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July 30, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Critique of the Folly of the Folly of Scientism

The following is a critique of an essay which critiqued the article “The Folly of Scientism” by evolutionary biologist Austin Hughes from the University of South Carolina. The following article takes a critical view of the worldview of scientism, which seeks to extend the purview of science beyond its bounds in physics, chemistry, and biology….in a way that re-makes the world in the model of the reductionist, physicalist, and ultimately determinist view of reality which destroys choice, rationality, responsibility, ethics, along with the subjective, identity, and emotion :

Tools that help as cultural, institutional, and personal decisions. They also help with inspiration, self reflection, and emotional support–reminding humans that they aren’t alone.

The call for objective knowledge outside the realm of science is fundamentally question-begging. These areas aren’t meant to find “the one perfect answer”–if they were we’d be a society of near borgs. Life outside of science isn’t like math.

Hughes actually answers the question that misses. Moreover, a simple look at history and looking at the big picture can yield answers to such questions.
1) ethics in science
2) motives and purposes in science
3) institutional funding of science (philosophy, history, political science, etc..)
4) prioritization of science (and prioritization of important goals within science).
5) accountability of science
6) everything in society thats helps science that isn’t pure science
7) cultural leadership, innovation, and values to catalyze more helpful forms of science.
8) marketing and sales

More specifically theology and Christianity as ideas and movements and belief systems have played a primary role in facilitating this. Particularly in relation to:
1) Ethics and accountability
2) Free societies
3) Inspiring the original scientists and a number of others (many who have been Nobel prize winning and saved millions of lives)
4) Education and the university system
5) Funding for science & support of science education.
6) Arguments to the contrary are using a reductionist soundbite and snippet vision of history of these values–that selectively pick out worst case scenarios (in a way that perverts the search for truth). While the church hasn’t been perfect–its perhaps precisely when its been an over-bloated bureaucratic force of idllic proportion–that its been at its worst–and thats precisely what Austin Hughes is warning science is the fate that awaits it–if it fails to come to terms with scientism. While this historical analysis one focuses on the best, its certainly more representative than those I’ve seen by skeptics and atheists–and it stands as a decent answer to their misrepresentation of history (particularly when you omit Catholic examples).

But ultimately, part of this is the accountability that the “Folly of Science” accomplishes. Austin Hughes is pushing for greater accountability in science….so that it doesn’t become a shibboleth….so that it doesn’t end up thinking too much of itself…..while simultaneously discrediting it.

Fundamentally, he’s missed something about the history of ideas. He’s missed that the Renaissance, the Romantics, and the Enlightenment all have something to offer us as a society. When the enlightenment took hold, it didn’t totally overthrow all other values–it was ultimately integrated. And for good cause–the enlightenment philosophy would turn us into rational automatons. That is to say humans are BOTH rational and emotional. Both forms are absolutely vital to who we are and to neglect that is to miss the role of identity, passion, subjective knowledge, emotional problem solving, and a host of other deeply human issues. If this wasn’t true–psychology as a discipline wouldn’t exist.

If reason/science/skepticism represent an acid….in this case…..the acid has gone awry in the lab……corroding too much……and not noticing the nuance and distinctions of history.

• The Folly of Scientism by evolutionary biologist Austin Hughes from the University of South Carolina (link)
• The Folly of the Folly of Scientism Jerry A. Coyne at the University of Chicago (link)
• Critique of Scientism by philosophy Alysdair McIntrye(link)

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