1 2 > 
 
   
 

Scientism, The Moral Landscape and Philosophy

 
eudemonia
 
Avatar
 
 
eudemonia
Total Posts:  9031
Joined  05-04-2008
 
 
 
30 October 2010 11:40
 

So, is Scientism, or Scientific Materialism, which invokes a very negative response from most everybody, at the core of the ideas and concepts put forward by people like Sam Harris and Stephen Hawking recently?

Is there a bigger chasm between Philosophers and Scientists than their is between Scientists and Theologians?

Can science describe reality and explain the cosmos in all respects required for human understanding and knowledge?  Is all knowledge reduced to a scientific inquiry eventually and does all wisdom come forth from that?

Stephen Hawking wrote at the beginning of his latest book, ‘The Grand Design’- “Philosophy is dead”

Sam Harris writes a book about our moral values, and perhaps them being able to be accounted for by scientific inquiry and observation.

Yet, when the great minds of science are confronted with such ideas, it is generally frowned upon that science can explain our emotions of love and hate, our obsessions with music, art or literature, and our seemingly innate altruism for each other.

I am currently reading ‘The Really Hard Problem’ by one of our finest philosophers of science and mind today, Owen Flanagan. He speaks very negatively about ‘Scientism’ here-

‘I prefer to call these later views global metaphysical materialism and scientism, respectively together they constitute scientific materialism, a silly and puffed-up view that is not worth taking seriously. It is attacked by many wise people. I am not sure I know anyone who holds this view, but I will make believe it is not simply a bogeyman and show how to easily defeat it, bury it, and remove it permanently from the discussion.’

He then goes on to explain how science cannot derive ‘oughts’ from is’s, which is the argument we have had since the time of David Hume.

But, later on in this fine and complex book Flanagan says-

‘Sentient creatures are part of the biological fabric of the universe, thus whatever causal effects they produce affect the world’

So, it is silly to think that science can explain everything about reality, but when we turn to understand consciousness of sentient beings we find that we are products of biological processes?

Isn’t biology….science? Where do we not reduce to a Neo-Darwinian explanation?

Perhaps then, through the contradiction and confusion we may find that Scientific Materialism is in conflict just as much with Philosophy as it is Theology.

However I wonder how we can actually separate the realm of Science, with the realm of our perceptions of reality. Where exactly does Scientific inquiry leave off and any other concept of knowledge take over?

The argument from incredulity has never won. Science just marches on and keeps finding ways to describe and explain.

Or..not?

 
 
SkepticX
 
Avatar
 
 
SkepticX
Total Posts:  14731
Joined  24-12-2004
 
 
 
30 October 2010 13:04
 
eudemonia - 30 October 2010 09:40 AM

So, is Scientism, or Scientific Materialism ...


Scientism isn’t synonymous with materialism.

 
 
eudemonia
 
Avatar
 
 
eudemonia
Total Posts:  9031
Joined  05-04-2008
 
 
 
30 October 2010 13:40
 

According to what I am currently reading, Scientific Materialism is equivalent to Scientism. A scientific explanation for all knowledge or anything knowable.

But this is coming from an analytic philosopher, so perhaps you have a point Byron.

Scientific Materialism is the concept that most atheists adhere to, that the universe is made up of only matter, or material. However, many scientists and physicists do not claim that only science can answer all inquiries.

Or do they really think that, but just not say it?

I think this is part of my inquiry in the OP as well.

 
 
nv
 
Avatar
 
 
nv
Total Posts:  7998
Joined  29-04-2005
 
 
 
30 October 2010 14:12
 
eudemonia - 30 October 2010 11:40 AM

According to what I am currently reading, Scientific Materialism is equivalent to Scientism. A scientific explanation for all knowledge or anything knowable.

I think they are roughly equivalent, but those who refer to scientism seem to be somewhat more aggressive in their approach.

eudemonia - 30 October 2010 11:40 AM

Scientific Materialism is the concept that most atheists adhere to, that the universe is made up of only matter, or material. However, many scientists and physicists do not claim that only science can answer all inquiries.

Eudemonia, I think you’ll agree with me that quite a few science-inspired people posting on Sam Harris’ forums over the years do not think that science is up to the task of answering all questions that people are able to ask. On the other hand, such people (science-oriented) for the most part think even less of the validity of nonscientific approaches, such as what can be found in religions and certain philosophies.

