Scientism makes it impossible for us to be scientific

by July 13, 2014

Does science make it impossible for one to be spiritual?

That is the misleading claim not of science, but of scientism, the belief system that science has a monopoly on knowledge.

Ironically, scientism makes it impossible for us to be scientific. Let’s see how.

The success of science, indeed its survival, is based on a presumption and a precondition. The presumption is that nature has a rational order discernable through human investigation. And the precondition is that we have minds capable of such rational contemplation.

But why does nature have a rational order? Why are our minds capable of rational thinking? When faced with such perplexing questions, scientism usually hides behind the back of its twin: reductionism.

What is reductionism?

The notion that everything can be explained by reducing it to its smaller constituents and their interactions.

Reductionism posits that everything has evolved from a primeval soup, which in turn has emerged from a big bang. And that bang came from a singularity that somehow singularly existed and suddenly exploded.

 “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.” – Charles Darwin

Given the immense complexity of the mind and the world, the probability of their having come about thus is infinitesimally, even impossibly, low.

But even granting that this somehow squeezed through that ultra-microscopic portal of probability, a bigger roadblock awaits. Darwin confessed it thus in a letter to William Graham (3 July 1881): “With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.”

If our mind is unreliable – and reductionism gives us no reason to believe otherwise, then whatever beliefs our mind comes up with are also unreliable.  As reductionism and scientism are also beliefs coming from an unreliable mind, they too have the warning tag: unreliable. Thus, reductionism reduces, even ruins, its own reliability.

Worse still, reductionism destroys rationality too. Physicist John Polkinghorne explains in his book One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology the logical consequences of reducing the mind to the signals in the brain: “Thought is replaced by electro-chemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong. They simply happen… The very assertions of the reductionist himself are nothing but blips in the neural network of his brain. The world of rational discourse dissolves into the absurd chatter of firing synapses. Quite frankly, that cannot be right and none of us believes it to be so.”

Thus, scientism sentences our rationality – and consequently our science – to the scrapheap of irrationality. Better to be rational and retain the privilege of availing valuable sources of knowledge such as science and spirituality.



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  • keshav kashmiri
    July 13, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    It is one thing to celebrate science for its achievements and remarkable ability to explain a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But to claim there is nothing knowable outside the scope of science would be similar to a successful fisherman saying that whatever he can’t catch in his nets does not exist. Once we accept that science is the only source of human knowledge, we have adopted a philosophical position (scientism) that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It is, in a word, unscientific. That’s why many people who worship scientism as the only means to know everything ,restrict their scope of understanding of the world behind the material manifestation .And that’s how certain scientists are found to be atheist since they can’t comprehend anything about spiritual realm which remains completely transcendental to their material vision and experience

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