Mixing Memory

What Is Scientism?

Comments on the last post make it clear that my use of the label “scientism” is far from clear. It does not mean a rejection of science, or its methods (though I do have to roll my eyes when someone talks of the scientific method), within their sphere. It’s not, for example, a rejection of methodological naturalism, which has been the topic of much discussion in the debate between ID creationists and scientists with which I’m sure many of you are intimately familiar. Instead, it is a rejection of an idea that is both old and new (by new, I mean about a century old), which states, in essence, that knowledge claims are either scientific or, ultimately, meaningless (or at best, incomplete and unjustified). Scientism of this form states that everything is understandable through science, and can only be understood in its entirety through science. In other words, in addition to being a methodological and epistemological position, it is also a metaphysical one, that includes not only philosophical naturalism, but an associated strong realism in which the world is exactly as it appears scientifically.

Furthermore, when I use the term in reference to people like Dawkins, scientism takes on a moral dimension. Anything that is not science is morally bad, according to this form of scientism. Dawkins demonstrates this aspect of his scientism when he says that religious education is child abuse, for example. My point, in the last post, is that his op-ed column seemed to be coming from the position that, if not-science is bad, then science is good, and what science wants or needs is justified without question.

Comments

  1. #1 Jason
    January 5, 2007

    Perhaps you could provide some examples of knowledge claims from a source other than science and reason that you believe to be meaningful and justified, and why you consider them so. And also why you think belief in the supernatural is justified.

  2. #2 Chris
    January 5, 2007

    Pick a knowledge claim from one of the humanities, just for starters.

  3. #3 Jason
    January 5, 2007

    Chris,

    Such as? Again, it’s hard to know what you mean without some clear examples.

  4. #4 mtraven
    January 6, 2007

    You don’t have to get fancy. How about “Washington DC is the capitol of the US”. That is not scientific knowledge, it’s a social construction, yet it’s undeniably a true and useful thing to know.

  5. #5 cfeagans
    January 6, 2007

    The only time I see the term “scientism” applied is when anti-science types use it to criticize those in science whom they find objectionable. There is, of course, a definition of “scientism” that I’ve seen in scholarly references, which refers to the notion that science and scientific methods can be used to explain all that can be observed or experienced in the universe. This is consistent with logical positivism, which holds that there is an objectively knowable universe.

    But rarely does the term show up these days in anything but a pejorative sense. David Menton’s 1991 article, Carl Sagan: Prophet of Scientism, accuses Sagan of being a chief member of the “religion of science,” implying the corruption of the minds of young, otherwise pious, readers and viewers of his popular works.

    Such derisions of science aren’t limited to religious fundamentalists, as they aren’t the only ones with an ax to grind with science as an establishment and individuals within it. Steve Mizrach, concludes a web essay decrying the oppression of alternative medicine by the establishment of science with:

    Looking at the genesis and trajectory of alternative medicines is an interesting avenue into the more general problem of examining scientific heterodoxies (Velikovskyanism, etc.) and the accomodations they have tried to make in justifying their existence. Alternative medical practicioners, ‘traditional’ medical practicioners, and medical anthropologists might consider an alliance against scientism. The Dictatorship of Reason, governed by Voltaire’s Bastards, has been allowed to run the West unchecked for too long.

    Shermer’s view of “scientism” however, suggests:

    Scientism is courageously proffering naturalistic answers that supplant supernaturalistic ones and in the process is providing spiritual sustenance for those whose needs are not being met by these ancient cultural traditions.

    So there is ample reason why, when the word “scientism” is read, its meaning is, from the start, subjective and the context must be inferred from the surrounding text and attitude of the author. Contrary to what you’ve suggested, I’ve yet to see Dawkins state or imply that “[a]nything that is not science is morally bad,” and his argument that religious indoctrination is a form of child abuse is one that is logically arrived at. I can see, however, why there are many who would find this as a bit over-the-top. But asserting that it is morally questionable to indoctrinate children in unreasonable doctrines that they could ultimately chose to die for or, worse, kill for is hardly the equivalent to saying that “[a]nything that is not science is morally bad.”

    References:

    Menton, D. N. (1991). Carl Sagan: Prophet of Scientism (Get the Facts). Retrieved 13106, from Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.: http://www.gennet.org/facts/sagan.html.

    Shermer, Michael (2002) The Shamans of Scientism. Scientific American.

  6. #6 DeanOR
    January 6, 2007

    I think an important aspect of defining scientism is its reductionism, which says that nothing exists or is true if it can not be observed or tested empirically through current scientific methodology.
    It throws out all the meaning of poetry, art, meditation and contemplation, philosophy, literature, spirituality, and we are left with nothing but atoms. Even sadder, we ignore the fascinating nexus of science and spirituality. It is fine if someone wants to adopt scientism as their personal philosophy, although I think it is very sad and barren. But it can be just as over-literal, reductionist, and rigid as any other form of fundamentalism, which is what it is, and it should not be forced on others. It is NOT science, rather it is quite un-scientific in its certainty. It does not distinguish between the unscientific and the non-scientific.
    As far as the question being asked here, about ‘knowledge claims”, I think the questioner is assuming that all knowing is in the form of cognition, or ideas, or empirical observation, which in itself is an unexamined assumption of scientism.
    There is much that is unmeasurable. There is also much that is not irrational but is non-rational and non-scientific as opposed to unscientific. No one can comprehend the non-rational or non-empirical from a totally rational empirical perspective, so trying to answer the question on the questioner’s terms is futile.
    By the way, cognitive psychology itself can become a form of scientism if is insists that nothing exists mentally other than what cognitive psychologists observe and test through their particular methodologies.

  7. #7 cfeagans
    January 6, 2007

    I always raise an eyebrow when I see the term “reductionist” used and find its context to nearly always be some borderline postmodernist mumbo-jumbo.

    Scientism true to the term (not the pejorative used in this blog and in anti-science writings) says that the universe around us and everything in it is potentially explainable through the methods of science. Too often there are those that seem to go out of their way to find things that science can’t explain or demonstrate knowledge of: poetry,
    Washington DC, art, etc.

    But I would respond that social constructs are, indeed, studied and known in science. That Washington is the perceived capital of the U.S. can be empirically described by any social scientist or anthropologist willing to question enough individuals. Even art can find some scientific explanation (I believe V.S. Ramachandran has done some work in this area) as can poetry, which can be studied linguistically and predictions can be made using empirical correlations to rhyme and meter to what someone might prefer (Pandora’s music genome project anyone?).

    Like it or not, the world around us is observed and evaluated using the many methods of science: empiricism, deduction, inferral, experimentation, etc.

  8. #8 Eric
    January 6, 2007

    The claim that “knowledge claims are either scientific or, ultimately, meaningless (or at best, incomplete and unjustified)” is, if true, not scientific.
    So scientism is self-defeating, or am I missing something?

  9. #9 DeanOR
    January 6, 2007

    “I always raise an eyebrow when I see the term “reductionist” used and find its context to nearly always be some borderline postmodernist mumbo-jumbo.” I had to smile at that because personally I can not stand post-modern mumbo jumbo. I value science very highly and am extremely reluctant to accept anything that actually conflicts with well-established science. However, I view science as only one way of knowing and only one starting point for our understanding. Certainly science explains more and more all the time, which is great. I don’t know about pejorative uses of the term scientism and would not want anything to do with an anti-science movement. Maybe it is a question of whether one insists that ONLY current scientific knowledge has any validity or meaning or existence for us as people, not just for us as scientists. I feel like I’m missing a lot of what I mean to say here, but it’s the best I can do at the moment. I think the nexus of science and other disciplines is really fascinating but unfortunately very neglected in this era of conflict between science and religionists.

  10. #10 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    You don’t have to get fancy. How about “Washington DC is the capitol of the US”. That is not scientific knowledge, it’s a social construction, yet it’s undeniably a true and useful thing to know.

    But it’s known through reason, so it’s obviously not an example of a “knowledge claim from a source other than science and reason,” which is what I asked for.

  11. #11 cfeagans
    January 6, 2007

    I hope I didn’t come across as implying that you were postmodernist. Reading back at my words, I see that it could easily be construed that way.

    My intent is only to point out that the term “scientism” has a very subjective meaning that can be slanted from one extreme to another. I recently had a debate with a postmodernist where the word “reductionist” came up quite a bit, so I may have been having a flashback :)

  12. #12 Nicholas
    January 6, 2007

    Thanks for the clarification. I don’t see, from Dawkin’s piece which you linked to, the implied opinion that “what science wants or needs is justified without question”, and I don’t really see that in his other writings either. He just seems in general to be making a stand for reason, rather than “faith” (which he defines as belief without evidence). Morals would seem to be quite separate to this stance.

    I think you may be misrepresenting him regarding religious education. If I recall correctly, he has said that he is in favour of letting the child make his or her own decisions about religion, which would imply that he is not opposed to religious education. What he is particularly opposed to is labelling a 3-year-old as a “Christian child” (or whatever), when the child clearly is incapable of making its mind up.

