Scientism fosters not respect for science, but disrespect for humanity

by July 17, 2014

Scientism is the belief system that science alone is the source of all knowledge. If anyone points out the limitations of science, devotees of scientism misrepresent such criticism of scientism as criticism of science, and deride the critic as an “anti-scientific obscurantist.”

The claims of scientism notwithstanding, science cannot encompass the subjective relishable aspects of many cherished human fields such as poetry and music. Science can count the length of the words or the frequencies of the letters occurring in a poem and accordingly give us some pointers towards the quality of the poetry, but even the most scientifically advanced data processing devise can’t relish a masterly poem or feel bored with a mediocre piece. The same applies to music. Science can measure the decibel levels of the sounds and the rate of their modulations in a musical composition, but we need to use, not science, but our trans-scientific capacity for sentience to discern whether the piece is shoddy or superb.

Some extremist reductionists try to reduce all aesthetic phenomena down to neurochemical firings and ultimately the random oscillations of unconscious fundamental particles. But Nobel Laureate physicist Erwin Schrodinger in his book Nature and the Greeks encourages us to treat such explanations with the strong skepticism that they deserve: “I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”

Some scientistic extremists may argue: “Fields such as poetry and music are inconsequential; they don’t lead to any human progress – as does science. In things that really matter, science alone can provide knowledge.”

Given that poetry and music have enriched the human heart for millennia, dismissing them as inconsequential amounts to disrespect of humanity.

Anyway, let’s focus on the area that even scientism deems important: science. Consider the critical question: How do we determine what are the proper and improper uses of science?

Science can’t provide the answer.


Because it operates by the principle of amorality. To promote its purpose of studying nature objectively, science stays silent on moral issues. Schrodinger in the same book states: “The scientific worldview contains of itself no ethical values.”

For example, science can tell us the results of putting arsenic in our grandmother’s breakfast, but it can’t tell us whether doing this to quickly get her property is right or wrong. Most people would hopefully find such a scheme revolting.

But where would that revulsion come from?

Not from their science, for its amorality would keep it deafeningly silent.

That revulsion would come from their ethical and spiritual fabric – something that scientism dismisses as an invalid or nonessential source of knowledge.

But such dismissal can be catastrophically consequential.

The absence of morality amidst the ascendance of science paved the way to the worst manmade horror in recent history: the Holocaust.

Hitler’s Nazi Germany prided itself on its scientific progress, yet it (ab)used science to exterminate six million Jews in its gas chambers. What can be a greater disrespect of humanity than the cold-mass murder of millions?

The partisans of scientism will protest: “Nazism caused the Holocaust, not scientism.”

Agreed. But would scientism have given any reason for stopping it?

It would have relied on science alone, and science would have stayed amorally mute.

Nowadays it has become fashionable among reductionists to invent explanations of the origin of morality in terms of psycho-evolutionary processes that supposedly operated on a non-existent mind in an unrecorded past through unknown mechanisms in non-demonstrable non-repeatable ways. But such explanations are pop psychology that is not science – it is science fiction. And, as Schrodinger put it, such explanations are “so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.”

A genuine scientist, unlike a scientistic zealot, appreciates humanity’s all-round potentials and accomplishments, In fact, Albert Einstein recommended such due deference in the essay Moral Decay in his book Out of My Later Years: “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”


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