What is Scientism?
2012-12-10 0:00

By Thomas Burnett | BioLogos.org

A scientist, my dear friends, is a man who foresees; it is because science provides the means to predict that it is useful, and the scientists are superior to all other men.
--Henri de Saint-Simon


Scientism is a rather strange word, but for reasons that we shall see, a useful one. Though this term has been coined rather recently, it is associated with many other “isms” with long and turbulent histories: materialism, naturalism, reductionism, empiricism, and positivism. Rather than tangle with each of these concepts separately, we’ll begin with a working definition of scientism and proceed from there.

Historian Richard G. Olson defines scientism as “efforts to extend scientific ideas, methods, practices, and attitudes to matters of human social and political concern.” 2 But this formulation is so broad as to render it virtually useless. Philosopher Tom Sorell offers a more precise definition: “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.” 3 MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson offers a closely related version, but more extreme: “Science, modeled on the natural sciences, is the only source of real knowledge.” 4 The latter two definitions are far more precise and will better help us evaluate scientism’s merit.

A History of Scientism

The roots of scientism extend as far back as early 17th century Europe, an era that came to be known as the Scientific Revolution. Up to that point, most scholars had been highly deferential to intellectual tradition, largely a combination of Judeo-Christian scripture and ancient Greek philosophy. But a torrent of new learning during the late Renaissance began to challenge the authority of the ancients, and long-established intellectual foundations began to crack. The Englishman Francis Bacon, the Frenchman Rene Descartes, and the Italian Galileo Galilei spearheaded an international movement proclaiming a new foundation for learning, one that involved careful scrutiny of nature instead of analysis of ancient texts.

Descartes and Bacon used particularly strong rhetoric to carve out space for their new methods. They claimed that by learning how the physical world worked, we could become “masters and possessors of nature.” 5 In doing so, humans could overcome hunger through innovations in agriculture, eliminate disease through medical research, and dramatically improve overall quality of life through technology and industry. Ultimately, science would save humans from unnecessary suffering and their self-destructive tendencies. And it promised to achieve these goals in this world, not the afterlife. It was a bold, prophetic vision.

As this new method found great success, the specter of scientism began to emerge. Both Bacon and Descartes elevated the use of reason and logic by denigrating other human faculties such as creativity, memory, and imagination. Bacon’s classification of learning demoted poetry and history to second-class status.6 Descartes’ rendering of the entire universe as a giant machine left little room for the arts or other forms of human expression. In one sense, the rhetoric of these visionaries opened great new vistas for intellectual inquiry. But on the other hand, it proposed a vastly narrower range of which human activities were considered worthwhile.

The Enlightenment

A century later, many of the Enlightenment intellectuals continued their love-affair with the power of natural science. They claimed that not only could science enhance the quality of human life, it could even promote moral improvement. The Encyclopedist Denis Diderot aimed to collect, organize, and preserve all human knowledge so that “our children, becoming better instructed, may become at the same time more virtuous and happy.” 7 Many of the French philosophes even claimed that science could be a substitute for religion. In fact, during the French Revolution, numerous Catholic churches were converted into “Temples of Reason” and held quasi-religious services for the worship of science.8

Positivism

The 19th century witnessed the most powerful and enduring formulation of scientism, a system called positivism. Its founder was August Comte, who built his positive philosophy from a deep commitment to David Hume’s empiricism and skepticism.

[...]


Read the full article at: biologos.org







Related Articles
Scientism - Wikipedia


Latest News from our Front Page

Galaxy Poll: 86 per cent of Australians want childhood vaccination to be compulsory?
2015-04-17 23:33
Australians want Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make childhood vaccination compulsory and close loopholes that allow vaccine refusers to put all children at risk. An exclusive national Galaxy poll commissioned by The Sunday Telegraph has revealed overwhelming support to ensure every child is vaccinated. The highest support for compulsory jabs is in South Australia, where 90 per cent support the call. The poll ...
Eye in the sky: Local police now using drones to spy on citizens
2015-04-17 22:09
The Harris County Precinct 1 Constable's Office is doing something that no other agency in Harris County is believed to have done yet: Use drones to help fight crime. It's an eye in the sky for law enforcement, without giving up the element of surprise. "It could absolutely save lives," says Constable Alan Rosen. Rosen says the agency's two new $1,200 drones, which ...
New Zealander of the Year: refuse vaccines, lose money
2015-04-17 22:47
Following in the footsteps of Australia, 2014 New Zealander of the Year, Dr. Lance O’Sullivan, wants to punish people who don’t get vaccinated. The New Zealand Herald (4/15) reports: “A leading New Zealand doctor has called on the Government to follow Australia’s example to cut child welfare payments to families who do not vaccinate their children, saying the policy would help protect ...
Iris Scanner Identifies a Person 40 Feet Away
2015-04-17 22:20
Police traffic stops are in the news again, tragically, sparking a new round of discussion on whether and how to outfit police with cameras and other technology. For several years now, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CyLab Biometrics Center have been testing an iris recognition system that can be used to identify subjects at a range of up to 40 feet. Like ...
Yes, You Can Catch Insanity
2015-04-17 22:29
One day in March 2010, Isak McCune started clearing his throat with a forceful, violent sound. The New Hampshire toddler was 3, with a Beatles mop of blonde hair and a cuddly, loving personality. His parents had no idea where the guttural tic came from. They figured it was springtime allergies. Soon after, Isak began to scream as if in pain ...
More News »