Earlier, I just pointed out that if life and/or evolution was designed, science could not detect it. It is the clear implication of the limitations of science we have discussed. Now, if you bristled at that conclusion and find yourself in disagreement, it is probably because you subscribe, consciously or subconsciously, to scientism.
So what is scientism?
PBS defines scientism as follows:
Unlike the use of the scientific method as only one mode of reaching knowledge, scientism claims that science alone can render truth about the world and reality. Scientism’s single-minded adherence to only the empirical, or testable, makes it a strictly scientifc worldview, in much the same way that a Protestant fundamentalism that rejects science can be seen as a strictly religious worldview. Scientism sees it necessary to do away with most, if not all, metaphysical, philosophical, and religious claims, as the truths they proclaim cannot be apprehended by the scientific method. In essence, scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth.
This is not bad, but the author confuses things some by conflating science with the scientific method. We could get into that if you want, but let’s move to a better description as found in the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics.
Scientism is a philosophical position that exalts the methods of the natural sciences above all other modes of human inquiry. Scientism embraces only empiricism and reason to explain phenomena of any dimension, whether physical, social, cultural, or psychological. Drawing from the general empiricism of The Enlightenment, scientism is most closely associated with the positivism of August Comte (1798-1857) who held an extreme view of empiricism, insisting that true knowledge of the world arises only from perceptual experience. Comte criticized ungrounded speculations about phenomena that cannot be directly encountered by proper observation, analysis and experiment. Such a doctrinaire stance associated with science leads to an abuse of reason that transforms a rational philosophy of science into an irrational dogma (Hayek, 1952). It is this ideological dimension that we associate with the term scientism.
If you place the natural sciences above all other modes of human inquiry, then the realization that science may be unable to detect design will be perceived as a threat, especially if you are using natural sciences as a foundation for your metaphysics. If science is supposed to support one’s metaphysics, then it will become essential to believe that science has no such blind spot. It will, in fact, infuriate you to think otherwise.
Let’s move on to the next part:
Epistemological scientism lays claim to an exclusive approach to knowledge. Human inquiry is reduced to matters of material reality. We can know only those things that are ascertained by experimentation through application of the scientific method. And since the method is emphasized with such great importance, the scientistic tendency is to privilege the expertise of a scientific elite who can properly implement the method. But science philosopher Susan Haack (2003) contends that the so-called scientific method is largely a myth propped up by scientistic culture. There is no single method of scientific inquiry. Instead, Haack explains that scientific inquiry is contiguous with everyday empirical inquiry (p. 94). Everyday knowledge is supplemented by evolving aids that emerge throughout the process of honest inquiry. These include the cognitive tools of analogy and metaphor that help to frame the object of inquiry into familiar terms. They include mathematical models that enable the possibility of prediction and simulation. Such aids include crude, impromptu instruments that develop increasing sophistication with each iteration of a problem-solving activity. And everyday aids include social and institutional helps that extend to lay practitioners the distributed knowledge of the larger community. According to Haack, these everyday modes of inquiry open the scientific process to ordinary people and they demystify the epistemological claims of the scientistic gate keepers. (p. 98)
I have never read Susan Haack before, but I should. It appears that her critique is the same one I have been making for at least a decade now. Read that paragraph over a few times and let it sink in.
The description then becomes even more thought-provoking:
The abuse of scientism is most pronounced when it finds its way into public policy. A scientistic culture privileges scientific knowledge over all other ways of knowing. It uses jargon, technical language, and technical evidence in public debate as a means to exclude the laity from participation in policy formation. Despite such obvious transgressions of democracy, common citizens yield to the dictates of scientism without a fight. The norms of science abound in popular culture and the naturalized authority of scientific reasoning can lead unchecked to a malignancy of cultural norms.
Whoa. Now it should start to become clear why it is that the Creationist Movement, the ID Movement, and the New Atheist movement are so strikingly similar – they all draw heavily from the well of scientism as they engage the culture. As I noted when I first started this blog:
This would mean that science can never detect design, even if it exists, as science cannot be built upon such a subjective foundation. And this is a bitter pill for many. Part of this is, of course, cultural. We have all been shaped by a culture that invests science with great authority. This becomes clear even in the realm of pop culture, where a late night TV ad for a new diet pill claims to have “scientific studies” showing it works. So everyone wants science to be able to resolve this issue and everyone wants science to be on their side.
The ID people will tell me, “But if your views are not science, no one will take them seriously.” The New Atheist people will me, “Since your views are not science, there is no reason to take them seriously.” Fine. Who cares? But don’t lose sight of the fact that embedded in such demands and complaints is a lack of respect for critical thinking and intellectually honesty. How so? Y’see, I don’t view critical thinking and intellectual honesty as valuable or important only if they can be absorbed by the cultural label ‘Science’ in order to get attention.
If open-ended curiosity, guided by critical thinking and intellectual honesty, is worthless to you because such inquiry is not science, then you embrace scientism. You are the product of your culture.