    This interview in with Dawkins in Salon seems to back my perception up. Dawkins says: “What I think may be abuse is labeling children with religious labels like Catholic child and Muslim child. I find it very odd that in our civilization we’re quite happy to speak of a Catholic child that is 4 years old or a Muslim of child that is 4, when these children are much too young to know what they think about the cosmos, life and morality. We wouldn’t dream of speaking of a Keynesian child or a Marxist child. And yet, for some reason we make a privileged exception of religion. And, by the way, I think it would also be abuse to talk about an atheist child.”

    While the above viewpoint reflects Dawkin’s own moral views, I don’t find it particularly repugnant. I certainly don’t find think it’s a view from “scientism” according to your definition.

  13. #13 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    DeanOR,

    I think an important aspect of defining scientism is its reductionism, which says that nothing exists or is true if it can not be observed or tested empirically through current scientific methodology. It throws out all the meaning of poetry, art, meditation and contemplation, philosophy, literature, spirituality, and we are left with nothing but atoms.

    Is that what “reductionism” says? Every time I see someone throw that word around, the meaning seems to be different. You need to clearly define your terms if there is to be a meaningful discussion. I do not believe that “nothing exists or is true if it can not be observed or tested empirically through current scientific methodology,” so I guess I’m not a “reductionist,” as you are using that word. I’m almost certain Richard Dawkins isn’t one either. And your argument doesn’t make sense, anyway. It does not follow from the premise that only empirically testable claims are true that poetry, art, etc., have no meaning. Truth is not the same thing as meaning, at least as those words are conventionally used. It is obviously possible for a claim to be untrue but meaningful.

    As far as the question being asked here, about ‘knowledge claims”, I think the questioner is assuming that all knowing is in the form of cognition, or ideas, or empirical observation, which in itself is an unexamined assumption of scientism.

    No, it’s a way of defining knowledge. Again, if you think knowledge claims from a source other than science and reason are meaningful and justified, give some examples.

  14. #14 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    DeanOR,

    However, I view science as only one way of knowing and only one starting point for our understanding.

    What other “ways of knowing” than science and reason are there, then? Faith? Mysticism? Divine revelation? The reading of goat entrails? What knowledge have they provided us with (again, knowledge, not merely guesses or hopes or wishes)? Give us some examples.

  15. #15 llewelly
    January 6, 2007

    Furthermore, when I use the term in reference to people like Dawkins, scientism takes on a moral dimension. Anything that is not science is morally bad, according to this form of scientism.

    (and later:)

    Pick a knowledge claim from one of the humanities, just for starters.

    It seems you are saying that a Scientismist would argue that the statement ‘Dr. WHO is cheesy.’ is morally bad.

  16. #16 Eric
    January 6, 2007

    Jason – you’ve snuck reason in there. Science presupposes the validity of reason; it is not equal to it. In his post, Chris mentions only scientific knowledge, not “science and reason.”

    As I mentioned before, I reckon that “all valid knowledge is scientific” is not scientific. So if true, it contradicts itself.

  17. #17 RBH
    January 6, 2007

    In the Update to the first Dawkins post Chris wrote

    He [Dawkins] implies that studying Hussein, and the few other people in history who have achieved his level of infamy, will provide science with what it needs to help us avoid allowing such people to gain power.

    I find it amusing (since my degree was in what is now called cognitive science) to watch a cognitive psychologist make the kinds of errors of thinking that cognitive psychologists study. Consider two elements of that sentence.

    First, Chris wrote “He [Dawkins] implies that …”. Does he? There’s no support offered for that claim. I’d reword that sentence to read “Chris infers that Dawkins thinks that by studying …”. In the absence of any support from the words of the writer, put the interpretation where it belongs, in the reader.

    Second, Chris wrote “… will provide science with what it needs …” (italics added). Again there’s no support offered for that wording. I read Dawkins to say that studying Hussein could have (might have?) helped understand how men like that operate, why they do the atrocious things they do, and how one might reduce the probability of them doing it. There’s no “will provide”, but a “may provide.” Dawkins is absolutely correct: killing Saddam forever erased that possibility. Killing Saddam was a vote for revenge and ignorance. Further, using “scientism” as a cover pejorative for “acquiring useful knowledge” is to argue in favor of ignorance rather than knowledge.

    Whether Dawkins holds to “scientism” in the strong form of the OP is irrelevant: knowing something is better than knowing nothing, and reliable scientific knowledge about how people like Saddam come to be as they are is valuable. Science is, if nothing else, demonstrably our best method of gaining reliable knowledge about how the world works. It sure beats the hell out of revelation.

    Chris wrote

    My point, in the last post, is that his op-ed column seemed to be coming from the position that, if not-science is bad, then science is good, and what science wants or needs is justified without question.

    “Seemed to be”? To whom? Not me. Once again, put the attribution where it belongs: with Chris the reader. To me, the piece argued that knowing something about the Saddams of the world is better than not knowing. That’s not primarily a moral stance; it’s a practical stance. Knowledge, particularly knowledge of things that might kill you and/or other people, is preferable to ignorance, and learning about how murderous dictators think is preferable to killing them.

  18. #18 Russell Blackford
    January 6, 2007

    By my count, your definition runs together about five quite different ideas, so it’s no wonder the term, as used by you, causes confusion. It’s not even obvious that all those ideas are bad things, especially if interpreted in the less extreme ways that are available. In any event, the term has attracted pejorative connotations that suggest some kind of irrational, philistine worship of organised science. It is just too easy to slap a label with that connotation on someone whose position you don’t like, and who does in fact value scientific inquiry and/or subscribes to a worldview of metaphysical naturalism, or whatever.

    The term may have had some innocent use twenty years ago, before it acquired so much baggage, but these days, after being bandied about so often by militant supernaturalists, it has little value other than as a cheap insult to use for people like Dawkins (or us small fry who happen to have a similar worldview to his). I continue to suggest – and there’s obviously nothing I can, or would want to do, to force you – that you stop using it. It’s your choice.

    You could use a term like “metaphysical naturalism” in its place, at least for some of the ideas you mention, but of course you won’t be able to get the same rhetorical effect or insinuate the same connotations of philistinism and Frankensteinian madness. “Rampant metaphysical naturalism leads to torturing prisoners,” just doesn’t have the same cachet: the same air of superiority and plausibility.

  19. #19 Chris
    January 6, 2007

    Russell, well, there are a couple different kinds of scientism: a weak version and a strong version. Dawkins adopts a strong version (stronger than usual, given his moral claims), which includes the weaker one. I just laid it out detail by detail, including the weaker version (an epistemological claim that says science can study everything in the universe). But really, it’s a strong philosophical naturalism combined with a strong naive/scientific realism, and the resulting belief that it’s science or it’s nonsense.

  20. #20 Richard Blumberg
    January 6, 2007

    it’s a strong philosophical naturalism combined with a strong naive/scientific realism, and the resulting belief that it’s science or it’s nonsense.

    You left out a couple of letters: it should have read “it’s science or it’s nonscience.” The problem that we’re dealing with in this thread is what Karl Popper called “the problem of demarcation”, and it’s precisely the problem of distinguishing between statements that are within the realm of science and those which are not. What you subtly denigrate as Dawkins’ “naive/scientific realism” is, in fact, his belief that there is an objective reality – a reality that exists whether or not humanity is obliterated by a massive asteroid strike. That reality is the subject matter of science, which has been strikingly successful in exploring it to a fine level of precision and with striking elegance. And the methodology of that scientific exploration (again following Popper) is through a recursive series of hypothetical statements followed by experiment or directed observation attempting to falsify those hypotheses, followed by new, more nuanced hypotheses, followed by more experiments/observations, etc. The key here is “falsification”. Statements by religion about the world are never falsifiable, because they can always introduce God as an unchallengeable explanation of whatever results seem to refute or falsify the original statement. And the nature of God is anything but objective reality.

    The problem of demarcation has nothing to do with “truth” in the common sense understanding of that word. It’s certainly true that Washington, DC is the capital of the US, but that is nevertheless not a scientific statement; it does not address the nature of objective reality in the same way that statements do that assert, e.g., that matter is composed of atoms or that the solar system object we call Earth has a history extending back billions of years.

    Richard

  21. #21 Russell Blackford
    January 6, 2007

    Well, first, I see nothing wrong with a combination of metaphysical naturalism and scientific realism. The first denies the existence of supernatural entities and forces. The second says that theoretical objects, properties, forces, etc., are conjectured to be real – not merely used instrumentally. It does not follow from the combination of those positions that someone would think everything non-scientific is nonsense (or unimportant or morally bad).

    Indeed, such a position is consistent with the fact that there are many truths which can be discovered through methods of rational inquity that don’t involve scientific activities (in any narrow sense):

    *Russell Blackford has read The God Delusion (just ask me).
    *The God Delusion was written by Richard Dawkins (ask anyone).
    *Richard Dawkins is married to Lalla Ward (he likes to mention her in his books).
    *Lalla Ward played the character of Romana in Dr Who (have a look at the credits of the relevant episodes).
    *Dr Who is a British science fiction television show (the Wikipedia article will tell you if you need a quick source).
    *Science fiction is the literary genre for which Robert A. Heinlein was famed (readily ascertainable from many sources).
    *Robert A. Heinlein died nearly twenty years ago (there are plenty of records of this).
    *Etc, etc, etc.

