Scientism: An unsatisfying and unreasonable account of everything

Why Jesus blog

Austin L. Hughes, Carolina Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina, has written an interesting article, The Folly of Scientism, in which he expresses concern over the widespread attitude that “natural science does or soon will constitute the entire domain of truth.” This is the ideology of scientism, which he defines:

Central to scientism is the grabbing of nearly the entire territory of what were once considered questions that properly belong to philosophy. Scientism takes science to be not only better than philosophy at answering such questions, but the only means of answering them.

Proponents of scientism assert the “universal competence of science.” Hughes disagrees with this bold claim. He asks:

Is it really true that natural science provides a satisfying and reasonably complete account of everything we see, experience, and seek to understand — of every phenomenon in the universe? And is it true that science is more capable, even singularly capable, of answering the questions that once were addressed by philosophy?

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Hughes takes it as obvious that “philosophical training would be very useful to a scientist,” for example, in avoiding widespread errors in logic. Such training would be especially useful in defining the enterprise of science itself, so he employs Karl Popper’s criterion of falsifiability as a good example, for it seeks to distinguish science from pseudoscience and non-science. He observes:

Popper’s falsifiability criterion and similar essentialist definitions of science highlight the distinct but vital roles of both science and philosophy. The definitions show the necessary role of philosophy in undergirding and justifying science — protecting it from its potential for excess and self-devolution by, among other things, proposing clear distinctions between legitimate scientific theories and pseudoscientific theories that masquerade as science.

Hughes proceeds in the remainder of the article to demonstrate three areas of knowledge in which science comes up short in providing an adequate, or even satisfactory, account of things…


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