In another thread, reference was made to some people's criticism of a position known as "scientism," and the statement was made that scientists aren't believers in scientism and, further, that nobody is.

I'm not so sure. What, exactly, is wrong with scientism?

Tags: scientism

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What the hell is scientism? I don't believe in it even though I don't know what it is. Sounds hokey to me like damn near every other -ism. (Even though I don't know what it is.)
From the OED:

"
scientism

(ˈsaɪəntɪz(ə)m)

[f. scient- (see scientist) + -ism.]

1.1 The habit and mode of expression of a man of science.

   1877 Fraser's Mag. XVI. 274 Its dogmatism on the one hand,‥and its ‘scientism’ on the other, even when most atheistic, are tempered with mutual civility.    1895 Daily News 14 Nov. 6/5 By scientism he meant to express that change which had come over the thought of the world in consequence of the wonderful additions to the common stock of knowledge.    1903 Contemp. Rev. May 727 What modern Scientism knows as the Supersensuous Consciousness.

2.2 A term applied (freq. in a derogatory manner) to a belief in the omnipotence of scientific knowledge and techniques; also to the view that the methods of study appropriate to physical science can replace those used in other fields such as philosophy and, esp., human behaviour and the social sciences.

   1921 G. B. Shaw Back to Methuselah p. lxxviii, The iconography and hagiology of Scientism are as copious as they are mostly squalid.    1937 J. Laver French Painting in Nineteenth Cent. i. 73 It really appeared to many educated people that at last all the secrets of the universe would be discovered and all the problems of human life solved. This superstition‥we may call ‘Scientism’.    1938 G. Reavey tr. Berdyaev's Solitude & Society i. 12 Science has not only progressively reduced the competence of philosophy, but it has also attempted to suppress it altogether and to replace it by its own claim to universality. This process is generally known as ‘scientism’.    1942 F. A. von Hayek in Economica IX. 269 We shall wherever we are concerned, not with the general spirit of disinterested inquiry but with that slavish imitation of the method and language of science, speak of ‘scientism’ or the ‘scientistic’ prejudice.    1953 A. H. Hobbs Social Problems & Scientism ii. 17 Scientism, as a belief that science can furnish answers to all human problems, makes science a substitute for philosophy, religion, manners, and morals.‥ It is a pattern of beliefs‥a creed that shapes thinking and affects behavior.    1956 E. H. Hutten Lang. Mod. Physics vi. 273 This belief in the omnipotence of science is‥making a mockery of science: for this scientism represents the same, superstitious, attitude which, in previous times, ascribed such power to a supernatural agency.    1957 W. H. Whyte Organization Man iii. 23 Scientism,‥the promise that with the same techniques that have worked in the physical sciences we can eventually create an exact science of man.    1969 Encounter Jan. 23/2 There is an aberration of science‥which has come to be known as ‘scientism’.‥ It stands for the belief that science knows or will soon know all the answers.    1972 K. R. Popper Objective Knowl. iv. 185 The term ‘scientism’ meant originally ‘the slavish imitation of the method and language of (natural) science’, especially by social scientists.    Ibid. 186 But I would go even further and accuse at least some professional historians of ‘scientism’.    1977 A. Sheridan tr. J. Lacan's Écrits iii. 76 The early development of psychoanalysis‥expresses‥nothing less than the re-creation of human meaning in an arid period of scientism.    1980 Times Lit. Suppl. 26 Sept. 1072/2 Naturalism, in David Thomas's usage, is equivalent to what many know as scientism: the doctrine that there is no reason to think that the study of human agents, and the study of the social systems to which human agents give rise, cannot be pursued according to a methodology drawn from natural science.



"
I think 'scientism' is mostly used by theists when they are claiming that science is like a religion for some people, i.e. just as dogmatic and closed minded as their religion :-)
I am happy to agree that there are true mathematical statements and true linguistic statements (analytic statements, like "All bachelors are unmarried"); if we add such statements to the corpus of science, then it seems to me that there are two types of statement that can be known to be true (assuming that there is an objectively existing reality of which our senses give us reasonably reliable information): Scientific statements, and phenomenal statements ("I am happy"; "I am experiencing a unicorn-ish mental image"; "I feel pain").