 
 
burt
 
Avatar
 
 
burt
Total Posts:  14868
Joined  17-12-2006
 
 
 
30 October 2010 14:46
 
eudemonia - 30 October 2010 11:40 AM

According to what I am currently reading, Scientific Materialism is equivalent to Scientism. A scientific explanation for all knowledge or anything knowable.

But this is coming from an analytic philosopher, so perhaps you have a point Byron.

Scientific Materialism is the concept that most atheists adhere to, that the universe is made up of only matter, or material. However, many scientists and physicists do not claim that only science can answer all inquiries.

Or do they really think that, but just not say it?

I think this is part of my inquiry in the OP as well.

Here is a common question used in psychological studies:


Linda was a philosophy major in college and participated in campus rallies against war and nuclear energy.  Today she is a young working woman.

Which of the following is more likely:
1. Linda is a bank teller.
2. Linda is a bank teller who is active in the feminist movement. 


An unusually large percentage of people who respond will chose 2, which is less likely on strict probability grounds (i.e., there are more women bank tellers than there are women bank tellers who are feminists). 

Scientism isn’t equivalent to scientific materialism, even if we assume that everything is material (although in that case they are pretty close), because even under that assumption it could be that there are material processes that defy scientific explanation, that are irreducibly complex.

 
GAD
 
Avatar
 
 
GAD
Total Posts:  16247
Joined  15-02-2008
 
 
 
30 October 2010 16:45
 

Is it that science can’t answer these questions or that we don’t want it to?

 
 
goodgraydrab
 
Avatar
 
 
goodgraydrab
Total Posts:  7845
Joined  19-12-2007
 
 
 
30 October 2010 18:23
 
burt - 30 October 2010 12:46 PM

... because even under that assumption it could be that there are material processes that defy scientific explanation, that are irreducibly complex.

Isn’t that Intelligent Design?

I tell you, Religionists and Philosophists make my head spin to the point that I’m so dizzy sometimes I want to puke. It seems to me that if anything “defies” scientific explanation, it’s in the sense that we haven’t developed the science to do it yet (by inference the intellectual and technological capacities - materially, mathematically and/or theoretically), or we haven’t discovered yet, that which requires explanation (generally, that which requires the former as a prerequisite). If there is something that defies scientific explanation, then nothing is scientifically explainable ... and we all know that’s not true. What is explainable does not have defiable qualities, the limitations are ours. If we become extinct, it’s back to square one with no meaningful consequence. The universe is still there, not defying anything with regard to explanation. Around and around we go and where it stops nobody knows. Speaking of which, atomic computers should be coming on line relatively soon, that oughta explain more stuff that leads to more stuff needing explaining. I apologize for my ignorance and arrogance.

 
 
burt
 
Avatar
 
 
burt
Total Posts:  14868
Joined  17-12-2006
 
 
 
30 October 2010 21:58
 
goodgraydrab - 30 October 2010 04:23 PM
burt - 30 October 2010 12:46 PM

... because even under that assumption it could be that there are material processes that defy scientific explanation, that are irreducibly complex.

Isn’t that Intelligent Design?

I tell you, Religionists and Philosophists make my head spin to the point that I’m so dizzy sometimes I want to puke. It seems to me that if anything “defies” scientific explanation, it’s in the sense that we haven’t developed the science to do it yet (by inference the intellectual and technological capacities - materially, mathematically and/or theoretically), or we haven’t discovered yet, that which requires explanation (generally, that which requires the former as a prerequisite). If there is something that defies scientific explanation, then nothing is scientifically explainable ... and we all know that’s not true. What is explainable does not have defiable qualities, the limitations are ours. If we become extinct, it’s back to square one with no meaningful consequence. The universe is still there, not defying anything with regard to explanation. Around and around we go and where it stops nobody knows. Speaking of which, atomic computers should be coming on line relatively soon, that oughta explain more stuff that leads to more stuff needing explaining. I apologize for my ignorance and arrogance.

No, ID would take a step further and say there must have been a designer.  Irreducible complexity here only means that nature is infinitely complex (for example, if no matter how far down you go you find new and strange things going on).  The problem then would be that you could never get a complete scientific explanation, although you could get continually deeper and more complicated explanations.

 
goodgraydrab
 
Avatar
 
 
goodgraydrab
Total Posts:  7845
Joined  19-12-2007
 
 
 
30 October 2010 22:17
 
burt - 30 October 2010 08:58 PM

No, ID would take a step further and say there must have been a designer.  Irreducible complexity here only means that nature is infinitely complex (for example, if no matter how far down you go you find new and strange things going on).  The problem then would be that you could never get a complete scientific explanation, although you could get continually deeper and more complicated explanations.

