Scientism

“Scientism is the belief that science, especially natural science, is much the most valuable part of human learning—much the most valuable part because it is much the most authoritative, or serious, or beneficial.”

Sorell, T. (1991) Scientism; Philosophy and infatuation with Science.  [Kindle  version].  Retrieved from Amazon.com  Chapter 1, paragraph 1

. All of us come into our worldview with a set of assumptions both conscious and unconscious about the world and our place in it. To be objective about any view of the world is simply not possible.  Not only is it not possible, but the idea is not even desirable.  For the assumption itself carries with it a set of blinders that feed our ego, but not our knowledge.  This is not to say that we should not try to be as objective as possible, but we must be aware that our conclusions are limited by our assumptions. Our assumptions are the result of what we have learned, both consciously and unconsciously. An example of this is how people use the word science itself. 

Science as it is used by Scientism advocates is an abstraction; Science obviously is not a thing like a table. The favorite refrain of scientism’s advocates, I will refer to them simply as Scientistic (for simplicity purposes throughout the rest of the book) is that “Science Tells Us”

When they speak of Science in this way, they are speaking of an abstraction. Abstractions can refer indirectly to groups of individuals or a process. They create in the mind a synthetic unity that does not physically exist but can be a container for self-identity, idolization, or its opposite, vilification. One cannot construct an argument about something based on the abstraction “Science “. You can argue a point based on a particular branch of science, a particular theory, or even paradigm. However, when an appeal is made or a claim registered for Science as an authority without specificity, that claim is specious.

Different disciplines make up the scientific community, and many different methodologies, obviously there is no place in the physical world where you can go visit Science, although there are places that you can go, like a laboratory where they practice a specific science. One can read books or attend lectures on specific aspects of a scientific discipline, Chemistry or Physics for instance. You can take a class in the Philosophy of Science, but you cannot visit Science itself.

There are serious implications for this simplification of Science.  It renders a complex body of knowledge, theories and a community of human beings and their efforts to a Golden Calf deserving of worship.  The statement “Science says,” Implies that “Science”, has a uniformity of opinion, which may or may not be true.  Secondly, it requires us accept the authority of Science, but in support an argument. This appeal to authority is a fallacy of defective induction, where it is argued that a statement is correct because the statement is made by a person or source that is commonly regarded as authoritative. The most general structure of this argument is:

Source A says that p is true.

Source A is authoritative.

Therefore, p is true

Even if we were to accept this clearly fallacious argument, we would still have to deal with the reality that there are levels of scientific certainty .There are those postulates with a coherent theory based on evidence, but there may also be an alternative theory, which explains the evidence. A case in point is a dispute among Evolutionary Biologists, is evolution gradual or not, and another example in physics is there are competing cosmologies the Big Bang versus the steady state model.

The majority of physicists adhere to the former but plasma physicist prefer the latter. We describe principles such as gravity as a natural law because the mathematical and empirical evidence is demonstrably plain and consistent… The other reason is historical the person who coined the phrase Sir Francis Beacon, was a lawyer. Then there is that in Science which is highly theoretical, and it is not readily or in some cases even possible to verify through Falsifiability.

If using the term law of nature is rather interesting in that the laws are often changed, which actually has been the case in physics where the Supreme Court of empirical evidence has overturned the previous law of nature.  So we went from and Aristotelian point of view two with a Newtonian one then two relativity and quantum mechanics.  Laws of nature are terms like science which need to be looked at closely and not accepted as permanent fixtures of our understanding of the universe as they are subject like any theoretical framework to falsification. William James addressed the issue in discussion:

But as the sciences have developed farther, the notion has gained ground that most, perhaps all, of our laws are only approximations. The laws themselves, moreover, have grown so numerous that there is no counting them; and so many rival formulation’s are proposed in all the branches of science that investigators have become accustomed to the notion that no theory is absolutely a transcript of reality, but that any one of them may from some point of view be useful. Their great use is to summarize old facts and to lead to new ones. They are only a manmade language, a conceptual shorthand, as some one calls them, in which we write our reports of nature; and languages, as is well known, tolerate much choice of expression and many dialects. But as the sciences have developed farther, the notion has gained ground that most, perhaps all, of our laws are only approximations. The laws themselves, moreover, have grown so numerous that there is no counting them; and so many rival ormulations are proposed in all the branches of science that investigators have become accustomed to the notion that no theory is absolutely a transcript of reality, but that any one of them may from some point of view be useful. Their great use is to summarize old facts and to lead to new ones. They are only a manmade language, a conceptual shorthand, as someone calls them, in which we write our reports of nature; and languages, as is well known, tolerate much choice of expression and many dialects.”

Pluralistic Universe, New York, 1909, pp. 321-4 and Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking [1907], New York, l909, pp. 52-61)

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