but if we get bad ratings we could be cancelled at any time. You may think that this information is unimportant but I beg to differ. If we do not grow up and realize that we are actors we will not be able to form an actors union. If we do not grow up and realizze that we are actors being manipulated by higher ups we will not even know who to present our grivances to. If we do not gain some oversight over the script the directorate could write the ending in such a way as to make it appear that we were cancelled because of bad acting rather than a bad script. I myself perfer to try to unionize even though the chances of success seem very low.

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