Scientism on the PS forum

I detect in this and your earlier answers a strong tendency toward “scientism” - the doctrine that modern science is the only reliable way of obtaining any truth, and that all knowledge other than scientific knowledge is “fuzzy knowledge” – not knowledge at all. Such a claim of course makes it hard for there to be a “Peaceful Science” – a science that is compatible with other human concerns and does not seem to be making war on them. Human beings – at least, the majority of them, especially in countries with a strong commitment to a plurality of ways of living, feeling, and thinking – aren’t going to accept scientism, and if accepting modern science requires them to also accept scientism, their answer to both will be, “No deal.”

That aside, I wish we had more detail regarding Townes’s thought on evolution and design. If anyone ever comes across more statements by Townes, even if it’s several months down the road, I’d be glad to see the references posted here. But for now I’ll return to my day job.

That is a view that is gaining support among philosophers of science.


I do. And, as I have pointed out, so do growing numbers of philosophers of science and epistemology. So I regret to inform you that this attempt to create a new pejorative term for those who do not accept the evidence-free claims of religion seems to be backfiring.


The article you cite does not support your claim. If you read it carefully, you will see that Boudry distinguishes four possible definitions of “scientism.” The definition I’m using – the one in the top left-hand corner of his diagram – is the one that he says almost no philosophers of science hold! So no, the kind of “scientism” I’m criticizing is not gaining support among philosophers of science.

And if you try to wriggle out by saying you are referring to the broader definition of “science” in the lower-left-hand corner of his diagram, you will not succeed, because it’s plain from the context of the discussion here that I was talking about the natural sciences, such as physics (which the Nobel winner we’re talking about is in) and biology (which is what most of the anti-ID champions of scientism on this site are trained in). I wasn’t referring to social science or some loose general notion of “science” that could include the humanities. Given what I obviously meant, Boudry’s article does not support your claim.

I see. And it appears that it is the one you are accusing some members of this group as holding. Can you provide any evidence that anyone here actually does so? Or is this just a strawman argument you are making?

As far as I can see, people who reject the non-scientific “design” arguments made by Denton and Townes are doing so on the basis of the logical failures they perceive in those arguments, a response which would not entail “scientism” of the narrow sort you are accusing people of holding. Here, for example:


The observation I was making was one based on my overall experience with a number of people on this site, made in a number contexts, over a wide range of topics. The one particular remark of Faded Glory that I interpreted as “scientistic” is just one of dozens made over the past few years with that flavor.

Of course I have no objection to particular arguments of Denton or anyone else being criticized if they rest on factual errors or bad logic. It is some of the side-remarks about science, and about what counts as true or reliable knowledge, that I was talking about when I mentioned “scientism.”

It’s not at all surprising to me that when extreme scientism (Boudry’s top left-hand corner type) is found, it tends to be found not among professional philosophers of science, but among lay people who see themselves as champions of science, and it’s not surprising that it is found almost exclusively among atheists or agnostics, since those with religious views of a traditional kind almost by definition accept things other than science as sources of truth. I don’t say that all atheists and agnostics endorse extreme scientism, but it’s not surprising that the largest number of people who endorse or seem to endorse extreme scientism are atheists or agnostics. Also, as the people who endorse extreme scientism are often rather militant about the supremacy of science in the “truth game,” it is perhaps not surprising that origins websites, which tend to attract those of combative tendencies anyway, would attract a fair number of those who endorse extreme scientism.

I’ll be glad to point out what strike me as examples of hardcore scientism in future postings. But for now, back to work.

What I find not at all surprising is that you continue to talk about these people as if they exist, even though you have been unable to find me a single example. All the while failing to offer any argument, beyond expressing your sniveling disdain, against the forms of scientism actually defended by philosophers and other well-informed people.


It would have been effective to point out examples from previous postings.