    Vastly more complicated bodies of fairly reputable knowledge can be built up without recourse to mathematical modelling, controlled experiments to test conjectures, observation with scientific instruments, etc. There are vastly erudite and expert non-scientists around (think of Harold Bloom, say, or Martha Nussbaum). Many fields are not in a position to make much use of scientific techniques at all, though even those fields are increasingly able to make at least some use of them – e.g. historians using scientific methods of dating artifacts, literary scholars sometimes use computer analyses of word usage in texts, etc. Dawkins might call everything I’ve described above “science” (I don’t know what his view is on the demarcation between science and rational inquiry more generally), but if so he is using the word in a very broad sense. I’m sure he would not deny that the above truths are discoverable without using specifically scientific means. He wouldn’t say they are nonsense or evil or unimportant.

    As I said, all this is consistent with being both a metaphysical naturalist and a scientific realist.

    Dawkins would doubtless say that some truth claims are both false and dangerous, e.g. a lot of religious claims. That doesn’t make him guilty of worshipping science, as a word like “scientism” connotes. His views about religion don’t even follow from metaphysical naturalism and scientific realism. Metaphysical naturalism does rule out the existence of deities, but if the belief in deities is dangerous that is just a contingent fact about the world which has not (so far) been established by scientific means, but by gathering and considering a lot of data in a way that is not especially scientific.

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but it seems to me that I either have to take your claims about Dawkins literally, in which case they are wrong, or I have to interpret them in some qualified sense, in which case I suppose it’s possible they describe Dawkins (e.g if he wants to include a helluva lot in “science”), but they don’t make him a bad guy. They certainly don’t create a context that suggests he would want to commit gross violations of prisoners’ bodily integrity, or whatever you think he’d want to do with Saddam Hussein. That was where we started.

  22. #22 writerdddd
    January 6, 2007

    So, what do you believe in that cannot be understood via science? And how does that belief differ from superstition? Please explain.

  23. #23 Blake Stacey
    January 6, 2007

    I for one am willing to include (or at least entertain including) a helluva lot in “science”, as Russell Blackford has phrased it. A few quick examples:

    While we do not typically include it within the “scientific method” — hypothesis, deduction, experiment, etc. — it is pretty obvious that educating people about science is part of the scientific process. We can’t explain how science happens until we explain how people become scientists; a historian of science could legitimately analyze The Origin of Species or the Principia Mathematica in a literary manner and gain a genuine insight into how our state of knowledge came to be. I have yet to see an argument which lets me consider The Feynman Lectures on Physics as a part of education history while ruling out Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage.

    If you want to understand not just our base of knowledge but also how that knowledge was won, you move from fact into method — inescapably bumping up against literature! I fail to see why this would discommode anybody; it’s just an interesting observation.

    Next, consider Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Pale Fire. For those few who haven’t yet read it, this book includes a 999-line poem written by John Shade, a central character in the story. Shade’s poem is surrounded by a preface, a giant heap of commentary and an index all written — at first glance — by Charles Kinbote, another teacher at Shade’s university. Without spoiling too much of Nabokov’s strange artistry, I can say that the coincidences and subtle symmetries relating the poem and the surrounding material have fueled literary speculation for half a century. Some people assert that Kinbote is a creation of Shade’s imagination, while others argue the other way around. Brian Boyd, Nabokov’s biographer, claimed to find definitive evidence that Kinbote and Shade were both real, while Shade’s ghost was speaking to Kinbote beyond the veil of death (sending messages from Shade’s shade, as it were).

    Recently, an idea floated around the NABOKV-L discussion list that Shade and Kinbote were split personalities, a bit like the Narrator and Tyler Durden in Fight Club. (Naturally, none of the NABOKV-L literati ever even dreamed of making such a lowbrow allusion, but it seems accurate to me.) The discussion of this theory went very rapidly nowhere, because as the literati soon discovered, any evidence to the contrary could be explained away as deception or hallucination. Even though these people are not doing science, by any strict definition, they are still instinctively realizing that a falsifiable hypothesis has intellectual value.

    An oven mitt named Yoda once said, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” This encapsulates the complaint of scholars like Brian Boyd, who point out that radical revisionism very easily tends to a pathological extreme which denies all chances of developing falsifiable explanations. Not all areas of literary or artistic criticism feel the touch of Popper’s shade, but in those where falsifiability is relevant, we pay a price for losing it. In simplest terms, talking about art just isn’t fun anymore.

    Finally, it is worth considering the point raised by, among others, Sagan in The Demon-Haunted World, not to mention Sokal and Bricmont in their amusing dark comedy, Fashionable Nonsense (a.k.a. Intellectual Impostures). The “scientific method” is, at heart, a refinement of the everyday logic employed by plumbers, auto mechanics, children playing in rivulets of water, and darn near everybody else who wants to answer the questions if I do this, what will happen? Scientists have adopted moderately sophisticated ways of not fooling themselves, along with complicated ways of expressing ideas and guessing new ones (i.e., mathematics), but the essence is still just being “streetwise with the universe”. If you say that everyday reason plus refinements cannot probe some key mystery of human experience, where does that leave you?

    I have no deep answers, of course. To lift a line from another Nabokov character, I’m just winking happy little tiddles into my tiddle cup. Russell Blackford has said just about everything else I wanted to discuss, so I’ll sign off now. Peace.

  24. #24 Blake Stacey
    January 6, 2007

    Oh, there is one thing I forgot to say. If we wish to say that Robert Heinlein died nearly twenty years ago (or, better, if we wish to disprove that statement) we are not doing anything particularly “scientific”, yet if we wish to disprove the claim Sargon of Akkad died over four thousand years ago, we may find ourselves doing archaeology.

  25. #25 MarkP
    January 6, 2007

    [Scientism] throws out all the meaning of poetry, art, meditation and contemplation, philosophy, literature, spirituality, and we are left with nothing but atoms.

    This is without empirical support, and is just as easy to disprove as it’s cousin, “atheists cannot be moral”: just look around you. Do those likely to be labelled as practicers of “Scientism”, say Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan, seem to have “sad and barren” personalities? Anyone who has seen them speak live would laugh at the suggestion. One more anti-atheist bromide bites the dust.

  26. #26 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    eric,

    Jason – you’ve snuck reason in there. Science presupposes the validity of reason; it is not equal to it. In his post, Chris mentions only scientific knowledge, not “science and reason.”

    I didn’t “sneak it in.” What I ASKED for, in the very first comment in this chain, is “examples of knowledge claims from a source other than science and reason that you believe to be meaningful and justified.” Again, if you think there is such knowledge, please provide some examples.

    The one proposed example I’ve seen anyone defending Chris’s position offer so far–the knowledge that “Washington DC is the capitol of the US”–clearly fails. We obviously acquire this knowledge through the accumulation of evidence from our senses and reason, just as we would anything else. The fact that it is knowledge of a social convention rather than a natural phenomenon does not alter the fact that we acquired it through observation and rational thought.

  27. #27 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    Chris,

    But really, it’s a strong philosophical naturalism combined with a strong naive/scientific realism, and the resulting belief that it’s science or it’s nonsense.

    Well, I’m still waiting for you to explain why you think belief in the supernatural is justified (i.e., why you are justified in believing that metaphysical naturalism is false), and to provide some examples of knowledge of the supernatural. Obviously, lots of people believe in supernatural entities like gods, demons, angels, etc., but presumably you’re not claiming that such beliefs constitute knowledge. Or are you? Amoung its other flaws, your critique of “scientism” is frustratingly vague because you refuse to describe clearly the alternatives to science and reason that you’re alluding to.

  28. #28 mtraven
    January 6, 2007

    cfeagans says:

    But I would respond that social constructs are, indeed, studied and known in science. That Washington is the perceived capital of the U.S. can be empirically described by any social scientist or anthropologist willing to question enough individuals. Even art can find some scientific explanation…

    This is an interesting but wrong point. You can study the sociology of knowledge or the neurology of aesthetics through science. Nothing wrong with that. But everyday people know common facts and enjoy music without doing science. Whatever that kind of knowledge is, it’s not scientific knowledge in any meaningful sense of the term.

    Scientific knowledge is always outsider knowledge in some sense — the scientist is outside the system being studied, poking and prodding it to see what it does. Folk knowledge is knowledge from within a system. Studying the neural response of a subject listening to music is different from listening to music, and requires a different set of skills.

    Blake Stacey:
    I would disagree that science is merely an elevated form of common sense. If that were so, science would be more pervasive in human socieity rather than being a product of a particular culture and time (early Greek and enlightenment Europe, mostly). Most human thought is animistic and narrative, scientific thought requires conceptualizing the world as mechanistic and rule-governed. This requires radical cultural breakthroughs. I recomment Alan Cromer’s book Uncommon Sense for a longer explication of this view of science.

  29. #29 Tyler DiPietro
    January 6, 2007

    But everyday people know common facts and enjoy music without doing science. Whatever that kind of knowledge is, it’s not scientific knowledge in any meaningful sense of the term.

