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Monday, December 27, 2010


Scientism is a phantom in the mind of the religious apologist.
Anytime anyone gushes over science’s power to tell us about how the world is, especially compared to religion’s woeful inability to do the same, they are accused of scientism.

The Religious tell us that science is not the only way to view the world or know things. This is at least philosophically plausible, but there is never any follow through. Never are we told in what other way we might view the world, other than through the eyes of faith, and never are we presented with a convincing case for why doing so might be better.

Take rationalism for example. It is a non-scientific way of viewing the world which not only tells us little of any worth about our universe, but resulted in the current popular view that philosophy is simply pointless and abstract. Empiricism and science tell us much more about the world than rationalism ever could.

While empiricism has limitations, we need look no further than philosophers such as Charles Sanders Peirce, William James and John Dewey for examples of thinkers who not only attack rationalism and classical empiricism, but put forward a positive alternative in the philosophy of pragmatism. Each of these thinkers believes that science is the best way to discover the world, while realizing the provisional nature of truth.

VenomfangX only offers flawed analogies and faith to base our world view on.
Science, and philosophies like pragmatism give us the best conclusions humans have to work with, yet recognize the open-ended nature of the search for knowledge.
Take Shawn’s flower example in his video on scientism.Shawn tells us that science is unable to tell us the quality of something, and that we need a statement of intention or comparison in order to recognize what it is.
I will take the second point first.

He shows us an image of a flower, but what makes an image of a flower could, theoretically be specified in a scientific way as to make it possible to recognize an image of one. See also: facial recognition software.

Such software works because the qualities of a face can be quantified in such a way as to make said qualities recognizable to an algorithm set to seek for them. A human has no magical ability to recognize a quality of something a computer does not. Point refuted.

To the first point, Shawn opens himself to more philosophical dilemmas than he bargained for when he makes this point. David Hume, in his book Dialogs Concerning Natural Religion (A book Shawn would do well to read), points out that the inference of design can work in ways unintended by the likes of Shawn. Also, Hume’s character points out that the argument is put forward in a way that even if we could conclude that god does exist, we would not be able to use inference from design to establish anything else about him.

Hume’s Dialogs were on natural religion. In other words, what might we say about god without the aid of something like a holy text. But what if we add the bible to the equation?

When I look at a painting, I may not be able to say for sure who painted it. However I can say a lot about who painted it, and I could tell the different between a work by Abbey Heller Burnham and VenomFangX.

How they painted, their medium, the brush strokes they uses and what that implies about their skill level, etc. all of this gives us scientific grounds on which to draw an inference.

Shawn tells us of the biblical purpose of marriage is as being between one man and one women.How then might we infer such a purpose? Such a things as human relationships are open to infinite interpretation.Science can rule a great number of interpretations of what the universe is like unlikely or invalid through discovering the way the universe actually is through testing to see how it works.

For example, the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that the universe is billions of years old and that life has evolved. Any interpretation which contradicts these facts is almost certainly not true. See also: creationism.

The bible must give us some grounds on which to infer that it is true. We cannot point to things we might want to believe are true about the world and then say that the bible affirms them as true. This is simply an appeal to consequences.

If we do not believe in the bible, then we have no reason to believe in the value of human life, and if we don’t do that, then the sky will fall and reality itself will become unglued. If that is the argument, the idea of a noble lie becomes justified. Something which even though it is not true, we must believe it anyway for our own good, could be argued for one the exact same grounds.

To say that human life possesses value which cannot be derived from some specifiable trait that human possess and other beings do not is to assert that humans possess some intangible quality which gives them a value. Such an assertion must be justified on way or the other, and not merely presented as an article of faith. Rationalism has tried to do just that, and its failure to achieve that goal is lost on Shawn.

To return to Hume, if Shawn told us he meant to draw superman, but instead we see Spiderman, this would be proof that either Shawn is deceiving us, or given that we see Spiderman, Shawn is not the person that drew what we are looking at.
I once lost my phone and had to go to the campus police to claim it. They asked me to describe my phone. Had I done so incorrectly, they likely would have assumed that I was not the actual owner of my phone and not returned it to me. Having my phone returned to me was contingent on correctly describing it.

What might that mean then for the god of the bible? Well it is indisputable that the bible contains know scientific inaccuracies. Those who try to say otherwise usually make excuses to the tune of “well that is superman! I was drawing him from a rare comic in which he dressed up as Spiderman and gained his abilities”. Or “god had to put things in ways which people in that time in place would understand”. This of course implies a problem of hermeneutics, in which in order to understand the bible, we must actually seek to understand the way in which people reading it at the time of its writing would have understood it. At which point, the fact that modern scholarship has torn the bible to shreds makes holding to it even more dubious.
The point here is that the bible fails the test of establishing proof of ownership of the universe by quite a spectacular degree. Why should I give god back his cell phone if he can’t even tell me what it looks like beyond just guessing?
It is more than valid, by any reasonable rules of inference, to conclude that the god of the bible did not create the world.

The chance of a lifetime which you are robbed of by believing it is the ability to take part in the discovery of the way the universe actually is. If we are to truly understand our place in the universe, then we must know what that universe is like, and that is what science does for us. Philosophy, not religion, is the process of putting the pieces together to form that understanding.
The philosophy of science is far more complicated than most people realize, but this in no way validates any of what Shawn is proposing.


Half Pint said...

Masterfully worded. The second-to-last paragraph reminds me of a funny and sarcastic video entitled "40 Proofs of God's Existence", wherein one of the arguments goes:
(1) I believe that if God exists, there will be no evidence for his existence
(2) There is no evidence for the existence of God
(3) Therefore, God exists.

I see this kind of stuff from William Lane Craig where he labels it 'presumptuous' when we propose the argument form of:
(1) If God exists, we expect X
(2) We don't see X
(3) Therefore, it is unrealistic to believe that God exists.

dave247 said...

The minute I saw VFX mention "scientism", I just got annoyed. What he doesn't realize is that many people focus on, or get wrapped up in many different ways of thinking; and a lot of people become sort of trapped in their own mind sets -- scientism in his example.

Science is a great tool but we don't have to let it control every aspect of our thinking. We can still dream and be illogical and still magically find some bits of truth by illogical leaps of reason. It's part of being a human. Same with religion.