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Author Topic:   Is Scientism a significant threat to science?
xongsmith
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Posts: 1783
From: massachusetts US
Joined: 01-01-2009
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Message 1 of 11 (683096)
12-07-2012 12:05 PM


This article was originally posted on the RealClearScience page, but has since moved to the RealClearPolitics page, and it might move again, but in any event the article may be found here:

http://www.thenewatlantis.com/...ions/the-folly-of-scientism

In it the author, Austin L. Hughes, appears to argue that the world's scientific community has been taken over by those who have somehow latched on to the concept that only science has the eventual ability to explain "everything". He cites Stephen Hawking and others as bad examples.

Does he overstate this? He seems to have not fully understood the tentative situation held by the community?

He gets into psychology and philosophy and reminded me of some of the fine discussions we've had here.

Edited by Admin, : Rework opening paragraph.


- xongsmith, 5.7d

Replies to this message:
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Admin
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Message 2 of 11 (683098)
12-07-2012 1:28 PM


Thread Copied from Proposed New Topics Forum
Thread copied here from the Is Scientism a significant threat to science? thread in the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
Straggler
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Posts: 10196
From: London England
Joined: 09-30-2006


(1)
Message 3 of 11 (683102)
12-07-2012 1:43 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by xongsmith
12-07-2012 12:05 PM


I don't know anyone who claims that science can answer all questions.

But the idea that explanations for things need to be reliably evidenced before said explanation is taken remotely seriously would seem to be an obvious criteria for considering any explanation of anything remotely plausible - No?

Xong writes:

He gets into psychology and philosophy and reminded me of some of the fine discussions we've had here.

It all comes down to the phenomenon under consideration and the explanation for that phenomenon being put forward.

Some explanations are evidenced and others are the product of wishful thinking and other such thought processes.


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Dr Jack
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Posts: 3505
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 4 of 11 (683109)
12-07-2012 2:21 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by xongsmith
12-07-2012 12:05 PM


It seems to me that there are several closely related positions that need to be untangled to have this discussion.

1. The concept that only science has the eventual ability to explain "everything" - I don't know anyone who believes this?

2. The concept that current knowledge of science is Truth. This one, while people tend to retreat from it if questioned does seem to occur.

3. The concept that Science (or methods that employ similar tools) are the only viable means of determining the truth or falsity of objective statements about the world. This is what I believe.


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Stile
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(2)
Message 5 of 11 (683112)
12-07-2012 2:30 PM
Reply to: Message 4 by Dr Jack
12-07-2012 2:21 PM


Much to do about nothing
Mr Jack writes:

3. The concept that Science (or methods that employ similar tools) are the only viable means of determining the truth or falsity of objective statements about the world. This is what I believe.

I would quibble with the words "only viable" as that can imply that you're somehow able to judge how close Science is to "real truth" from some sort of objective overviewing stance... and we can't do that.

I would use the term "best known" as in:

3. The concept that Science (or methods that employ similar tools) are the best known means of determining the truth or falsity of objective statements about the world. This is what I believe.

I will admit, though, that Science is clearly head-and-shoulders above any alternative truth-finding method, and my statement does not make this as clear as yours does.


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Panda
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From: UK
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(2)
Message 6 of 11 (683114)
12-07-2012 2:59 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by xongsmith
12-07-2012 12:05 PM


Is he not doing exactly what he is complaining about?
He objects to scientists talking outside of their specific field of knowledge and then starts talking outside of his specific field of knowledge (i.e. biology).

But anyway...

quote:
If philosophy is regarded as a legitimate and necessary discipline...

I read through the article, and all I can see is him complaining that science (and scientists) consider philosophical issues to be non-scientific - and therefore beyond the scope of science.

I think he likes philosophy and is upset that leading scientists are saying that philosophy is at best pseudo-science, and at worst dead.

quote:
Though these arguments may do some work in evading the conclusion that our universe is fine-tuned with us in mind, they cannot sidestep, or even address, the fundamental metaphysical questions raised by the fact that something whether one or many universes exists rather than nothing. The main fault of these arguments lies in their failure to distinguish between necessary and contingent being. A contingent being is one that might or might not exist, and thus might or might not have certain properties. In the context of modern quantum physics, or population genetics, one might even assign probability values to the existence or non-existence of some contingent being. But a necessary being is one that must exist, and whose properties could not be other than they are.

This is an odd paragraph.
He is obviously an advocate of a 'fine tuned' universe.
He also seems upset that physics "cannot sidestep, or even address, the fundamental metaphysical questions".

If I was a cynical person, I would suggest that he is upset because science has removed too many gaps for his god to hide in.

...

