Breaking Beakers and Graduated Cylinders! It’s Time to Pick On Science Nerds!

Did I get your attention?  I’d imagine the title would at least do that if not ruffle a few feathers.  In this following post, I’m going to address and refute an ideology that infests many people’s way of thinking.  It’s quite evident on YouTube, and I’m sure it’s prevalent on blogs throughout the internet.  This monster goes by the name of scientism.

Now let me elucidate a few things.  First, no, I’m not arbitrarily making up words.  You have social scientist Friedrich Hayek and philosopher Karl Popper to take the credit there.  Secondly, scientism and science are not the same thing.  Scientism is the view that natural science is the most authoritative worldview or aspect of human education, and that it is superior to all other interpretations of life[1].  Hopefully, I have made it abundantly clear from earlier post that I’m not one of those theists that demand the burning of science text books.  I’m all for scientific and empirical inquiry.  It’s definitely useful, but it is not the sole harbinger for discovering truth as some people champion it as.

Scientism mirrors a once popular epistemic view in philosophy during the first half of the last century known as logical positivism.  This view claims propositions not open to the senses are meaningless and hold no epistemic worth.  Currently, logical positivism has been long abandoned by philosophers.  Why?  The view had just too many problems within it.  Namely, it’s self-defeating.  The claim “propositions not open to the sense are meaningless…” would be meaningless according to logical positivism.  The truth value of that claim is undetectable by the senses.  But that claim has to be meaningful and true if logical positivism would be viable.  There were other multiple issues that I can’t name, but am aware of existing.  Philosophy of science is not my forte, and critiques of logical positivism such as Willard Van Orman Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” are as of now above me.  Therefore, I won’t do you guys or myself a disservice by ignorantly reaching above my station.  As I understand it, and granted, that’s fairly limited, logical positivism died a very long and slow death.  Like the Roman Empire, it fell into decline and gradually got chipped away at by attacks upon it.

The scientism subscribed to by today’s countless laypeople is just a remnant to an extinct philosophy.  The same self-refuting grounding problem still holds.  Scientism can’t justify itself by its own tenants.  Science can’t prove itself.  The conclusion science is the end-all-be-all of truth was not derived, although erroneous, was not derived in a lab with beakers and test tubes.  It’s an epistemic claim and therefore, also a philosophical one.  Yeah, that’s right.  As much scientists like to pound their chests at how science has practical utility while philosophy doesn’t, it ultimately is grounded in philosophy.  Without philosophy, there would be no science.  I didn’t want to do this, but I’m going to go off on a tangential rant here, so bear with me.

I guess what grinds my gears like Peter Griffin from “Family Guy” is the intellectual and pompous arrogance proponents of scientism have.  They say they are advocates of “reason” and “open-mindedness.”  The ironic thing is scientism is such a narrow, close-minded, unreasonable, and damning view.  It’s almost laughable at how they ignorantly spew their sophistry.

You see, if we just limit our knowledge to what science can tell us, we would not only have to rule out science itself, but also ethics, logic, math, metaphysics, epistemology and aesthetics.  Science presupposes logic and math to be true.  It also assumes there is a physical and external world to investigate.  I know that seems obvious because you would appeal to your senses.  But you would be begging the question because you would be using your senses, which is an empirical/scientific methodology.  As Bertrand Russell said something along the lines, it would be no contradiction to think that world was just created ten minutes ago with the appearance of age.  Metaphysically, claims like everything has a cause is assumed to be true by science.  With ethics, if you grant me morality exists, I would argue it is prescriptive in nature.  It prescribes how things ought to be. This is fundamentally disconnected from scientific inquiry.  Science describes how things are.  Although some try, you can’t get a prescriptive fact from a descriptive one or vice-versa.  It’s the equivalent of trying to weigh something with a yardstick.  Honestly, this could be the subject of an entirely different post in its own right, and it will be in the future.

So, I hope I’ve belabored my point, and it’s blatantly obvious that scientism is false and should be discarded.  Don’t get me wrong.  Science is wonderful and useful when kept in context.  It’s one of the many tools in the toolbox.  It should be used, but not for everything.  So kids, remember, science is cool; scientism is not.

[1] Sorell, Tom. Scientism: Philosophy and the Infatuation with Science. Routledge, 1994, p. 1ff.


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