    I do not agree with Chris’ absurd “scientism” strawman, but I still think this a flawed argument. That “music is good” is not factual knowledge, it’s a reaction to sequences of sounds, like parsing speech. Scientific study of such things certainly is possible, and falls into the realm of systematics.

  30. #30 Michael Ralston
    January 6, 2007

    The way people talk about art as opposed to science seems odd to me.

    One of the early posts seemed to indicate the poster felt that the answer to the question “Is this piece of art true?” could be yes (or even no) – as opposed to “that’s a nonsensical question”.

    Science is about truth claims.

    Art and science are completely orthogonal; one can do science to determine the truth of a claim about art (eg, Leonardo Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa), but that’s about the extent of their relationship.

    But … what knowledge claims does art qua art actually make? The Mona Lisa, while certainly wonderous, hardly seems a knowledge claim to me.

    Sprituality does often make knowledge claims … but I would claim they’re open to scientific investigation. Likewise, philosophy often does as well … and again, they’re open to scientific investigation. (Ask a philosopher about psychological egotism, sometime, to pick one such example.)

    Contemplation often makes knowledge claims (if it’s good, anyway) … and they’re open to scientific investigation. Indeed, who would argue that Einstein didn’t use contemplation to develop the theory of relativity? And who would argue that the theory of relativity isn’t open to scientific investigation?

    Mediation … I don’t think it makes knowledge claims. (But claims are often made about meditation, and those claims are open to scientific investigation.)

    Poetry… I wouldn’t actually distinguish it from art (I feel it cheapens both, and restricts other things I would call art as well), but … ah well. What knowledge claims does poetry make that aren’t open to scientific investigation? Literature … same thing.

    Did I miss any categories? Or can an instance of a knowledge claim made by one of them that is not amenable to scientific investigation be made?

    (On the Washington DC example, I would claim that it is amenable to scientific investigation. Ask people, consult references, go to the putative site of Washington and see if it’s really there and if it’s doing what one would except a national capital to do, etc etc etc. Any of those could potentially falsify the hypothesis. Of course they won’t, because the claim is true, but if it weren’t, they could. And that’s what matters.)

  31. #31 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    mtraven,

    This is an interesting but wrong point. You can study the sociology of knowledge or the neurology of aesthetics through science. Nothing wrong with that. But everyday people know common facts and enjoy music without doing science. Whatever that kind of knowledge is, it’s not scientific knowledge in any meaningful sense of the term.

    You are confused about the meaning of “science” as I (and I think others arguing against Chris) are using the word. Maybe that confusion is part of the problem here. Science, as I am using the word, refers to the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through observation, experiment and reason. This activity encompasses not just professional scientists in white coats doing experiments in a lab, but ordinary people acquiring knowledge about the world through everyday interactions. Formal science is ultimately a more reliable source of knowledge than folk science, but the two are fundamentally the same in their use of observation and rational thought to make discoveries about the world. And by “the world,” I mean not just natural phenomena but social phenomena too. The latter of course are the subject of the social sciences–psychology, economics, anthropology, etc.

    Again, what alternative to this observation-experiment-reason model do you propose? What other ways are there of acquiring knowledge? What knowledge have these alternatives provided?

  32. #32 Blake Stacey
    January 6, 2007

    Jason has already made one of the statements I had wanted to say; thanks. I believe it’s also worth noting that Greek science was built upon Egyptian and Babylonian forbears. We see bits of technology and mathematics flickering into being all across the ancient world, invented by practical and competent people in this city or that and preserved because, briefly put, they made people’s lives better. Read George Sarton’s books for plenty of examples, and see also Sagan’s description of the !Kung in Cosmos and The Demon-Haunted World (which is, IIRC, a direct reply to Cromer).

  33. #33 Caledonian
    January 6, 2007

    You don’t have to get fancy. How about “Washington DC is the capitol of the US”. That is not scientific knowledge, it’s a social construction, yet it’s undeniably a true and useful thing to know.

    Undeniably true? How did you come to know this?

    More to the point, how can we determine whether any statement is a socially-constructed truth or not? We’d have to look at what people have agreed upon and draw a conclusion from the evidence available to us – oh, wait, that’s science again!

    Whenever I wonder how so much nonsense has crept into psychiatry, I look at people like Chris, and it becomes painfully easy to understand.

  34. #34 Caledonian
    January 6, 2007

    Come, Chris, provide us with an example of knowledge that we’ll recognize as valid that you did not acquire through the scientific method. (It’s singular, by the way, as it refers to the essential process of science, not any of the instrumental, often interchangeable, and potentially eliminatable methods not necessary for the process.)

    Just one point would be enough to demonstrate your point, that not all knowledge comes through the process of science. Just name it.

  35. #35 SmellyTerror
    January 6, 2007

    The defenders of scientism are claiming that adherants to scientism reject non-scientific claims, and further claim (or at least fail to refute the claim made on your behalf, despite ample opportunity) that “Washington is the capital of the US” is a non-scientific claim.

    Right. So show me one rational person who thinks that “Washington is the capital of the US” is a false claim. In fact, find me one person who does not use non-scientific knowledge and means on a daily basis, but who exists purely through science.

    None? Then “scientism” (as defined here) does not exist.

    End.

  36. #36 Caledonian
    January 6, 2007

    Let’s not be hasty, SmellyTerror. It’s entirely possible that a rational person might remember incorrectly, or have available to them incorrect or misleading evidence, and thus believe that Washington DC isn’t the capital (containing the Capitol) of the US.

    To be rational, however, the person must have derived their conclusion from the available evidence according to the rules of logic, and alter their conclusion if necessary as new data arrives.

    So the point is circular – a rational person uses the scientific method. That’s what ‘rational’ means, after all.

  37. #37 SmellyTerror
    January 6, 2007

    True true.

    Ok, replace “rational person” with “Richard Dawkins”, or any person we’re being told is a “scientismist”. :P

  38. #38 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    SmellyTerror,

    I’m having a hard time figuring out your point. People believe Washington D.C. is the U.S. capital because they have been exposed to a large body of evidence in support of that conclusion and they rationally infer it from that evidence. If half the references to the U.S. capital people encountered in books, magazines, TV shows, legal documents, discussions with others, etc. claimed that the U.S. capital is, say, Carbondale, Illinois rather than Washington, they probably would not believe it was Washington. The evidence would be confusing and inconclusive.

    This process is “scientific” as we are using that term to refer to reasoned conclusions from observation and experiment. It’s not science in the formal, professional sense, but it uses the same basic method to acquire knowledge.

  39. #39 Caledonian
    January 6, 2007

    It certainly is science in the formal sense. It’s just not ‘professional’. And there’s really no reason for it to be.

  40. #40 Russell Blackford
    January 6, 2007

    People here are using the word “science” in various wider and narrower senses. I’m comfortable with that, though I employ it in a narrower sense myself to distinguish it from rational inquiry in general (and to explain why a lot of rational inquiry does not belong in the Science Faculty). The point is that, to be a bad thing, “scientism” would have to be some kind of irrational total reliance upon/worship of/whatever science defined in a narrow sense. There’s no evidence that Dawkins is like that at all. The personality that comes across to me when I read his books is very much the opposite.

    It seems his main crimes are (apparently) holding two respectable philosophical positions: metaphysical naturalism and scientific realism.

  41. #41 mtraven
    January 6, 2007

    Obviously, you can choose to define science broadly or narrowly. Some people here seem to extend it to include “reason”, and extend “reason” to mean “anything done with the brain”, in which case it is trivially true that there cannot be any non-scientific knowledge. But such a broad definition doesn’t tell you very much. Science is a very specific way of knowing about the world.

    Cromer’s point is that tinkering and invention are not the same thing as science, which requires a systematic tendency towards both skepticism and abstraction, neither of which come naturally.

  42. #42 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    mtraven,

    Obviously, you can choose to define science broadly or narrowly. Some people here seem to extend it to include “reason”, and extend “reason” to mean “anything done with the brain”, in which case it is trivially true that there cannot be any non-scientific knowledge.

    I haven’t seen anyone here suggest that “reason” means “anything done with the brain.” And speaking for myself, I don’t know why there should be any further confusion over what I meant by “science and reason” in the first comment in this thread given my subsequent elaboration.

    So I would still some examples of knowledge claims from a source other than science and reason that you believe to be meaningful and justified. I’d still like to know what those sources are. Religion? Astrology? Tea-leaf reading? It is tiresome to see these constant allusions to supposed “other ways of knowing” without any clear explanation of what they are or what knowledge they have given us.

  43. #43 poke
    January 6, 2007

    Your definition confuses the issues. That statements are either “scientific” or meaningless is a [i]semantic[/i] claim. It is separate from the [i]metaphysical[/i] claim of scientific realism. One does not follow the other.

  44. #44 Caledonian
    January 6, 2007

    The brain does all sorts of things that don’t lead to knowledge – primary process thinking, for example, which is ultimately just the elaboration of association.

    The scientific method is what you get when reason is applied towards the goal of generating a model of phenomena that can be used to predict them. There’s no effective mode of thought that does NOT fall into science, although there are certainly plenty of ineffective modes.

    The associational structure of medieval logic comes to mind. Monty Python is what I normally associate with statements about “other ways of knowing”. Monty Python, and testing whether someone is a witch.

    There are very, VERY good reasons that sort of thinking became fodder for absurdist humor. Chris seems to embrace it, which is fine by me – the world needs more things to laugh at.

    By the way, where’s that counterexample, Chris?

  45. #45 mike stone
    January 6, 2007

    The term ‘scientism’ might make a little more sense if you use the vocabulary of philosophy.

    For the sake of this discussion, consider two classes of philosophies: Non-normative ones and normative ones. A non-normative philosophy is called an ontology. It limits itself exclusively to statements of how things are. A normative philosophy defines standards of how things should be. It’s called a morality.

    Science (the good kind) is an exclusively non-normative philosophy. It deals in conditions that can be verified operationally (a fancy way of saying you can point at something), and to the extent that a theory makes predictions, those predictions are also limited to operationally verifiable non-normative statements.

    As an aside, I personally dislike the term ‘science’. I find it arrogant. Etymologically, it derives from the latin word meaning ‘to know’, and its most direct translation amounts to something like ‘knowing-ness’. That’s a rather more self-impressed label than ‘natural history’, which was in vogue up to a hundred years ago. Personally, I prefer the term ‘material ontology’, because that strikes me as a reasonably precise and neutral description of the relevant body of thought. Not that the term will ever catch on.

    The key fact of ontology is that it doesn’t allow for the discussion of preferences, except in a non-normative, “John prefers X over Y” kind of way. There is no ontological basis for ‘better’ or ‘worse’. The only statements that are ontologically valid are ‘exists’ and ‘does not exist’.

    So.. when someone like Dawkins claims to be ‘scientific’ but then turns around and starts making normative, moral, X-is-better-than-Y statements, they’ve abandoned the objectivity that makes material ontology meaningful. In other words, they’ve stepped outside the bounds of the rational framework that supposedly makes their opinion worth listening to.

    The notion of supporting preferences ‘scientifically’ is is an insult to those who practice material ontology. And the notion that ‘scientific’ ontology can make supplant morality is ridiculous. You can fill a hundred volumes with microscopically detailed material-ontological statements describing what happens when you crush a baby’s head with a baseball bat. You can approach the subject from any of a hundred different ontological disciplines. What you can’t do is establish a non-normative basis for saying whether anyone should do such a thing or should not.

  46. #46 Caledonian
    January 6, 2007

    You’re confusing proscriptive and descriptive norms, mike stone.

  47. #47 Jason
    January 6, 2007

    mike stone,

    Dawkins would be the last person to claim that preferences, including moral preferences, are scientific claims. This idea that Dawkins thinks non-scientific beliefs are necessarily “immoral,” rather than or in addition to being unjustified, is just nonsense.

  48. #48 Russell Blackford
    January 7, 2007

    Also, the claim that the true ontology is insufficiently rich to include things like objectively prescriptive entities and properties is itself a controversial thesis. It’s a thesis I happen to support, but not something that should be treated as if it’s axiomatic. Nor does it entail, even if you believe it, that there’s no bridge at all between ontology and normativity. At the very least, there are practical syllogisms, such as:

    (1) X desires to produce outcome A.
    (2) If X does phi in C it will produce outcome A.
    (3) Pro tanto, X should phi in C.

    Then there’s game theory, which might tell us when to make agreements about phi-ing, and so on. It’s true, perhaps, that we cannot derive an “ought” from an empirical “is” that contains nothing about the subjective goals, fears, etc., of an agent, but that still allows for a lot of leakage from “is” to “ought”.

  49. #49 John B
    January 7, 2007

    Do preferences count as “meaningful and justified” knowledge arrived at unscientifically?

  50. #50 John B
    January 7, 2007

    Also, a question for the champions of reason:

    - What are your opinions about the work of people like Steven Pinker, which reinforce materialist views of brain (over the ghost-in-the-machine’s mind), but simultaneously problematize reason (as the narration applied to fundamentally unconcious cerebral processes)?

    Does knowledge acquired sub- or un-consciously count as “meaningful and justified”?

    If people create rational/logic accounts of their decisions after they make them, is that still scientific?

  51. #51 Eric
    January 7, 2007

    OK, for non-scientific knowledge, just consider any assumptions that scientific practice rests on. Obviously, it cannot prove what it assumes in the first place.

    A world outside our minds exists.

    This is in addition to the fact that the very claim of scientism that scientific knowledge is the only knowledge we can get is NOT scientific.

  52. #52 Davis
    January 7, 2007

    Obviously, it cannot prove what it assumes in the first place.

    Science doesn’t “prove” anything.

    A world outside our minds exists.

    Do you seriously think this statement is not well-supported by evidence?

    More generally, on what basis would you claim to know anything that’s not supported by evidence? If you don’t have evidence for a statement, how can you claim to know it?

    That’s ultimately the problem with this “other ways of knowing” garbage — “knowledge” (roughly) means “justified true belief.” Evidence is the only widely-accepted justification for beliefs, which means you’re immediately getting into the realm of science.

  53. #53 Eric
    January 7, 2007

    I’m going to quote from a blog (http://praxeology.net/unblog11-04.htm), because the author expresses my point better than I can:

    “the scientific method presupposes the validity of our common-sense experience; we have grounds to trust what the microscope tells us only if we can assume we’re not dreaming, and we have grounds to trust reports that other scientists have replicated our experimental results only if we’re justified in taking those reports to emanate, in fact, from other scientists, and not from an omnipotent demon or our own subconscious. We cannot sensibly pay any attention to what science says, then, unless our acceptance of common-sense experience is already legitimate, prior to any scientific discoveries.”

  54. #54 Eric
    January 7, 2007

    Sorry, the link to the actual post is http://praxeology.net/unblog11-04.htm#17

  55. #55 Russell Blackford
    January 7, 2007

    All these straw man arguments! There’s no evidence that Dawkins believes in any weird epistemological position such as some people are describing. Metaphysical naturalism and scientific realism do not entail some kind of latter day hardcore verificationism.

    Of course, science in the narrow sense does not answer every question, and we are not precluded from finding answers that are justified by reason but lie outside of science in that sense. Of course, science (in the narrow sense) is continuous with, but distinguishable from, commonsense methods of inquiry and speculative philosophy. Even if Dawkins had said something to the contrary somewhere in a moment of epistemological naivety or lack of care in distingushing different sense of “science”, how would it entail that he would be committed to torturing prisoners, or whatever?

    Again, people, remember what we are really talking about here. The claim was that Dawkins is a devotee of some quasi-religion called “scientism” and this has led him into a terrible, immoral attitude to fellow human beings. Nothing said so far provides any evidence of any of that. All I’m seeing lately is evidence that a lot of people want to distance themselves from Dawkins and, perhaps with no conscious bad faith, are reading everything he says in absurdly uncharitable ways and latching onto every far-fetched accusation.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    Do preferences count as “meaningful and justified” knowledge arrived at unscientifically?

    You’ve missed the point. Preferences aren’t knowledge – statements about one’s preferences can be knowledge, but they’re derived scientifically. Preferences also can’t be valid – they are neither wrong nor right, and they can become wrong or right only by relating them to objective principles.

    And this “a world exists outside our minds” is silly. Both the statement and its negation have the same implications – therefore, they are not distinguishable – therefore, they describe the same state.

  57. #57 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    Multiple people, including myself, have requested an example of a valid knowledge claim that was not produced through science.

    When are we going to receive a response, Chris?

  58. #58 John B
    January 7, 2007

    I think a lot of this is in response to the first comment more than Dawkins.

    Personally, the only time I’ve had a problem with scientism has been when the contents of scientific inquiry, at some particular point in history, are reified and presented as ‘objective reality’ or ‘unalterable fact’. Which goes against the real strength of science, as I understand it, as a self-correcting, progressive endaevour.

    I’ve never seen Dawkins make that error.

  59. #59 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    So your problem with scientism is that it’s not science?

  60. #60 John B
    January 7, 2007

    Evidence is the only widely-accepted justification for beliefs, which means you’re immediately getting into the realm of science.

    This is the problem, I guess. Most religions I have studied base their beliefs on revelation and tradition, which amount to arguments from authority for most believers, fallacous irrationalities to a pragmatic empiricist.

    For something to be “meaningful and justified” to scientists, it must conform to their logical and evidentiary standards. Now I’m getting curious as to what Chris might suggest as a ‘knowledge claim’, too.

    Keep in mind, Jason requested something that is both ‘meaningful and justified’ to scientists while being irrational and non-empirical. I can’t see Chris pulling that off.

  61. #61 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    I can’t see anyone pulling that off. Because it’s impossible.

    Which is why Chris was so deeply stupid to have made the claims he did – he’s not only wrong, and obviously wrong, but it’s impossible for him to be right. He chose to argue a contradiction, which is choosing an indefensible position.

    But like I said before, there’s a reason that kind of thinking is now the butt of absurdist humor, and if Chris wants to utilize it, he has my blessing – the world needs more things to laugh at.

  62. #62 John B
    January 7, 2007

    So your problem with scientism is that it’s not science?

    Yes, when I have a problem with it’s only when it goes too far and becomes self-contradictory.

    That’s not what Chris is describing in his post, though. His problem seems to be with scientism itself, not the mistakes occasionally made in its name.

  63. #63 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    Did you mean ‘science itself’? We’d established that ‘scientism‘ is the name of the mistake.

  64. #64 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007
    You don’t have to get fancy. How about “Washington DC is the capitol of the US”. That is not scientific knowledge, it’s a social construction, yet it’s undeniably a true and useful thing to know.

    But it’s known through reason, so it’s obviously not an example of a “knowledge claim from a source other than science and reason,” which is what I asked for.

    Please explain how one can use reason to conclude that Washington, DC is the capital of the US. Yes, one can read this statement in a book, and one can even visit the city and notice many buildings dedicated to this idea there, but religious dogmas *also* are written in books and cause people to build buildings. Many anarchists would argue that notions like “borders”, “capital cities”, “countries”, etc. are simply shared delusions and not real entities.

  65. #65 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    Please explain how one can use reason to conclude that Washington, DC is the capital of the US.

    I’d check to see activities I’d associate with a nation’s capital take place there, I’d look to see if those activities took place elsewhere, and depending on the evidence I would reach a conclusion.

    It’s the same way I’d use reason to reach any conclusion.

  66. #66 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    Also, delusions *are* real entities. They’re real *delusions*.

  67. #67 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    I’d check to see activities I’d associate with a nation’s capital take place there, I’d look to see if those activities took place elsewhere, and depending on the evidence I would reach a conclusion.

    But at best all you can conclude is that people who are into politics *believe* it to be the subjective thing that they call “the capital”; it’s not really any different from concluding Mecca must be a “holy city” because millions of Muslims believe it to be so. If you don’t buy into their world view, both “capital cities” and “holy cities” are meaningless.

    It’s the same way I’d use reason to reach any conclusion

    Not at all. There is no way that one can logically deduce that Washington is the capital city by reasoning from first principles. Nor is there anything objectively different in the soil there that would let one conclude it empirically. Those are the ways people use reason in mathematics and science respectively.

  68. #68 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    Also, delusions *are* real entities. They’re real *delusions*

    Okay, entities existing independent of subjective opinion then.

  69. #69 poke
    January 7, 2007

    Would an atheist deny that Mecca is the Muslim holy city?

    You say,

    Nor is there anything objectively different in the soil there that would let one conclude it empirically.

    But that’s the difference. Nobody makes essentialist claims for capital cities whereas a holy city is supposed to be different. Washington DC is capital by convention; Mecca is supposedly holy by divine decree.

  70. #70 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    Would an atheist deny that Mecca is the Muslim holy city?

    Depends on the atheist. Some would take it as a given that others would understand that they themselves don’t buy into the assertion that it is holy (and are merely stating that Muslims believe it to be so), others would vocally deny that any city is holy.

    But that’s the difference. Nobody makes essentialist claims for capital cities whereas a holy city is supposed to be different. Washington DC is capital by convention; Mecca is supposedly holy by divine decree.

    I see your point, but a lot of people *do* take politics more seriously than arbitrary conventions. During the American Civil War it was feared that if the rebels captured Washington, DC. (as they almost did) they would have essentially won — not because the city itself was all that important — but because even then Washington was seen as the essentialist “soul” of the US and its fall to the rebels would have lead to international recognition of the Confederacy as a legitimate government.

  71. #71 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    JohnB,

    Keep in mind, Jason requested something that is both ‘meaningful and justified’ to scientists while being irrational and non-empirical.

    No I didn’t. I asked Chris for examples of knowledge from a source other than science and reason that he considers to be meaningful and justified.

    I would still like an answer. If you agree with Chris that there are other sources of knowledge than science and reason, perhaps you could offer some examples. I’m especially interested in examples of knowledge produced by religion, since that seems to be what Chris has in mind in attacking Dawkins’ “scientism.”

  72. #72 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    But at best all you can conclude is that people who are into politics *believe* it to be the subjective thing that they call “the capital”;

    It’s not a subjective thing. If Washington were listed as the nation’s capital, but the President lived in Bangkok, Maine, and Congress met in Bangkok, and the National Archives were there, etc. etc., I would be justified in concluding that the listing was wrong.

    Testing the soil looking for ‘capitalness’ is ridiculous. You might as well try testing the soil to determine a city’s latitude, or rearranging the letters in its name in order to find out when it was founded.

    There is no way that one can logically deduce that Washington is the capital city by reasoning from first principles.

    Doesn’t that depend on the first principles? In any case, determining what follows from a set of principles is science, too.

    ***

    Okay, entities existing independent of subjective opinion then.

    You’ve missed the point: opinions have an existence unto themselves, and are real things. The stuff that they’re about is subjective, but their own existence is objective.

    Washington, DC, is both formally/symbolically and practically/pragmatically the seat of the federal government. That’s what being the capital of the nation means. This is an objective fact – it can of course be changed, just as the name of the street on which the White House is located is an objective fact created by human activity.

    Would you insist that we cannot scientifically determine the name of that street? Or perhaps are you suggesting that science has to take place inside of a laboratory with sophisticated instruments used by people in white coats?

  73. #73 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    Jonathan Badger,

    There is no way that one can logically deduce that Washington is the capital city by reasoning from first principles.

    I didn’t mean that knowledge that Washington is the capital can be produced by reason alone, I meant that it can be produced by applying reason to the results of observation and experiment. I should have made that clearer in my first response, but I think I explained it clearly in the subsequent discussion.

  74. #74 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    Would you insist that we cannot scientifically determine the name of that street? Or perhaps are you suggesting that science has to take place inside of a laboratory with sophisticated instruments used by people in white coats?

    Science deals with what exists in the outside world. Ideally, this would be the stuff that would exist even if we didn’t, but I’m aware that the physicists say that according to quantum mechanics we change things just by observing them.

    Human conventions don’t exist independently of ourselves. In theory we could scientifically study how our genes influence the conventions we make, although I’m not very impressed with the attempts to do this to date.

  75. #75 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    Jonathan Badger,

    Social phenomena are amenable to study using the methods of science just as natural phenomena are. That’s what the social sciences are for–psychology, economics, anthropology, etc. This obviously includes questions related to human conventions such as the identities of capital cities. The hypothesis “Washington D.C. is the U.S. capital” is subject to verification and falsification using evidence and reason.

  76. #76 Michael Ralston
    January 7, 2007

    Washington, DC is the capital of the United States independantly of me; it would remain so if I didn’t exist, and likewise if I never existed.

    It’s not independant of humans, no. So?
    Would you claim that history is in no way science? What about anthropology or archaeology?

    The difference between those sorts of fields and physics is that the actions of the studiers can “simply” (ie, ignoring any kind of quantum wierdness or the like) affect them.

    Which does complicate matters (as does our increased emotional involvement), but hardly renders them outside the reach of observation and reason and potentially-disprovable predictions.

    Indeed, I would argue that that last is what science really is; producing predictions that could be disproven if false, and then trying to do so. But we do that all the time when we want to know things! If someone tells us something and we’re not sure if they’re telling the truth, we think of ways to check them; things that would be one way if they’re honest/correct, and might be another if not. And then we go check them. (if we care enough)

    This, too, applies to the question of “Is Mecca the Muslim holy city?” (Ignoring quibbles about “are there holy cities at all?” and the like, which we can do by defining a holy city to be a city that some group considers to be holy) That question, if the answer is yes, has certain implications; Mecca should be visitable. Muslims should answer “Yes” if you ask them. If you go to Mecca, you should see people acting the way they would act in a city they consider holy. If those aren’t the case, then the claim as presented needs to be modified; or maybe it’d be wrong. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell other than observation and reason.

  77. #77 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    Jason

    Social phenomena are amenable to study using the methods of science just as natural phenomena are. That’s what the social sciences are for–psychology, economics, anthropology, etc.

    Michael

    Would you claim that history is in no way science? What about anthropology or archaeology? [...] what science really is; producing predictions that could be disproven if false, and then trying to do so

    I certainly don’t want to show disrespect to such fields, and certainly there are subdisciplines of the humanities/social sciences which are every bit as scientific as the natural sciences (molecular anthropology like what Svante Paabo does, or the the type of psychologists who are really neurobiologists, for example). But there isn’t really a definition of “science” that can encompass these fields and not encompass *all* academic fields. But I suppose that’s your strategy; there can’t be any knowledge outside science if everything *is* science.

  78. #78 poke
    January 7, 2007

    Jonathan Badger,

    I see your point, but a lot of people *do* take politics more seriously than arbitrary conventions.

    If something is a convention it doesn’t follow that it’s arbitrarily malleable. It may very well be true of the convention underlying “Washington DC is the capital” that if it were captured in the civil war the rebels would have won. But I’m sure even those people who’d never dream of moving the capital are still aware that it’s only the capital by convention (well, okay, you probably can find people who think Washington DC is the capital by divine decree but they’d be a minority).