Ah - I just googled him.
He's a Behe supporter.
That explains how such a long article could contain so little information.

He's a creationist with an agenda...


"There is no great invention, from fire to flying, which has not been hailed as an insult to some god." J. B. S. Haldane

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Dr Jack
Member
Posts: 3505
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 7 of 11 (683118)
12-07-2012 4:07 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by Stile
12-07-2012 2:30 PM


Re: Much to do about nothing
I would "only known viable" method. You're quite right that it remains possible that it will be surpassed in the future.
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Dr Adequate
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(4)
Message 8 of 11 (683133)
12-07-2012 7:00 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Dr Jack
12-07-2012 4:07 PM


Re: Much to do about nothing
I would "only known viable" method. You're quite right that it remains possible that it will be surpassed in the future.

I'd argue that it can't be.

The argument would go something like this. Suppose we found some non-scientific method of gaining knowledge about some subject, let's call it an "oracle". Of course, for it to really have found this method, for us to use it, and for it to "surpass" what we presently have, we have to know that that's what we've found. How would we know, then, that the oracle was a valid method of gaining knowledge at all? Well, we'd have to test it against reality to see if it works. But once we've done that, and found that it works, then the oracle is a scientific instrument, it has been validated by the scientific method, and the fact that it works is a scientific fact. The oracle would just be another thing like a thermometer or a spectrometer that we've shown can be used to find stuff out.

It's like that joke: "What do you call alternative medicine that's been tested and proved effective? --- Medicine!" In the same way, a method for finding things out that has been demonstrated to work empirically is de facto part of the scientific method.


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Pressie
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Posts: 1696
From: Pretoria, SA
Joined: 06-18-2010
Member Rating: 2.9


Message 9 of 11 (683474)
12-10-2012 11:48 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by Panda
12-07-2012 2:59 PM


Panda writes:

Ah - I just googled him.
He's a Behe supporter.
That explains how such a long article could contain so little information.

He's a creationist with an agenda...

This reminds me of what Daniel Dennett had to say about it:

quote:
when someone puts forward a scientific theory that [religious critics] really don't like, they just try to discredit it as 'scientism'

Edited by Pressie, : No reason given.


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Dr Jack
Member
Posts: 3505
From: Leicester, England
Joined: 07-14-2003


Message 10 of 11 (683508)
12-11-2012 12:10 PM
Reply to: Message 8 by Dr Adequate
12-07-2012 7:00 PM


Re: Much to do about nothing
I'd argue that it can't be.

The argument would go something like this. Suppose we found some non-scientific method of gaining knowledge about some subject, let's call it an "oracle". Of course, for it to really have found this method, for us to use it, and for it to "surpass" what we presently have, we have to know that that's what we've found. How would we know, then, that the oracle was a valid method of gaining knowledge at all? Well, we'd have to test it against reality to see if it works. But once we've done that, and found that it works, then the oracle is a scientific instrument, it has been validated by the scientific method, and the fact that it works is a scientific fact. The oracle would just be another thing like a thermometer or a spectrometer that we've shown can be used to find stuff out.

I'm not so sure. Just as Science bootstrapped itself, I don't see why there couldn't be a new method that could work completely independently. I think your insistence on verification by science is a symptom of our lack of any known alternative method.


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Dr Adequate
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Posts: 15947
Joined: 07-20-2006
Member Rating: 3.5


(2)
Message 11 of 11 (683509)
12-11-2012 12:29 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by Dr Jack
12-11-2012 12:10 PM


Re: Much to do about nothing
I'm not so sure. Just as Science bootstrapped itself, I don't see why there couldn't be a new method that could work completely independently.

But how would we know that it worked, if not by comparing what it told us to the facts?

Let's suppose that someone comes forward and says that he can perform psychic remote viewing. "OK," we say, "I'll go into the other room, and you tell me what I'm doing." If he can do that, then we have verified his psychic sense scientifically, just as we can verify my more mundane powers of sight and hearing.

But suppose he replies, "Ah, my method only works on planetary surfaces no nearer to us then the Andromeda galaxy. Let me tell you the freaky things the aliens are doing over there." Suppose, moreover, that he was telling the truth. Then we wouldn't know that he was telling the truth, because we'd have no way of telling whether he really did have this power or was merely making stuff up. He himself, if he was honest, wouldn't know whether he was really capable of remote viewing or just of inducing complex hallucinations in himself.

I could perhaps think of a better and more rigorous example if I thought about it a bit longer, but you see what I'm getting at?

Science does not, after all, really "bootstrap" itself, it is not a closed system of thought. It ascends not by tugging on its own bootlaces but by climbing laboriously upwards from the level plain of our qualia.


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