Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here’s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

Scientism

By Peter Sellick - posted Monday, 9 February 2015


Scientism is the idea that science alone, gives us objective knowledge ie that science alone reliably exposes the world to us as it actually is. Edward Feser in his Book Scholastic Metaphysics argues that there are "no good arguments whatsoever for scientism, and decisive arguments against it."

Rather, he claims that ancient scholastic metaphysics, typified by Thomas Aquinas, has much more to say about how the world actually is than natural science.

He argues that the idea that "the methods of science are the only reliable way to secure knowledge of anything" is not itself a scientific claim that can be established with the scientific method. How could such statement be tested?

Advertisement

Surely the statement is not a scientific statement but a philosophical one. It's truth or falsehood cannot be tested in a laboratory but the philosopher would certainly have something to say about it.

Feser points out that the scientific method relies on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists, that this world is governable by regularities of the sort that can be captured in scientific laws and that human perception can uncover and describe these regularities.

It is therefore absurd to state that the only way we can know about the world is through scientific speculation since this activity is dependent upon assumptions that are not established by science. The argument is circular.

This should be the death knell of scientism, but there is more. Not only does science rely on philosophical assumptions for its methodology it also relies on philosophy to interpret its results. "For example, is the world fundamentally comprised of substance or events? What is it to be a "cause"? What is the nature of the universals referred to in scientific laws – concepts like quark, electron, atom, and so on? … Do scientific theories really give us a description of objective reality in the first place or are they just useful tools for predicting the course of experience?"

It would seem that philosophy is the rational basis of science and there is a case for saying that philosophy is the very paradigm of rationality, not science.

The reason that science cannot give us a complete description of reality is that it is, by its nature, quantitative. Physics can only capture those aspects of reality that are "susceptible of the prediction and control of characteristics of quantifiable phenomena." Other phenomena that may not be measured or described mathematically fall through the scientists methodological net.

Advertisement

Feser uses the example of using a metal detector. Such use will only tell us about the presence of metals, it will not give us anything else. Thus empirical science will only give us information for which it is suited.

Our experience of nature is not quantitative but qualitative. All of our perceptions of the world are qualitative, we smell, hear sounds, see vistas etc. Indeed, we know about gravity in our every waking moment through the sense of our bodies. We do not know about it because we have learnt Newton's inverse square law or the idea that mass distorts space courtesy of Einstein. Theories about gravity are abstractions that do not enter into our experience of the world except if we are trying to lob a missile on a distant city or get a spacecraft to the moon.

The problem with scientism, especially those who are trained in a scientific discipline, is that there is a danger that it restricts what we understand as knowledge. If the only trustworthy knowledge is that described by natural science we are at a loss to understand art, theology, literature or love. We are thus doomed to becoming someone who lives on some spectrum of autism.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All


Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

138 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Peter Sellick an Anglican deacon working in Perth with a background in the biological sciences. He has a website called Coondle Art Presentations.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Peter Sellick

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Peter Sellick
Article Tools
Comment 138 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy