Scientism is still alive
I was in a conversation with an atheist very recently and the question came up about the nature of evidence suitable as a ‘proof’ for the existence of a god. This atheist made the claim as we were debating:
Everything about the universe has to be empirically and/or mathematically supported.
This is classical scientism i.e. that the only ‘true’ (or valuable) knowledge about the world is that which can be confirmed by science. I responded by demonstrating the self-refuting nature of that statement, as I said,
I’m not sure your statement that ‘everything about the universe has to be empirically and/or mathematically supported’ can be supported either empirically or mathematically, meaning that statement as self-defeating.
Scientism is a terribly reductionist way of viewing the world. Not only is the very claim unscientific but the very assumptions that science is built upon are also “unscientific” i.e. they can’t be ‘proved’ empirically e.g. the laws of logic, the existence of numbers, these are reasonable a priori assumptions which help us interrogate and understand the universe. But they cannot be ‘proved’ empirically.
Scientism also devalues and eliminates any other alternative sources of ‘truth’ e.g. poetry or revelation. Poetry can illuminate and provide truth that science cannot. Similarly I can only find out my wife’s favourite drink by her ‘revealing’ it to me i.e. her speaking to me. There is no possible scientific experiment that can be conducted which can produce this ‘fact’. To suggest that ‘everything’ about the universe has to be scientifically or mathematically supported is too simplistic and reductionistic.
Yet unperturbed my atheist friend continued to pursue this philosophical approach:
My statement in question is a self-evident statement of fact. It is supported by the observation that almost everything concretely known about nature as of yet has been discovered and subsequently proved using methods of science, and seldom by methods of mulling things over in an armchair.
This statement is not a ‘self-evident statement of fact’. Not everything has been discovered using the ‘methods of science’ (as I outlined above). To pit philosophy against science as my friend has done here does gross injustice to both science and philosophy.
Another atheist chimed in and contributed to this debate trying to justify the scientism of his atheist counterpart:
First, I’d just like to mention that that’s a fairly overused tactic, and it doesn’t do you much good. Because, with utility as the standard, empirical rationalism blows magical thinking to pieces. With reality, actual reality as the metric, nothing can compete with an epistemology predicated on evidence and refutation.
So unlike philosophy/theology, which ultimately swallows its own tail, we have a system that’s verifiablly predictive and explanatory. If you want proof that Arjun was correct, see if you’re using a chunk of plastic and circuitry to beam your thoughts across the world in the blink of an eye. Then tell me utility isn’t a good standard to judge epistemologies by.
Unfortunately this statement overlooks and misunderstands the philosophical position I was taking. I was never for a second suggesting that science is useless – I completely agree science is an outstanding tool. My point is that it isn’t the only way of determining truth.
Further, the reason my response may seem ‘overused’ is because it’s philosophically true. Again, unfortunately my other atheist friend has completely overlooked the philosophical foundations of science and the limits of science. As leading atheist Dan Dennett wisely suggests, ‘There is no such thing as philosophy free science, just science that has been conducted without any consideration of its underlying philosophical assumptions’.
It is unsurprising that those advocating ‘scientism’ fail to see evidence for god, because the clearest evidence for a god is through ‘revelation’ i.e. that he has spoken through the person and works of Jesus Christ. Just like I only know things about my wife because she tells me, the only way we can know things for certain about God is because he has spoken to us.
I find it disappointing that it appears that scientism still appears to be alive even though it is completely self-refuting and ignores alternative, valid pathways to truth.