Ok, it just had a certain ring to it.

Right, I think that’s what I was saying, that doesn’t mean it defies explanation. The issue is one of simply running out of time. “Ok, class ... pencils down!”

 
 
eudemonia
 
Avatar
 
 
eudemonia
Total Posts:  9031
Joined  05-04-2008
 
 
 
31 October 2010 11:52
 

‘because even under that assumption it could be that there are material processes that defy scientific explanation, that are irreducibly complex’

The problem here is that their are natural processes that science cannot yet explain or describe, but that does not make them irreducibly complex.
It makes them complicated. Irreducible complexity, in biochemistry, has never been validated, only inferred by people like Michael Behe and others. And in every example they have offered, plausible natural explanations have been offered, although not yet proven.

There is not a reason to jump from material explanations and descriptions to immaterial ones.

That is the argument from incredulity.

Where does science leave off and other avenues of knowledge take over? Where does reason succumb to faith?

Under the muse of irreducible complexity, for one.

[ Edited: 31 October 2010 13:02 by eudemonia]
 
 
Jefe
 
Avatar
 
 
Jefe
Total Posts:  6412
Joined  15-02-2007
 
 
 
31 October 2010 13:03
 
GAD - 30 October 2010 02:45 PM

Is it that science can’t answer these questions or that we don’t want it to?

For some, probably.

And likely some background fear that some of their cherished traditions will be found less-than-moral.

 
 
eudemonia
 
Avatar
 
 
eudemonia
Total Posts:  9031
Joined  05-04-2008
 
 
 
31 October 2010 13:07
 

‘Is it that science can’t answer these questions or that we don’t want it to?’

GAD, this is my inquiry also. Perhaps as social constructs we want to leave the realms of Philosophy and Theology alone, and let them be. Billions apparently need them, or think they do anyway.

Indeed ‘Scientism’ whatever it actually is, may be correct and accurate, but socially unacceptable?

 
 
Jefe
 
Avatar
 
 
Jefe
Total Posts:  6412
Joined  15-02-2007
 
 
 
31 October 2010 13:31
 
eudemonia - 31 October 2010 12:07 PM

‘Indeed ‘Scientism’ whatever it actually is, may be correct and accurate, but socially unacceptable?


Yes.  And difficult for many.

Let’s compare scientism to the science of bodily health.

We know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that habitual tobacco smoking carries with it a whole host of medical costs that very frequently lead to a painful, drawn-out and potentially expensive (medically) death.  Yet the freedom to smoke is a ‘right’ that many smokers defend with great diligence.  If ‘society’ were to ban the habitual smoking of tobacco products wholesale - there would be hue and cry about the oppression of smokers’ collective freedom. 

We know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that habitual over-eating of trans-fat laden food carries with it a whole host of medical costs that very frequently lead to reduced quality and length of life, and often to drawn out painful deaths.  Yet the freedom to choose what we eat is a ‘right’ that almost everyone seems to want to agree with.  If ‘society’ were to ban trans-fat containing foods, and limit caloric servings to under 750 per “pre-priced-meal-deal’ - there would be hue and cry about the oppression of people’s freedom to choose.

In some regards, a society that takes the two actions above would be increasing the physical well-being of its members in measurable fashion, with fairly predictable generational gains for that society.  But the choice becomes one between physical-health-well-being and freedom-of-self-affirmation well-being.  One is an emotional measure of well-being, and one is a bodily-health-measure of well-being.  Perception of choice is also a big part of this equation - particularly when the emotions of those most affected are to be considered.

And so we see that emotion, and emotional well-being must (in a balanced system of science informed morality) be of concern in evaluating the overall-well-being that science is helping us to reach.

Note: I have not yet read Harris’ new book - so some of these thoughts may be addressed therein.