  79. #79 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    Jonathan Badger,

    I certainly don’t want to show disrespect to such fields … But there isn’t really a definition of “science” that can encompass these fields and not encompass *all* academic fields.

    Well, given this statement, you’re either showing disrepect for the social sciences by claiming they’re not real science, or you’re claiming that all fields of academic study are science. Which is it?

    If this is just a semantic quibble, if your hangup here is just the use of the word “science” to describe the study of social conventions, then call it whatever you like. The point is that claims about which city is the nation’s capital can be verified and falsified by evidence and reason just as claims about natural phenomena can.

  80. #80 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    Jonathan Badger,

    But I suppose that’s your strategy; there can’t be any knowledge outside science if everything *is* science.

    You’re another one, like Chris and John B and others, who vaguely alludes to some supposed “knowledge outside science” without explaining where you think this knowledge comes from or giving any examples of it. What is it exactly that you are talking about here? Faith? Mysticism? Divine revelation?

  81. #81 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    But I suppose that’s your strategy; there can’t be any knowledge outside science if everything *is* science.

    Don’t be stupid. There are countless things that aren’t science. None of them produce knowledge – and everything that produces knowledge is science. That’s why we call it ‘science’ – the name came after the recognition. Care to guess what the word means in Latin?

  82. #82 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    Well, given this statement, you’re either showing disrepect for the social sciences by claiming they’re not real science, or you’re claiming that all fields of academic study are science. Which is it?

    Well, they aren’t sciences in the same sense natural sciences are science. That doesn’t mean that they are bad or worthless. Not Science != Bad.

    If this is just a semantic quibble, if your hangup here is just the use of the word “science” to describe the study of social conventions, then call it whatever you like. The point is that claims about which city is the nation’s capital can be verified and falsified by evidence and reason just as claims about natural phenomena can.

    Well, I still disagree that “Washington is capital of the USA” can be verified in the same true sense as “Water is not an element but a compound of two true elements” can be.

    Ultimately this thread is about scientism. Redefining the meaning of science to include all academic fields isn’t very useful because then the discussion of scientism (which often deals with questions like whether the “social sciences” will ultimately be absorbed by biology, as E.O. Wilson has asserted) becomes impossible.

  83. #83 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    You’re another one, like Chris and John B and others, who vaguely alludes to some supposed “knowledge outside science” without explaining where you think this knowledge comes from or giving any examples of it. What is it exactly that you are talking about here? Faith? Mysticism? Divine revelation?

    No. I mean things like the humanities. Those produce knowledge but they aren’t science, at least by any normal definition of the term.

  84. #84 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    Jonathan Badger,

    Well, they aren’t sciences in the same sense natural sciences are science.

    But your claim was that either the social sciences do not fall within the definition of science at all, or that if science is defined to include the social sciences, then all academic study must also be science. Which of these do you believe?

    Well, I still disagree that “Washington is capital of the USA” can be verified in the same true sense as “Water is not an element but a compound of two true elements” can be.

    The claim “Washington is the capital of the USA” is subject to verification and falsification using evidence and reason. Do you disagree?

    Ultimately this thread is about scientism. Redefining the meaning of science to include all academic fields isn’t very useful because then the discussion of scientism (which often deals with questions like whether the “social sciences” will ultimately be absorbed by biology, as E.O. Wilson has asserted) becomes impossible.

    I’m not “redefining the meaning of science to include all academic fields.” I’m saying, for the umpteenth time, that the only source of knowledge is science and reason. By “science and reason” I mean not just the work of professional scientists, but the process of producing knowledge through observation, experiment and reason in any context. This also appears to be Richard Dawkins’ position. That’s why his foundation is called The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.

    It is this position that Chris rejects and calls “scientism.” If you share Chris’ view, please explain what sources of knowledge other than science and reason you believe there to be and provide some examples of knowledge that you believe they have given us. If you don’t share Chris’s view, then please say so.

  85. #85 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    No. I mean things like the humanities. Those produce knowledge but they aren’t science, at least by any normal definition of the term.

    But they produce knowledge through evidence and reason, through a process of rational inquiry, right? Dawkins is not denying that forms of rational inquiry other than the natural sciences can produce knowledge. He wouldn’t deny that we can know that Washington D.C. is the U.S. capital, for example. See my last post.

  86. #86 Pierre
    January 7, 2007

    “Furthermore, when I use the term in reference to people like Dawkins, scientism takes on a moral dimension. Anything that is not science is morally bad, according to this form of scientism. Dawkins demonstrates this aspect of his scientism when he says that religious education is child abuse, for example.”

    I think Dawkins would say that what is important is using intellectually respectable methods, like science when one wants to know about certain things, and like ethics, for example, when one wants to know certain other things. Religious education is child abuse because it is not intellectually respectable, often being in conflict with certain sciences, like physics, biology or history, and often being in conflict with philosophy concerning the grounds and the contents of our moral judgments. Telling kids that rape or murder are wrong because of some kind of connection we see with an alleged creator of the universe seems to me not intellectually respectable on a number of levels and seems to me a form of child abuse.

  87. #87 Caledonian
    January 7, 2007

    No. I mean things like the humanities. Those produce knowledge but they aren’t science, at least by any normal definition of the term.

    They don’t produce knowledge, at least by any normal definition of the term. One can have knowledge of them, but they convey knowledge of no subject. It’s the distinction between data and knowledge – all knowledge is data, but not all data is knowledge (except in a truly trivial sense).

  88. #88 Russell Blackford
    January 7, 2007

    Knowledge is (more or less) justified, true belief. Leave aside Gettier examples, which may make us refine the definition slightly but not in a way that is important to this discussion.

    Of course historians, literary scholars, and lots of other people in the humanities departments produce knowledge. The point is that to do so they apply reason. I don’t imagine that Dawkins has anything against historians. Indeed, his original point was that historians, among others, might benefit from interviewing Saddam Hussein.

  89. #89 Jonathan Badger
    January 7, 2007

    But your claim was that either the social sciences do not fall within the definition of science at all, or that if science is defined to include the social sciences, then all academic study must also be science. Which of these do you believe?

    Okay, then. The “social sciences” aren’t science. It seems to be pretty arbitrary which fields are labeled “humanities” and which are labeled “social science” anyway. Why is “political science” a “social science” and “history” not?

    The claim “Washington is the capital of the USA” is subject to verification and falsification using evidence and reason. Do you disagree?

    Well, only in the same sense as “Mecca is the Muslims’ holy city”, but okay, it can be verified and falsified in that weak sense.

    I’m saying, for the umpteenth time, that the only source of knowledge is science and reason. It is this position that Chris rejects and calls “scientism.” If you share Chris’ view, please explain what sources of knowledge other than science and reason you believe there to be and provide some examples of knowledge that you believe they have given us. If you don’t share Chris’s view, then please say so.

    I believe that that the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities all contribute to knowledge. I also believe that their methods are not all the same for good reason.

    The conventional definition of scientism ala Random House is “the belief that the assumptions, methods of research, etc., of the physical and biological sciences are equally appropriate and essential to all other disciplines, including the humanities and the social sciences” Do you agree with scientism as defined thusly? I don’t.

    If Chris is saying that angelic communication or something like that can produce knowledge then I disagree with him. But if all he means is that he disagrees with the idea (as he actually wrote) that “everything is understandable through science, and can only be understood in its entirety through science”, then I agree with Chris if “science” has the normally understood meaning of “natural science”.

  90. #90 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    Jonathan Badger,

    The conventional definition of scientism ala Random House is “the belief that the assumptions, methods of research, etc., of the physical and biological sciences are equally appropriate and essential to all other disciplines, including the humanities and the social sciences” Do you agree with scientism as defined thusly? I don’t.

    The definition is ambiguous, so I don’t know whether I agree with it. My claim, and Dawkins’ claim, is that there is no source of knowledge other than science and reason. Since the social sciences and the humanities involve the use of evidence and reason (rational inquiry), they can produce knowledge.

    I believe that that the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities all contribute to knowledge.

    I agree. Dawkins would agree. As far as I can tell, everyone defending Dawkins in this thread would agree.

    If Chris is saying that angelic communication or something like that can produce knowledge then I disagree with him.

    Well, it’s hard to know for sure, because he won’t tell us. It doesn’t seem likely that his attacks on Dawkins and “scientism” rest on the false assumption that Dawkins denies that the humanities contribute to knowledge. Dawkins would certainly agree that the humanities can produce knowledge through rational inquiry. I think it’s pretty clear that the basis of Chris’s accusation of “scientism” is Dawkins’ attacks on RELIGION. So presumably, he does think angelic communication or some other kind of religious activity is a source of knowledge. But he really ought to clear this up. Maybe it is all based on a misunderstanding of Dawkins’ position, but I don’t think so.

