Since I enjoyed Ian Hutchinson’s essay so much, I decided to skip ahead and offer some more commentary.
Many of life’s most important matters simply do not possess reproducibility. History, for example, cannot be understood by appeal to reproducibility. Its most significant events are often unique, never to be repeated. There is no way to experiment on history, and no way to repeat the observations. Some parts of historical study benefit from scientific techniques, but the main mission of history cannot be addressed through reproducibility; its methods are not those of science. Yet history possesses real knowledge.
Here people will quibble about whether or not history is science (it is not). So let’s pick another example that cannot be disputed – memory.
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Ian Hutchinson has written a very nice essay on scientism. He defines it as “the belief that science is all the real knowledge there is” and then highlights three very serious problems with this belief system. The problems are so serious that an intellectually honest approach would have us steer clear of scientism.
Posted in scientism
Remember my concern about naïve realism?
Naïve realism is the conviction that one sees the world as it is and that when people don’t see it in a similar way, it is they that do not see the world for what it is. Ross characterized naïve realism as “a dangerous but unavoidable conviction about perception and reality”. The danger of naïve realism is that while humans are good in recognizing that other people and their opinions have been shaped and influenced by their life experiences and particular dogmas, we are far less adept at recognizing the influence our own experiences and dogmas have on ourselves and opinions. We fail to recognize the bias in ourselves that we are so good in picking out in others.
Of course, many people might be tempted to dismiss this as being rather insignificant, given that science has provided a means to “see the world for what it is.” Not so fast. I encourage you to read Jonah Lehrer’s article, The Truth Wears Off : Is there something wrong with the scientific method?
Lehrer explains the Decline Effect, where scientific findings are reported and with time, it becomes harder and harder for others to replicate the findings. The problem is widespread and there appear to be many factors that bring about this phenomenon. For those who have heard me talk about confirmation bias in the past, you might enjoy this example:
Here’s a nice example to show how our culture is so deeply influenced by scientism:
Such scenes are speculative, but Hawking uses them to lead on to a serious point: that a few life forms could be intelligent and pose a threat. Hawking believes that contact with such a species could be devastating for humanity.
He suggests that aliens might simply raid Earth for its resources and then move on: “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”
Hold on. Why does this sound so familiar?
A few weeks back, I showed you how PZ Myers misleads people with the word ‘science’ by falsely making it synonymous with a critical, rational examination. Well, Jerry Coyne recently did the same thing.
Coyne begins by recognizing there are limitations to science:
I’d like to draw your attention to an excellent article by Edward Feser who is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, CA. It is entitled Blinded by Scientism.
Feser begins by outlining scientism:
Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science. There is at least a whiff of scientism in the thinking of those who dismiss ethical objections to cloning or embryonic stem cell research as inherently “anti-science.” There is considerably more than a whiff of it in the work of New Atheist writers like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, who allege that because religion has no scientific foundation (or so they claim) it “therefore” has no rational foundation at all. It is evident even in secular conservative writers like John Derbyshire and Heather MacDonald, whose criticisms of their religious fellow right-wingers are only slightly less condescending than those of Dawkins and co. Indeed, the culture at large seems beholden to an inchoate scientism—“faith” is often pitted against “science” (even by those friendly to the former) as if “science” were synonymous with “reason.
Yes, people do commonly make that equation and yes, science is not synonymous with reason, as I clearly demonstrated here. While Feser goes on to refute scientism from the perspective of a philosopher, I’ve been trying to draw your attention to the manner in which scientism has illegitimately skewed the whole question of design in life.
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