Skip to content
September 11, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Edward Feser on the Absolute Irrationality of the Worldview of Scientism

Edward Feser makes the argument here against Rosenberg–the quote is fundamentally devasting for anyone trying to hang on to the notion that
1) Scientism is a viable idea and/or that science is the only game in town
2) Relativism is a viable idea that is logical and leads to anything but nihilism
3) We can live in world without ethics, purpose, or meaning:

“The fundamental principle of Rosenberg’s scientism, repeated like a mantra throughout the book, is that “the physical facts fix all the facts.” What ultimately exist are just fermions and bosons and the physical laws that describe the way these particles and that of the larger objects made up of them behave. These laws make no reference to purposes, designs, final causes, or teleology of any sort. Hence anything that is real is really just fermions and bosons behaving in the purposeless, meaningless ways described by physics. Chemistry, biology, and neuroscience tell us about reality because what they tell us is entirely reducible to physics. Anything not so reducible tells us nothing at all about reality.

And that brings us to Rosenberg’s conclusions. Naturally, it follows from his scientism that there is no God and that neither the universe as a whole nor human life in particular has any meaning, point, or purpose. Nor is there free will, life after death, or any objective difference between right and wrong. Secular humanist morality is no less illusory than any other kind, and the consistent atheist ought to be a nihilist, though a “nice” one. This much is familiar enough atheist boilerplate, even if there are atheists who resist some of it.

But Rosenberg is just getting started. Since what is real is only what is reducible to physics, there are no meanings, purposes, designs, or plans of any sort, not even at the level of the human mind. Our thoughts only seem to be “about” things. And if they have no meaning, we cannot really have any plans and purposes at all. Indeed, the self that appears to think meaningful thoughts, to form plans, and to persist through the continual rewiring of the neural circuitry of the brain is also an illusion.

Since history, literature, and the other humanities purport to describe this illusory world of selves, meanings, and purposes, they are not true sources of knowledge. They are mere entertainments, providing no understanding whatsoever of the human condition. Only physics, chemistry, biology, and neuroscience reveal the true causes of all human behavior.

Many philosophers similarly inclined toward scientism will resist Rosenberg’s more extreme conclusions. But as he points out, their attempts to accommodate the meaningfulness of our thoughts and other aspects of the human mind to a materialist conception of reality face notoriously intractable difficulties. He makes a plausible case that if scientism is true, then there is no way to stop short of an across-the-board eliminative materialism: the view that what cannot be reduced to the categories of physical science simply does not exist and must be eliminated entirely from our picture of the world. Rosenberg freely admits that the consequences seem too fantastic to believe, but if we accept scientism, believe them we must.

But why should anyone accept scientism in the first place? Rosenberg gives a single brazen non sequitur in its defense. The predictive power, explanatory range, and technological successes of physics, he says, far outstrip those of other purported sources of knowledge. And this, he concludes, shows that what physics tells us is real is all that is real. But this is like arguing that since metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins in more places than any other method, metal detectors show that only coins exist.

Physics studies those aspects of the natural world that are susceptible to the mathematical modeling that make prediction and technological application possible. It simply doesn’t follow that there are no other aspects of the natural world. Indeed, as Bertrand Russell, who was also a foe of religion and a great admirer of science, emphasized, precisely because of its mathematical methods, physics gives us only a description of the abstract structure of the natural world, and tells us nothing about the inner nature of the things that flesh out that structure. Far from giving us an exhaustive picture of reality, physics is in fact unintelligible unless there is more to reality than it tells us.

The fallaciousness of Rosenberg’s case for scientism is nothing compared to the incoherence of its implications. The notion of “illusion” is his key weapon, deployed again and again to deal with all the obvious counterevidence to his claims. Yet in what sense can any claim be illusory, mistaken, or false given Rosenberg’s picture of reality? For illusion , mistake , falsehood , and the like are all normative concepts; they presuppose a meaning that has failed to represent things correctly or a purpose that something has failed to realize.

Yet we are repeatedly assured by Rosenberg that there are no purposes or meanings of any sort whatsoever. But then, how can there be illusions and falsehoods? For that matter, how can there be truth or correctness, including the truth and correctness he would ascribe to science alone? For these concepts too are normative, as they presuppose the realization of a purpose and the accuracy of a meaning or representation.

Logic itself is normative insofar as inferences aim at truth and insofar as the logical relationships between beliefs and statements derive from their meanings. Hence if there are no meanings or purposes, there is no truth or logic either. And thus there is no science, at least if science is supposed to give us something true or rational. Rosenberg’s scientism makes of all statements”scientific statements no less than moral or theological ones”mere meaningless strings of ink marks or noises, no more true or false, rational or irrational than bosons and fermions are.

Though Rosenberg happily owns the label nihilist , he assures us that we needn’t fear the consequences of nihilism because the illusion of morality, like many of the other aspects of common sense he regards as fictions, has been programmed into us by evolution. Still, given that we lack free will, we must in his view abandon that part of morality that presupposes moral responsibility and the rewards and punishments that go along with it.”


More articles, insights, and quotes from Compassion in Politics on that are critical of scientism.

September 10, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

What kind of educational value can you create and deliver

1) Publication (Article, Book, E-book, PDF, etc..)
2) Shifts/realizations/lessons
3) Tools/Worksheets/Questions
4) Experiences (generally face to face)
5) Connections (virtual or face to face)
6) Expert Wisdom
7) Crowdsourced wisdom (panel, etc..)
8) Summary/simplify (includes visualization which is also a tool)
9) Confidence
10) Motivation
11) Process change
12) Step by step process/Checklist (momentum)
13) Decrease blocks
14) Coaching (various) Identity/Character (wisdom or change or self-reflection)
15) Awareness (wisdom?)
16) Feedback
17) Data
18) Self-realization, Self-awareness

Types of knowledge/understanding (meta, etc..)

September 8, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Seven Types of Socratic Questions–A Response to the University of Michigan

I’ve always been fascinated with questions….especially since my early involvement in debate during my freshman year of high school (and beyond). I ran across a post at the University of Michigan (presumably for teacher development) on Six Types of socratic questions.

1. Questions for clarification:
2. Questions that probe assumptions:
3. Questions that probe reasons and evidence:
4. Questions about Viewpoints and Perspectives:
5. Questions that probe implications and consequences:
6. Questions about the question:

You can view the Michigan Model for Socratic Questioning Types here.

I’m sure these 6 types of questions are fine and dandy for the teacher who created them….and he/she has probably even used this methodology in the classroom. However, I feel that a 7 type question model–which takes in insights from literature, philosophy, and debate is perhaps more specific to the problems and challenges of critical thinking.

Most thinking models have various labels and categories attached to them….and academic disciplines (like your own) probably use many of the following:

Types of Socratic questions:
1) Clarification, understanding, and distinction (including the nature of the question & definition)
2) [Questions that Probe] Assumption(s)
3) [Questions that Probe] Context(s)
4) [Questions that Probe] Value/purpose
5) [Questions that Probe] Options and alternatives
6) [Questions that Probe] Connection/Opportunity cost
7) [Questions that Probe] methodology/approach/perspective

Bonus: Questions that probe or create common ground….but also questions which clarify differences….particularly the most important differences (or the most unclear or indistinct).

Ultimately adapt these to your students needs….or help co-create them with your students perhaps. These are presumably you want your students to be focused on and asking 10 years from now and even 20 years from now–taking into account the stakeholders concerned–some co-creation and crowdsourcing (aka getting feedback from your students and/or even past students) might be helpful.

Sorry, my model does not include sub-questions….but you are welcome to do this.

Its possible you could walk through the Michigan 6 Question Socratic model and build from that….leveraging student specific, context specific/problem specific, discipline specific, as well as drawing on important questions which might deserve its own category or sub-category (alternatives and options for instance)

Happy Socratic Questioning!

Feel free to include your suggestions for other Socratic questions or Socratic question types in the comments section. Thanks for reading!

