Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Terminology Tuesday: Scientism

Scientism: The conviction that scientific knowledge, particularly that derived from the natural sciences, is the highest or even only form of knowledge. Scientism thus depreciates the possibility that ultimate truth can be derived from such areas as moral, aesthetic and religious experience, and it typically rejects the idea that truth can be derived from special revelation.1

1. C.Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), p. 105.


Anonymous said...

In other words those who believe Scientism is the ultimate truth falls into the category of fundamentalism something thats always been attacked by scientists when linked to religious faith...Ive always had this feeling that for some scientists its not about searching for answers wherever the chips might fall but making sure they fall their side of the religious line

R Lidster said...

I'm not really sure what an "aesthetic experience" really means in that definition, but that's not really why I'm posting so unless someone cares to clarify that for me, I'll move on.

I just think it's important to remember that issues of inquiry methodology are still actively debated within the sciences. So, Anonymous's use of the word "some" is really important, I think. We have to be careful not to paint "scientists" with broad brush strokes. After all, Scientism is a rather severe orientation, certainly, but not all (or even most) scientists ascribe to Scientism, and many people who ascribe to Scientism are not scientists. Indeed, some of the most commonly held metatheoretical frameworks would question the whole premise of Scientism in the first place.

In post-positivism, for example, "ultimate truth" does exist, but it can only be known imperfectly and probabilistically. That would mean that there is no means, scientific or otherwise, of "deriving" ultimate truth or of having perfect knowledge of that truth; rather, we come increasingly closer to understanding it within certain probabilistic limits. We can only be so confident that our particular premises based on certain sets of evidence accurately represent reality, and we must always admit that we could be wrong. Within that, there are many differing opinions on what kinds of methods will help move us closer to the truth, and many do not exclude the possibility that personal, subjective experience can serve as an important source of information. I think that most scientists would prefer to play off your metaphor and say that they strive to find or even to delimit the side where most of the chips fall most of the time.

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