A long introduction…
Scientism is the fallacy that all that is known and all that can be known, can only be known through scientific methods: that which is testable is all that counts. It is the false belief that all areas of inquiry can and should be subject to scientific, i.e. empirical, inquiry.
A prime, and maybe even the sole, reason that some people give for the belief in scientism is that science has been so good at prediction, that prediction has been steadily improving and broadening in scope, and that therefore it is rational to suppose that it will continue to do improve and broaden.
This is quite lovely because it contains two nuggets of truth, but it is these nuggets that lead to the fundamental error. And this is because the scientismist (who may or may not be a scientist) substitutes the truth of these nuggets for the truth of the entire statement. The first nugget is “science has been so good at prediction, that prediction has been steadily improving and broadening in scope, and that therefore it is rational to suppose that it will continue to do improve and broaden.”
It is rational to believe that scientific progress will continue. It however is irrational to believe that because science has progressed that it always will or that it will progress into areas which are not scientific, i.e. that are empirically testable. It is a small and understandable mistake to suppose that science will always progress, especially when we hear that the iPhone 6 (or is it 7?) is in the works, but it is a major error to suppose that science will be able to answer all non-scientific questions. And it is another offense to say that non-scientific questions do not exist because science can only answer scientific questions: this of course begs the question.
The second nugget of truth, perhaps slightly more subtle, is the appeal to “goodness” of prediction or explanation. Why is it good that predictions match reality? It is good; that is, it is true that it is a good that scientific predictions closely match reality. It is also true that this closeness is also a good reason for us to believe in the truth of the scientific theory which makes the good prediction. That is, it is true that prediction closeness is a reason to believe in the truth of a theory. Lots of truths swimming around here: enough to suggest that since all these parts are true, the parts joined together are true, i.e. that scientism is true.
But to say that closeness of prediction is good or that closeness is a good reason to believe in a theory are both non-scientific statements. We can’t know that prediction closeness is a good by appealing to any empirically testable thing. These are metaphysical beliefs. They may be axiomatic or they may be derivable from simpler axioms, but they are not prone to measurement.
This is only a small proof why scientism is false and that faith in scientific progress is often misplaced. And, as suggested from the beginning, it is only a long-winded introduction to a series of meaty, masculine, must-read posts by Edward Feser as he reviews Alex Rosenberg’s uber-scientistic The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, perhaps the best tract in support of scientism that exists.
David Stove often praised certain philosophers for being wrong and for making mistakes so clearly. Feser says as much about Rosenberg whom he praises for understanding the implications of the radical scientism and atheism he preaches, the major one of which is “nice nihilism”. Of course, Feser will explain better than I can that the desire to be “nice”, nihilistically or not, is a moral concept, and so Rosenberg defeats himself as he steps into the ring.
Feser’s 10-part series cannot be missed (and I’ll know if you have, for there will be homework in future posts). Incidentally, probably in June, I’ll be reviewing his other must-have work, The Last Superstition.
The second part of the introduction is for Michael Flynn, a science-fiction author and blogger at The TOF Spot. Flynn was kind enough to link to our post yesterday, where we began the Official New Mismeasure of Man list. Flynn has some interesting things to say about the progress and hope for progress in science, and just what this means in terms of scientism. He comes to the conclusion that “Modern science is under attack, not by creationist outsiders but by academic insiders.