The weird thing, really, is that “scientism” only gets thrown about as an objection when scientific methods are proposed for answering just the sorts of things science is good at: questions of fact. It’d be one thing if scientists ran around purporting to have found the objective scale of artistic beauty, and telling everyone that Monet is garbage on that basis; then, you could legitimately say that this notion that science provides the sole insight into anything, including aesthetics, was silly and “scientistic.” But when the question is a question of fact and invites empirical investigation BUT the difficulty of investigating it or the futile search for anything worth testing in it demonstrates that it’s vacuous, THEN one gets accused of scientism for, y’know, not accepting “other ways of knowing.”

At times like that, I always wish I could introduce the person who’s hollerin’ about “scientism” to other people who are into “other ways of knowing.” A week of bongo-drumming in the woods and listening to people weeping and bellyaching about how their fathers never loved them would be a suitable punishment for use of the term, and perhaps would discourage it.


Attempting to artificially dogmatize scientific methodologies because they do not comport with the predictions of an a priori worldview, I can guarantee, only serves to further discredit the legitimacy of that worldview.

Science doesn’t deny anecdotal experiences or anecdotal knowledge. Science, in the absence of sufficient evidence, does not allow that anecdotal knowledge to supersede the shared reality that all humankind must interact with. The tension seems to arise when one’s anecdotal knowledge is foisted upon that shared reality.


Sounds rather like factism.

Why are those dogmatic people so obsessed with forcing down facts at school??


…and why are @Eddie’s buddies at the DI so intent on portraying their rhetoric as science?


The Boudry table strikes me as overly simplistic? Why must it be a choice between ‘the only sources’ or ‘the best sources’ across the board? Can science not be the only source in one case, the best source in another, and a lousy source in yet a third?

Surely when it comes to empirical questions about the external physical world, science has by far the best track record and so it seems justifiable to call it the best source of knowledge. In other fields not so much. Science can’t answer the question of what I was thinking as I got up this morning, yet I do know the answer with great certainty. So here the best source of knowledge is my personal experience and memory.

Perhaps we should come from the other way and consider what type of things we can know best with science, and what types of things we can know best through other means. It would of course also be helpful if we could be clear on the difference between knowledge, belief and opinion.


“Other ways of knowing” is usually synonymous with subjective opinion, or “this warm feeling I have”, or “I just know, okay?.. I just know”.

I’d like to know just what it is we can know through some method other than the combination of the empirical and reason? And how would I determine there’s other ways of knowing than science, than by doing science to assess that? Can I know through other ways that there’s other ways of knowing, and what knowledge do they produce? Can I get some examples?

What usually happens when I ask this is that we get fed some bs about how I haven’t published papers about whether there’s milk in my fridge, so since I haven’t “done science” in this ridiculously restrictive sense on the question of milk in my fridge, then me knowing there’s milk in my fridge because I’ve opened it to check somehow proves there’s some other way to know besides science.


So, for the benefit of @Eddie and anyone else who might have been confused about your position: You do not endorse the position in the upper left quadrant of Boudry’s graph, correct?

I believe that would fall within the category of “science broadly construed.”

And don’t forget Divine Revelation. That’s a big one. Really, the one that is chiefly responsible for all the propaganda around “scientism.”


When it comes to studying the physico-chemical aspects of the natural world (that includes astronomy, biology, geology and the likes) I do endorse that position. However, there are many other aspects of the world for which I don’t endorse that position. As I said, we can’t just take one simple view on everything and anything.

Would it? In that way would this be ‘science’? Can anyone else but me ever hope to gather data on what I was thinking this morning? Even if they could gather such data, how would it be possible to independently establish if they would be right or wrong with any degree of certainty? Nobody else but me could establish the truth of the matter - I can’t see how such irreproducible and purely personal experiences could fall in the category of ‘science’ even though I myself have perfect knowledge of what I was thinking.

