Scientism roundup

In several recent posts we have dealt at least indirectly with scientism, the view that the only real knowledge is scientific knowledge.  Scientism is an illusion, a bizarre fantasy that makes of science something it can never be.  Seemingly the paradigm of rationality, it is in fact incoherent, incapable in principle of being defended in a way consistent with its own epistemological scruples.  It should go without saying that this in no way entails any criticism of science itself.  For a man to acknowledge that there are many beautiful women in the world does not entail that he doesn’t think his own wife or girlfriend is beautiful.  Similarly, to say that there are entirely rational and objective sources of knowledge other than science does not commit one to denying that science is a source of knowledge.  Those who cannot see this are doubly deluded – like a vain and paranoid wife or girlfriend who thinks all women are far less attractive than she is and regards any suggestion to the contrary as a denial of her own beauty.  Worse, like an already beautiful woman whose vanity leads her to destroy her beauty in the attempt to enhance it through plastic surgery, scientism threatens to distort and corrupt science precisely by exaggerating its significance.

I have examined this topic at length in various articles and blog posts (as well as in The Last Superstition, which could be read as a book-length reply to scientism).  For readers who might be interested, I thought it would be useful to gather the relevant links together in one post (to which I will from time to time add further links to any future pieces related to the subject).

For a general critique of scientism, see my two-part article from Public Discourse:

For discussion of the differences between the scientific and philosophical approaches to the study of reality in general and of the natural world in particular, see:

For discussion of some specific errors connected with scientism – such as the claim made by some scientists that science has refuted certain traditional philosophical theses, or the muddleheaded assumption that “laws of nature” by themselves can explain anything, or the notion that science alone deals with “facts” – see these posts: 

“Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?” 

"Coyne on intentionality" 

“The early Wittgenstein on scientism”

For reviews of some recent books claiming to offer scientific answers to traditional philosophical questions, see: 


For a reply to the claim that modern biology has refuted the doctrine of original sin, see:

For discussion of the shrill dogmatism and circular reasoning that the scientism of the “New Atheist” writers leads them into, see:

“The New Philistinism” (an article I wrote for The American)

"A clue for Jerry Coyne"

"Tom and Jerry"

"So you think you understand the cosmological argument?"

"Grow up or shut up"

"Rosenhouse redux"

"Argumentum ad Himmlerum"

"Eric MacDonald's assisted intellectual suicide"

"A final word on Eric MacDonald"

"Addendum [on MacDonald]"

Scientism is related to naturalism, the view that serious philosophy is continuous with natural science and that all genuine philosophical problems can be solved at least indirectly by further research in natural science.  Naturalism is ultimately as indefensible as scientism is.  For some general criticisms of naturalism, see:

The philosophical assumptions about what counts as “natural” that inform naturalism and scientism have a tendency to lead those views in an “eliminativist” direction – that is to say, in the direction of denying that common sense features of the world such as the ordinary objects of our experience, moral values, and indeed the human mind itself, really exist at all.  Paul Churchland and Alexander Rosenberg are two philosophers well known for acknowledging and defending the eliminativist implications of naturalism.  But a thoroughgoing eliminativism is also incoherent.  (And though eliminativists like to pretend otherwise, the reasons have to do with far more than merely accusing them of “believing that there are no beliefs,” a specific incoherence that the eliminativist can of course easily sidestep by simply avoiding the word “belief.”)  We had reason some time back to consider Rosenberg’s version of naturalism and its eliminativist implications, and criticized it in a series of posts:

Rosenberg would later develop his views at greater length in his book The Atheist's Guide to Reality, which I examined in detail in a series of blog posts and in a review of the book in First Things:

Scientism and naturalism derive whatever plausibility they have from the assumption that almost everything has by now been explained by science in purely materialist terms, so that it is implausible to suggest that morality, the human mind, and other philosophically puzzling phenomena will not yield too to materialistic or naturalistic explanation.  But the idea that “everything else has been explained in materialist terms” is itself an illusion, based on sheer metaphysical sleight of hand.  Indeed, materialism rests on a conception of matter that makes a completely materialist account of the world in principle impossible, at least given the incoherence of eliminativism.  I explain why in:

Conceptual confusion, unexamined prejudice, and ignorance of what non-materialist philosophers have actually said are common features of materialist and naturalist arguments about the mind.  I discuss these tendencies in:

I address these problems as they arise in the work of specific thinkers like Churchland, Frank Jackson, and Daniel Stoljar in some further posts:

Finally, it must be emphasized that to reject scientism and naturalism is by no means to endorse the claims of “Intelligent Design” theorists.  On the contrary, the chief problem with ID is precisely that it reflects something like a “scientistic” prejudice insofar as it assumes that reasoning from the order of the universe to the existence of an ordering intelligence involves a kind of “scientific theorizing.”  From an Aristotelian-Thomistic point of view, natural theology properly begins, not from this or that contingent empirical result of science, but rather from the deeper metaphysical truths that any possible empirical theory must presuppose – the distinction between actuality and potentiality, the reality of immanent final causality as a necessary concomitant of efficient causality, and other theses of the branch of metaphysics known as “philosophy of nature.”  I have criticized ID in a number of posts, links to which can be found here:

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