Other Critical Thinking posts from Compassion in Politics

September 6, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Resources for Classic Rhetoric Courses

Classic Rhetoric Courses
• Classic Persuasion (link)
• Digital Library of Greek Literature (link)
• Aristotle (link)
• Cicero (link)
• Quintillian (link)
• Primary Text Synopses (link)
• Rhetorica (link)
• E-Server Resource Links (link)
• Classics at MIT (link)

Rhetorical Devices
• The Forrest of Rhetoric at BYU (link)
• Virtual Salt (link)

Logical Fallacies
• Visual Version One (link)
• Visual Version Two (link)
• Visual Version Three/Taxonomy (link)

General Philosophy Links
• Episteme Links (links)
• University of Texas Resources (link)

Rhetorical Texts for Analysis:
• American Rhetoric (link)
• TED Talks (link)
• Toastmasters YouTube (link)
• Bartleby (link)

Classic Rhetoric Courses Resources:
• MIT Open Courseware on Rhetoric (link)
• MIT Open Courseware on Classic Rhetoric (link)
• RSA Resources (link)
• IHSR Resources (link)
• University of Illinois and Rhetoric Resources (link)
• Classic Rhetoric Links/Resources–Figures (link)
• More Classic Link/Resources–Ancient Rhetoric (link)
• Even More Classic Rhetoric Links/Resources–Teaching Resources (link)

TBA Rhetoric Resources (Possibly Coming Soon):
Texts, More Speech/Text Links, Tools/Worksheets, etc..

Other resources on Rhetoric from Compassion in Politics

September 1, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

The three false dilemmas I’ve noticed in atheist arguments

This is a classic example of a forced choice on three levels:

1) Objective vs. Subjective. Subjective knowledge is used in our daily lives. the subjective/objective distinction isn’t even possible in passion, identity, and perspective discussions. (the other part of this is the assumption that empiricism is always on the side of science)

2) Reason vs. faith….or rather the implied assertion that all faith is blind faith. Not true. Doesn’t understand what the Christian faith walk or faith journey is all about.

3) Not all forms and versions of spirituality are equally the same. Can you distinguish different types of math? I can distinguish different types of spirituality. Jesus stands as a unique figure in history. The Trinity is also unique.

September 1, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Critical Bibliography of Neurophilosophy, Scientism, and Reductive Materialism/Physicalism/Naturalism

“The Folly of Scientism” by Austin Hughes in the New Atlantis (link)

Austin Hughes is the Carolina Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina.

“The Limits of Neuro-talk” by by Mathew B. Crawford in the New Atlantis (link)

Matthew B. is currently a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia and a contributing editor of The New Atlantis.

“What Neuroscience Cannot Tell Us About Ourselves” by Raymond Tallis (link)

Scientism Roundup by Edward Feser (link)

Raymond Tallis is the emeritus professor of geriatric medicine at the University of Manchester, United Kingdom, is the author, most recently, of Michelangelo’s Finger: An Exploration of Everyday Transcendence (Yale, 2010) and Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity (Acumen, forthcoming in 2011). This essay has been adapted from a lecture delivered in February 2010 at the American Enterprise Institute.

The New Atlantis has a whole development of neuroscience here which looks at it from a critical perspective, where Raymond Tallis has four articles which center on philosophy of science & neuroscience type questions.

September 1, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Critique of Reductive Physicalism: Why New Atheism Fails Completely


Here is a summary of what’s covered:

1) Physicalism can’t explain brain states:
“Brain is physical entity with physical properties. Mental properties are not physical properties.”
Brain is happy or say. I am happy or sad

2) Physicalism can’t give you freedom or free will.

3) Physicalism can’t give you you or me. It can’t give you an identity

4) Most important things in life:
Wife and love for me.
Love is not a property of the brain.
My kid. His kid’s happiness. “Crack open brain to find happiness.”
Looking for some self/identity
Mental properties can’t be described by physicalism…you need another explanation, a better explanation.

5) Body, Brain, & Soul…..physical and non-physical. Soul can account for mental properties.
Interaction between mental and soul. Thats why biological effects can work.
“Body and soul best accounts for our experience & see as human beings.”

Brett Kunkle from Stand to Reason


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 202 other followers