Tag Archives: Scientism

MUST-READ: What’s the difference between science and scientism?

Here’s an article by Edward Feser at Public Discourse. (H/T via ECM)

What is scientism?

Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently “anti-science.” There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it “therefore” has no rational foundation at all.

What’s wrong with scientism?

Despite its adherents’ pose of rationality, scientism has a serious problem: it is either self-refuting or trivial. Take the first horn of this dilemma. The claim that scientism is true is not itself a scientific claim, not something that can be established using scientific methods. Indeed, that science is even a rational form of inquiry (let alone the only rational form of inquiry) is not something that can be established scientifically. For scientific inquiry itself rests on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists; that this world is governed by causal regularities; that the human intellect can uncover and accurately describe these regularities; and so forth. Since science presupposes these things, it cannot attempt to justify them without arguing in a circle. And if it cannot even establish that it is a reliable form of inquiry, it can hardly establish that it is the only reliable form. Both tasks would require “getting outside” science altogether and discovering from that extra-scientific vantage point that science conveys an accurate picture of reality—and in the case of scientism, that only science does so.

What else is wrong with scientism?

The irony is that the very practice of science itself, which involves the formulation of hypotheses, the weighing of evidence, the invention of technical concepts and vocabularies, the construction of chains of reasoning, and so forth—all mental activities saturated with meaning and purpose—falls on the “subjective,” “manifest image” side of scientism’s divide rather than the “objective,” “scientific image” side. Human thought and action, including the thoughts and actions of scientists, is of its nature irreducible to the meaningless, purposeless motions of particles and the like. Some thinkers committed to scientism realize this, but conclude that the lesson to draw is not that scientism is mistaken, but that human thought and action are themselves fictions. According to this radical position—known as “eliminative materialism” since it entails eliminating the very concept of the mind altogether instead of trying to reduce mind to matter—what is true of human beings is only what can be put in the technical jargon of physics, chemistry, neuroscience and the like. There is no such thing as “thinking,” “believing,” “desiring,” “meaning,” etc.; there is only the firing of neurons, the secretion of hormones, the twitching of muscles, and other such physiological events.

Scientism can’t even ground our own experience of 1st-person consciousness.

What is self-refutation and what are some examples of self-refutation?

Why, self-refutation is the most wonderful thing in the world, next to irony.

Look at this post from Thinking Matters New Zealand.

First, they define what self-refutation is:

In his Introduction to Logic, Harry Gensler defines a self-refuting statement as “[A] statement that makes negative claims so sweeping that it ends up denying itself.” [1] In other words, it results when an argument or position is undercut by its own criteria  (An example of this would be saying, “I cannot speak a word of English” in English).

Then they have a list of examples of self-refutation. Here are some:

  1. Truth does not exist (Is that a true statement?)
  2. Nothing is absolute (Is that absolutely true?)
  3. I do not exist (You must exist to deny that you exist)
  4. Science is the only way to know (Can you scientifically prove that?)
  5. Only what can be perceived by the five senses exists (Can you prove that by the five senses?)

Go here to read the rest.

I work in the software engineering industry, so we have a lot of nerds running around who believe all kinds of crazy things that are self-refuting. There is a lot of skepticism of the laws of logic and analytical philosophy. A self-refuting statement that I hear a lot is: “Don’t judge me, because it’s wrong to judge other people”. And I just ask them: “Well if it’s wrong to judge other people, then why are you judging me?”. (Actually, I noticed that MandM has a post up about judging right now!)

I wonder if my regular readers have ever heard any self-refuting statements? If you know any more, leave it in the comments.

On another topic, it turns out that the author of this post on self-refutation blogs at Rational Thoughts. I added their blog to the blog roll. Check them out.

MUST-READ: J.P. Moreland’s argument for theism from consciousness

Here’s a post from Thinking Matters New Zealand.

Excerpt:

Last year, the release of J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology saw a lot of attention. And quite rightly. The Companion marshalled some of most cutting-edge work in the field of the philosophy of religion and showed why natural theology is fast becoming an exciting scholarly domain again. But in the shadow of the Companion’s release, another of Moreland’s works was published: The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism. Although it might not have got the same amount of attention, The Recalcitrant Imago Dei also represented an important entry in the contest of ideas and a powerful defense of theism. In it, Moreland argues for the theistic position by way of a stinging attack on naturalism and its failure to answer the problem of consciousness and account for the basic facts of human experience, such as free will, rationality, and intrinsic value.

And here’s the formal argument:

1. Genuinely non-physical mental states exist.

2. There is an explanation for the existence of mental states.

3. Personal explanation is different from natural scientific explanation.

4. The explanation for the existence of mental states is either a personal or natural scientific explanation.

5. The explanation is not a natural scientific one.

Therefore

6. The explanation is a personal one.

7. If the explanation is personal, then it is theistic.

Therefore

8. The explanation [for the existence of mental states] is theistic.

That’s the argument. Each of the premises needs to be more likely than not for the argument to go through. And you can read about how each premise is supported in this helpful post from Bill Vallicella at Prosblogion. This is good little argument to ad to your quiver of scientific arguments. I think this argument and moral argument are two nice little philosophical arguments that show that theism is the necessary starting point for morality and rationality. Particles in motion will not do the job.

I actually learned about this argument by reading chapter 3 of “Scaling the Secular City”, and listening to J.P. Moreland lectures. If you want to learn about this argument in a lecture, try this one. This is one of my favorite lectures. It was delivered at the University of Georgia. That’s the one I use when I’m training this argument, along with his lecture on “The Invisible Man” for Stand to Reason’s Masters Series, which is also good. Moreland also does public debates.

I notice that the new book mentioned above is quite expensive, and you’d be better off buying “Body and Soul” and “Philosophical Foundations for a  Christian Worldview”. SPCK is an academic press and so their books are very expensive, compared to IVP.