A statement like "The Mona Lisa is beautiful" wouldn't be a true statement, not because the Mona Lisa isn't beautiful (although I don't think it is), but because beauty doesn't inhere in the Mona Lisa. "Person S finds the Mona Lisa beautiful" may be true, but not "The Mona Lisa is beautiful." Similarly, a statement like "Rape is wrong" wouldn't be a true statement, not because rape isn't wrong (although I judge it to be), but because wrongness doesn't inhere in actions. "Person S thinks of rape as wrong" may be true; "Rape is wrong, given person S's set of values" may be true; but not "Rape is wrong." Aesthetic and moral judgments are value judgments, not truths (although, of course, "Person S has thus-and-such values and therefore finds rape to be wrong" may be true).

If the "scientism" objection is to the notion that science will deliver to us all truths, it is well-founded. I strongly doubt that we will or even can ever know everything, through science or otherwise.

If the "scientism" objection is to the notion that all that can be known to be true are scientific truths (taking mathematical and linguistic/conceptual truths to be scientific), it is well-founded. Lots of truths are truths about individual human beings' mental states.

If the "scientism" objection is to the notion that all that can be known to be true, *outside of individual human beings' mental states*, are scientific truths--well, what's the objection?
As I've seen the concept of scientism deployed by religious apologists, it's generally a slam against people who insist on scientific explanations as being dogmatic. I don't see it as an especially strong slam, because I don't see insisting on independent verification of a claim as any kind of dogma, so it misses the point.

If by scientism people mean the uncritical acceptance of anything "scientific", then sure, that would be problematic. Lots of things sound scientific but aren't. Blindly accepting something because a scientist said so is no more than accepting an argument from authority. Scientists can lie or be mistaken, like anybody else. Science, however, is self-correcting in the long run. Mistakes and frauds are weeded out, and facts are refined to ever-greater degrees of accuracy. There's just no way that Newton's laws of motion are incorrect. Einstein refined them at high relative velocities, but throwing a baseball works the same way it always has, and it always will. It's perfectly reasonable to trust in scientific conclusions that have been repeatedly confirmed.

In short, I believe that science is not simply one way of knowing, but, rather, the only way of knowing, and if that makes me a scientismist (ugh), then I'm guilty as charged. The only way we have ever figured anything out is by the scientific method of independent verification. All other approaches to discovering facts about the universe have been bunk. I don't think that's dogmatic, though. I think it's just empirical fact. I don't even see how it's possible for any other method to reliably work. Anything that uncovers verifiable facts is by definition scientific.
You lay it out perfectly Jason. To a person trying to argue against a proven scientific Theory, who otherwise has no scientific understanding, there is pretty much calling science dogma (which is hilarious) or saying shut up I'm right... or both. Scientism is nonetheless a potential problem and a potential boon. I don't think I need to explain why it could be a problem as Jason has already addressed this issue. However it seems that a lot of people simply do not have the capacity to actually understand science so perhaps it would be better if they just believed in science (blindly because that is the only way that these sorts believe in anything).
Yeah, it's a poor second choice, but I'd rather have people on the side of science for the wrong reasons than on the side of religion for the same wrong reasons. First choice is that people actually become educated in what we've learned about how the universe works.
There's logic to it too. Having seen aeroplanes fly, antibiotics wipe out a major cause of death, and huge miracles, like cellular telephones or DVD players, but never any angels or miracles, it's be a foolish person who didn't have some faith in science and little in gods. Even if they understood none of the reasons for, for example, aeroplanes flying.
There's logic to it, yes - but the difference between this kind of scientism and religion is not always obvious.
I love the cargo cults! Some of them even worship Phil the Greek, which is quite an impressive deification.

I agree that there's a need to know that items are actually manufactured from scientific principles and aren't actually magic.
If "scientism is good" or "scientism is right" are not true statements then "scientism" is neither good nor right.

If the way everyone else thinks of scientism is your third option there then I'm for it but isn't that just called "science". I believe in the scientific method for figuring things out. I have not encountered any other method of thought that helps me more. It is wrong for people to stick an "ism" on a method for problem solving if it works as advertised.
'As advertised'? You're surely not trying to claim that crude capitalism and its mercantile 'values' are appropriate tools for ontology, are you??

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