Sneaky Scientism

I have found it to be invariably true that those who champion scientism do so with some rather sneaky sleight of hand.  Let me illustrate with an actual example from Jerry Coyne.  He starts with one definition of science:

I’m sorry to say that Eric’s piece, like nearly all pieces on scientism, fails to make a case for (or even give more than one example of) “truth” apprehended by other than scientific means—and I’m defining “science” as the combination of empirical observation, reason, and (usually) replicated observation and prediction that investigates what exists in the universe.

Note – to prop up his challenge, Coyne invokes some wishy-washy, watered down definition of science.  In fact, that definition is so watered down that dating and shopping would qualify as science.  What’s more, proponents of other forms of pseudoscience would also qualify as science.  Even worse, politicians would be doing science when they try to con us into their newest scheme.

But what happens when a fatal flaw in scientism is exposed?  Suddenly, it’s time to beef up that definition:

Eric should be careful here, because he’s beginning to tread the road paved by people like Alvin Plantinga—theologians who try to drag science down to the level of faith because science can’t justify logically that it can finds truth.

My answer to this claim is this: “so fricking what?”  While philosophers draw their pay by arguing interminably about such stuff (and achieving nothing by so doing), science goes ahead and accomplishes things: we find out what causes disease and then find cures; we put people on the Moon; we build computers and lasers. (emphasis added)

See?  No more vague appeals to the use of reason and empirical evidence.  Now we’re talking about physics, chemistry, and biology.  We’re talking about hundreds and hundreds of carefully designed lab experiments and testing that in turn were subject to scrutiny.  We’re talking about experiments and testing from a community of people with expertise in math, physics, chemistry, and biology.  And all of that is a quite a bit more than a mere “combination of empirical observation, reason, and (usually) replicated observation and prediction that investigates what exists in the universe.”

Of course, it makes sense that Coyne would engage in this sleight of hand.  Y’see, if he wants to make some pragmatic argument for the superiority of science, it isn’t going to work to invoke the results of dating, shopping, ghost-hunting, and politics.  There is nothing special about that “science” at all.  So he has to invoke real science – things like physics, chemistry, and biology.  But imagine if Coyne decided to be intellectually honest when it came to scientism and agreed that every single truth claim he would make in public would be backed by hundreds of experiments and tests, as is the case for “finding out what causes disease and then finding cures, putting people on the Moon and building computers and lasers.”  That would be one quiet blog!

So he has to revert back to the watered down definition of science and pretend science is just a combination of empirical observation, reason, and (usually) replicated observation and prediction that investigates what exists in the universe.  Anyone can do that!

See how it works?  You can use the watered down, wishy washy definition to advance your agenda, so you can claim your opinions have the authority of “science.”  It’s not you talking.  It’s Science!  But when someone challenges the authority of your approach, switch to the rigorous definition, where science = physics + chemistry + some biology (for some reason, the track record of things like psychology, sociology, and anthropology never get invoked) and start chest-thumping about accomplishments.

Either stick with the watered down definition of science, but in that case, you have nothing special to sell.

Or go with the rigorous definition of science, but in that case, you have something that works only in special situations (i.e., a well designed experiment).

Since proponents of scientism have something to sell, the only way out of this dilemma is for them to sneakily shift back-n-forth between definitions, hoping no one notices the sleight of hand.

The fact that proponents of scientism must engage in such disingenuous tactics is simply a function of the intellectual bankruptcy of scientism.  And you know I am right on this one.

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9 Responses to Sneaky Scientism

  1. You are not very bright, are you?
    Science does not claim to know everything. It is simply the best method we have of understanding the world about us. You call this slight of hand, yet have nothing better. You’ve not offered any method which is more useful. Your criticism is … well, ignorance embodied in argument.

    All that you’ve done here is criticize but you have failed to offer anything of use. Suck it up and be useful. Show us something that is more useful than science.

  2. Michael says:

    You are not very bright, are you?
    Science does not claim to know everything.

    Never said it did.

    It is simply the best method we have of understanding the world about us.

    Sure, as long as we stay close to the experiment.

    You call this slight of hand, yet have nothing better.

    You are not very bright, are you? First, it’s “sleight,” not “slight.” Second, no one said science is sleight of hand. The sleight of hand comes into play when proponents of scientism change definitions of science midstream. Read the blog entry.

    You’ve not offered any method which is more useful. Your criticism is … well, ignorance embodied in argument.

    LOL! You are entitled to your subjective and irrelevant opinion, but you seem oblivious to the fact that my previous blog entry deals with this talking point.

    All that you’ve done here is criticize but you have failed to offer anything of use. Suck it up and be useful. Show us something that is more useful than science.

    You’d have to first define science.

  3. Crude says:

    There’s something funny about how you write an entire entry pointing out the tendency for defenders of ‘science’ to shift the definition of it… and then someone’s reply is ‘You just don’t like science, mister!’

    It’s clear that for a lot of people, just grasping what science is and isn’t is a chore. But darnit, they know they like it!

  4. Doug says:

    Right on target once again, Michael.

  5. Tim lambert says:

    Myatheistlife, you’ve kind of embarrassed yourself there by charging in here with that misguided, emotional response.
    Certainly in step though with your knee-jerk reaction to the content of the post as well as that revealing name of yours.

    Try reading it again though and if you see an error with the actual intention of the post point it out.

  6. Tim lambert says:

    I hope he re-reads this post, your aspirin post, then his response again….and I hope he can appreciate irony.

  7. Michael says:

    It’s the Cult of Gnu on display. In the Cult, science is a magic word.

  8. Doug says:

    People only think the world will outgrow “Christianity” because its adherents have forgotten its “magic ingredient” (i.e., love)… Someday, people will think the world will outgrow “Science” when its adherents have forgotten its “magic ingredient” (i.e., rational thinking)… looks like that’s already beginning to happen!

  9. debilis says:

    Yes, I think that many people have a difficult time differentiating science and their personal armchair philosophy. I think this has a great deal to do with the fact that some scientists (i.e. Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking) have a habit of implying that their personal opinions are the findings of modern science.

    As a case in point, MyAtheistLife seems to have had trouble understanding that the blog was attacking scientism, not science. For many, there is no discernible difference.

    And that is a problem, if not downright tragic.

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