I’m beginning to think that scientism is not only the greatest threat to religious belief in our current society, it is also the greatest threat to our discovering any valid philosophy of life.
That is, we seem to be heading back into the late nineteenth century mentality that science will give us all truth about life.
This, of course, immediately brings to mind the reasons why such an attitude failed – as well as the fact that our current optimism seems no more prepared for those difficulties than its nineteenth-century counterpart. The limits of science, the brutality of human nature, and the uncertainty of perception have not changed. I’ve even seen a growing defense of eugenics, as if the issues of corruption and discrimination have somehow been solved.
Rather, it has been shocking to me how many people find themselves unable to seriously question the idea that all truth is physical – that any true statement can be measured by science. Of course, philosophers are quick to point out that this belief, itself, cannot be measured by science and that, consequently, it fails on its own terms.
What concerns me, however, is the speed with which many try to rescue scientism from this self-contradiction. I’ve encountered several methods, all of which are poor, but it is extremely rare that a proponent of scientism seems to genuinely question the idea. I consider this to be extremely dangerous:
“Even the attempt to escape metaphysics is no sooner put in the form of a proposition than it is seen to involve highly significant metaphysical postulates. For this reason there is an exceedingly subtle and insidious danger in positivism [i.e. scientism]. If you cannot avoid metaphysics, what kind of metaphysics are you likely to cherish when you sturdily suppose yourself to be free from the abomination?”
– E.A. Burtt
To simply believe the philosophy one absorbed from PBS documentaries and high-school science classes, rather than understanding the exact nature of the discipline of science, brings a sort of absolute certainty that allows all the judgment, ridicule, and tribalism we see in any fideism.
Rather than insist that the limitations we impose on reality are correct, or claim that the (often wild) extrapolations modern people make from science are automatically valid, let us be open to the idea that physical evidence is irrelevant to many of life’s biggest questions. Simply using the terminology of science does not make science applicable to the question.
As a professed lover of science, I’m offended that people can’t enjoy science for what it is – simply marveling at the insights it gives us – rather than feeling the need to eliminate all other forms of knowing. Is science not amazing enough until we declare our rejection of everything else? Certainly, science itself does not comment on other fields of study.
I find that, while I don’t need to believe in fairies to enjoy a garden, I can equally enjoy it without pausing to eschew all belief in anything which can’t be reduced to physical processes.