Divine Revelation is one of those things that I wouldn’t even call ‘knowledge’ myself. Not only is it limited to single-person experience, it is also very hard to see how it could be reliably distinguished from other deeply held non-revealed beliefs. If a Muslim has a divine relevation about Allah and a Christian has a similar relevation about Jesus, they couldn’t both be right, isn’t it? So at least one of these can’t be ‘knowledge’, and quite possibly neither is. Since I don’t think there is any way to independently settle such matters I would classify both as ‘beliefs’.


I’d go even further and say even you couldn’t “establish” the truth of the matter. All you can do is try to recall the experience. But memory can fail. Badly. The question is to what extent the feeling of certainty you might have about what you were thinking this morning can be said to have a proportionally strong justification. I think we have to concede that how strongly we feel about something is often times totally out of proportion to how reliable our personal recollections really are.

I can’t see how such irreproducible and purely personal experiences could fall in the category of ‘science’ even though I myself have perfect knowledge of what I was thinking.

But I would protest the claim that you actually have perfect knowledge of what you were thinking. What you have is a recollection of something, and then you have a (probably strongly disproportional) intuition about the reliability of that recollection.

Is recollection of a personal experience a form of knowledge? Is it science? Depends on the definitions we use for each of these. I would be fine with saying that your experiences of your own thoughts, and your recollection of having these thoughts, are a kind of private knowledge that doesn’t qualify as science, exactly because no-one but you have access to them.

But I have to part ways with you when you say this experience is known or recalled perfectly. This is one reason in addition to what you mention(such as contradictory experiences among groups) for why I don’t accept claims of private divine revelations, visions of the future/ghosts/aliens/angels, dreams of prophecies, and so on.

You definitely can’t be certain about your own experience this morning except in the sense of, well, experiencing that feeling of certainty about it. But when it comes down to it, our competence in reason, recollection, and sensory experience are much more unreliable than we feel they are.

What we might say is that the intuition, the feeling of certainty about our own experiences might be a necessary precondition for being able to function in the world.
How could you walk across the ground if you weren’t totally confident in your ability to correctly interpret sensory experience from your feet, legs, body, and eyes? Imagine feeling extremely skeptical and uncertain about that and having to put down your foot with extreme deliberation and scrutiny at every step.

So here there is a conflict between what is required to function properly in everyday situations (a disproportionate confidence in the reliability of our own thinking, recollection, and senses), and how reliable those attributes actually are when we put them to the test. Interestingly, science has helped reveal just how unreliable they really are.

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I don’t know, maybe just because I like taking a beating, or maybe in hope that Puck would paint a fun word picture in rebuttal of my idea, but I’d like to submit a “way of knowing” to the forum.

Revelation is a way of knowing.

If there is a Creator God. And if he wants to be known. He could reveal himself to people.

I tried to present my experience of taking the God of the Bible up on his offer to “taste and see” as evidence of “knowing” based on the revelation that comes from trusting God, and that got swatted out to half court by you guys. So, I’m not trying to rehash the same argument.

I just want to say that "If God IS, and wants to be known, then he can be known. And he would get to decide how that interaction takes place.

I know I’m at Peaceful SCIENCE, and science might not be able to say much about the idea of revelation, but as far as I can tell, the good Dr. Swamidass intended for this forum to be a place where Science and Religion have a conversation. Since Religion has a seat at the table here, then…revelation is a way of knowing.


How would you know that you had a revelation, and not merely a bad dream?

I’m not ruling out revelation. But I’m not ruling it in, either. I’ll watch from the sidelines, but with skepticism.


What you are describing there is what distinguishes science in the narrow sense from the broad sense. You are in effect doing “science” for no reason other than to increase your own knowledge as well as to plan and direct your future actions. You are not flipping a coin or praying to a god for guidance.

I agree. But not everyone does. Those who believe in “Divine Revelation” as a source of knowledge are largely the ones behind all the bellyaching about this alleged “scientism”. Like @Rumraket suggests, the argument goes “You don’t need science to know if you need to buy milk. Therefore, something I believe because it is written in the Bible qualifies as knowledge just as much any scientific theory.”