 
 
burt
 
Avatar
 
 
burt
Total Posts:  14868
Joined  17-12-2006
 
 
 
31 October 2010 14:26
 
eudemonia - 31 October 2010 10:52 AM

‘because even under that assumption it could be that there are material processes that defy scientific explanation, that are irreducibly complex’

The problem here is that their are natural processes that science cannot yet explain or describe, but that does not make them irreducibly complex.
It makes them complicated. Irreducible complexity, in biochemistry, has never been validated, only inferred by people like Michael Behe and others. And in every example they have offered, plausible natural explanations have been offered, although not yet proven.

There is not a reason to jump from material explanations and descriptions to immaterial ones.

That is the argument from incredulity.

Where does science leave off and other avenues of knowledge take over? Where does reason succumb to faith?

Under the muse of irreducible complexity, for one.

I knew the phrase “irreducibly complex” would be red meat, although I was using it in a different sense (as explained later).  I was offering a non-theistic possibility counter to scientism: if it isn’t turtles all the way down (i.e., if novelty keeps emerging the further down you go so quarks, or strings, or such turn out not to be basic explanatory entities) then there an never be a complete scientific explanation in the Weinbergian reductive sense.  (There is also the issue of whether or not the human mind would be capable of grasping overly complex explanations.)

Another issue with scientism is that the original term from late nineteenth century included the assumption that the science of that time was complete, that no new issues of method or such would come up.  But that’s not the case, at least in my opinion, so if somebody is going to claim that science can explain everything then they have to say what sort of science they’re talking about.  For example, a medieval Aristotelian might have tried to make the same claim (and would say, everything is part of the ordinary course of nature and can be explained syllogistically, or it is an accident).  But we wouldn’t buy that claim and I don’t see any reason to assume that present day rational/empirical science can be claimed to explain everything either.

 
goodgraydrab
 
Avatar
 
 
goodgraydrab
Total Posts:  7845
Joined  19-12-2007
 
 
 
31 October 2010 16:16
 
burt - 31 October 2010 01:26 PM

I was offering a non-theistic possibility counter to scientism: if it isn’t turtles all the way down (i.e., if novelty keeps emerging the further down you go so quarks, or strings, or such turn out not to be basic explanatory entities) then there an never be a complete scientific explanation in the Weinbergian reductive sense.  (There is also the issue of whether or not the human mind would be capable of grasping overly complex explanations.)

I think burt, this goes back to what I was alluding to in my post #6. What you seem to be describing is a micro-infinity, perhaps being one and the same with macro-infinity, in fact, there probably being no such thing, just as we are discovering that there is no such thing as nothing. Joseph Campbell postulated, “There is no such thing as eternity ... eternity is now,” therefore, “This is it. You are it.” (your Zen, Illusion of Time). So I think the mind can grasp it (not all minds to be sure) and it is “potentially scientifically explainable,” even if speculative for the unforeseeable future. Hawking may be correct that questions about what happened before the Big Bang are meaningless with regard to time, that even if time did not begin with the Big Bang and there were another time-frame before it, no information from events then would be accessible to us. But I don’t agree that questions about what happened before/at the time of the Big Bang are meaningless with regards to ‘conditions’. This apparently goes against the views of many scientists, but what I don’t understand is why they would suggest that a ‘state of conditions’ completely void of time that would produce such an event would not be potentially plausibly explainable.

Scientists have come to some agreement on descriptions of events that happened 10−35 seconds after the Big Bang, but generally agree that descriptions about what happened before one Planck time (5 × 10−44 seconds) after the Big Bang are likely to remain pure speculation.

 
 
GAD
 
Avatar
 
 
GAD
Total Posts:  16247
Joined  15-02-2008
 
 
 
31 October 2010 17:13
 
eudemonia - 31 October 2010 12:07 PM

‘Is it that science can’t answer these questions or that we don’t want it to?’

GAD, this is my inquiry also. Perhaps as social constructs we want to leave the realms of Philosophy and Theology alone, and let them be. Billions apparently need them, or think they do anyway.

Indeed ‘Scientism’ whatever it actually is, may be correct and accurate, but socially unacceptable?

I have a hard time with it myself. Can you imagine, you are depressed and not functioning in society as efficiently as expected so you go to the doctor who tells you that the passing of your spouse has caused a chemical imbalance in your brain and gives you a shot to fix it. 

Where Jefe talks about smoking and food below that a hard one too. I know they are bad and I avoid them but I struggle with the idea of taking them away for the better good. Mainly because if there is ever something bad for me that I want to do I don’t want anyone denying me that choice….........

 
 
 1 2 >