  91. #91 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    I see that Caledonian does deny that the humanities can produce knowledge. Maybe the problem here is definitional. According to Wikipedia, history, for example, is classified as both a humanity and a social science. We seem to keep getting sidetracked by these semantic confusions that obscure the real point of debate. My position, at least, is that any academic field that uses rational inquiry, the application of reason to the results of observation and experiment (and “observation,” as I am using the term here, may mean anything from reading the diary of someone who lived in ancient Rome to detecting quarks using a massive scientific instrument), is capable of producing knowledge.

    But again, I don’t think this has anything to do with Chris’s attack on Dawkins. That’s about religion.

  92. #92 John B
    January 7, 2007

    No I didn’t. I asked Chris for examples of knowledge from a source other than science and reason that he considers to be meaningful and justified.

    Ah, sorry. I thought ‘meaningful’ was code for ‘reason’ and ‘justified’ code for ‘empirical’.

    If you agree with Chris that there are other sources of knowledge than science and reason, perhaps you could offer some examples. I’m especially interested in examples of knowledge produced by religion, since that seems to be what Chris has in mind in attacking Dawkins’ “scientism.”

    Well, I can tell you that from my conversations with fundamentalist Christians that they see truth as being related primarily to revelation and scriptural interpretation, with tradition a close second (parallel in Roman Catholics). As far as I can tell, the existence of God and the supernatural are unexamined axioms for them, not subjects they seek to prove or find evidence for.

    Their view of the world, and human perception is such that the standards of the empiricist are dismissed as flawed and arrogant. Given the existence fo their god, and their communication with him, and (usually) some concept of the world as wholly dependent on the creator’s will, these religious people tend to relegate human theories and conceptions of things to some secondary position to their tradition of revealed truth.

    An example, from a Christian apologetics website, about sexual sin:
    Warning: this example was selected mostly for its entertainment value – not for any agreement on my part about its truthiness

    notice the sources of knowledge used: translated scripture and the interpretation of coincidence as God’s will/plan

    “If you are a Christian involved in sexual sin then you know that the Holy Spirit has been convicting you. If you feel no conviction then you are either not really saved or are so hardened by the sin you’ve been committing that you are close to God taking your life. This is the case in 1 Cor. 5:5 where a man was having sex with his father’s wife and he would not repent. Paul said, “I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” Rest assured that God takes this seriously. He will take your life to essentially save your soul. This is a loving move on God’s part.
    If you are reading this, then the Lord has directed you here because He wants you to know about this issue. If you are in such sin, you know what the Lord requires of you. If you are not in this sin, then thank the Lord for His mercy and continue to seek the Holiness of the Lord.”

    - http://www.carm.org/questions/sexual_sin.htm

    To me, it looks like knowledge here arises from emotion (guilt + scare tactics) and an argument from authority. Plus, the added appeal to providential will which now includes everyone who has read this quote. (You’re welcome- fellow sinners, we can’t say god never tried.)

    Now, is this type of knowledge about sexual ethics meaningful and justified to me? no. According to this guy god is overdue in striking me and my girlfriend down in a loving way.

    Is it meaningful and justified to him? yes. It is a logical application of the tenets of his conservative faith(meaningful), based on the inspired truth of revelation(justified).

    It doesn’t matter if pragmatic empiricists reject this knowledge as fallacous, his standards of truth are completely different than theirs. You reject the axioms of his epistemology, and he rejects yours.

    Sorry if that example is overly wacky but it’s amusing to me.

    Hope that helps, as an example, Jason. Now, I’ll be curious to see if this helps anyone imagine a world in which people use different ways of thinking about things (even ways we disagree with) and that ‘different’ is not the same as ‘bad’. It could be that no one ever had any knowledge until Charles Pierce was born and graduated from Harvard, but I doubt it.

    Sorry to the others defending religion for the wackiness of my exemplar. Also, sorry this is ridiculously long.

  93. #93 John B
    January 7, 2007

    You’re another one, like Chris and John B and others, who vaguely alludes to some supposed “knowledge outside science” without explaining where you think this knowledge comes from or giving any examples of it. What is it exactly that you are talking about here? Faith? Mysticism? Divine revelation?

    Yes, that is what I, personally, mean. i had started out with less extreme examples but anything that involved reason or something observable seemed to get included in science.. so, i had to drift further outward.

  94. #94 Jason
    January 7, 2007

    John B,

    I didn’t ask you what fundamentalist Christians believe. I asked if you agree with Chris that there are other sources of knowledge than science and reason, and, if you do, for examples of what you believe to be such knowledge.

  95. #95 Russell Blackford
    January 8, 2007

    I’m not sure how John B’s example was meant to be defence of religion. To me, it examplifies how religious “ways of knowing” typically produce … not knowledge, but sheer stupidy.

  96. #96 SmellyTerror
    January 8, 2007

    (In the unlikely event that anyone still cares what I meant about a million posts ago: I’m dealing with the claim that “Washington is the capital of the US” is a non-scientific statement, and particularly the logical result when combined with the given definition of scientism.

    1. If it’s unscientific,
    2. and scientismists don’t believe unscientific knowledge is meaningless,
    3. then “scientismists” must reject the claim that Washington is the capital of the US as meaningless.

    4. Since this is not the case (at least for anyone we’ve heard proposed as scientismists),
    5. then we must conclude that:

    (i) either the definition of scientism as a movement is invalid – having no actual adherants,
    (ii) or the claim that the statement is unscientific is incorrect.
    (Or both).

    That is, the people arguing that the statement is unscientific are actually arguing against the validity of “scientism”. And since the defenders of scientism have given at least tacit approval to this definition of non-scientific knowedge (they have, at least, failed to refute this claim made on their behalf) I must conclude that the folk who are defending the concept of scientism haven’t really thought the whole thing through. They are, at best, confused.

    …similarly any “unscientific” knoweldge proposed here must *also* be shown to be routinely rejected by those we’re calling “scientismists”. Both sides of the arguments generally proposed here, then, are actually supporting each other. Either all knowledge (as proposed here) is scientific, in which case scientism is unproven, or some of this stuff *is* unscientific, in which case scientism is still unproven, because scientismists don’t reject that knowledge.

    Find me some knowledge they *do* reject, and argue about that. So far, as already mentioned by plenty of people, this seems restricted to the supernatural – and we already have plenty of words for people who don’t believe in the supernatural, so I don’t see how making up another one is helpful.)

  97. #97 SmellyTerror
    January 8, 2007

    Bugger me. Should be:

    2. and scientismists believe unscientific knowledge is meaningless,

  98. #98 Jonathan Badger
    January 8, 2007

    The definition is ambiguous, so I don’t know whether I agree with it. My claim, and Dawkins’ claim, is that there is no source of knowledge other than science and reason. Since the social sciences and the humanities involve the use of evidence and reason (rational inquiry), they can produce knowledge.

    But that isn’t how anyone normally is going to interpret “no source of knowledge other than science and reason”, and I think you know that. It’s like the farm animals’ anti-human slogan in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” — “Four legs good, Two legs bad”.

    The chickens understandably objected that they only had two legs and received the glib explanation “well, your wings are for propulsion and are therefore legs; don’t worry”. Later on this little explanation was forgotten, to the detriment of the chickens, of course. But if the slogan had been “Non-Humans good, Humans bad” then there would have never been any way of confusion.

    Similarly, simply stating that “Mysticism is not a source of knowledge” is a lot less open to misinterpretation then “there is no source of knowledge other than science and reason”, particularly since there *have* historically been supporters of claim that the natural sciences have primacy over all other fields.

  99. #99 Caledonian
    January 8, 2007

    So?

  100. #100 Kevembuangga
    January 8, 2007

    John B : You reject the axioms of his epistemology, and he rejects yours.

    Agreed, this is why it is a bit difficult for me (and many others I guess) to understand how one can be a “Neville Chamberlain” atheist.
    Once the “god delusion” takes root all is lost!
    It goes way, way beyond the question(s) of scientific knowledge versus mysticism or whatever other philosophical or “spiritual” approach.
    This is plain paranoia, if hidden agents can tweak “evidence” at will no form of logic can hold.
    This makes one wonder what theology is spozed to be about.

  101. #101 Kevembuangga
    January 8, 2007

    I just stumbled upon that link which I find relevant and funny “Metaphysics is Boring When You Know the Answers”

  102. #102 John B
    January 8, 2007

    Jason,

    I remember what you asked, the example i gave was of a person who has religious knowledge to demonstrate that, yes, I agree with Chris, though i don’t have any problem with people promoting scientism. I believe the Christian’s position on sexual ethics to be an example of such knowledge.

    Also, in response to Russell Blackford’s comment, whether it seems stupid or not to an outsider is irrelevant. If you’re a scientist with a totally consistent worldview, I’d expect you to find knowledge from revelation stupid. The fundamentalist would find your rejection of revelation stupid, as well (to say the least).

    Moving away from religion for a second, I’ll try to give a materialistic/ empirical translation of the point i’m trying to make, by resurrecting my earlier (ignored) reference to Pinker’s discussions of neuroscience.

    Our conscious thoughts and beliefs are not the entire story of our knowledge. Even as science is used to learn more about how we know things, and the ways in which brain function translate to consciousness, it also highlights how much information and decision-making remains unavailable to the conscious mind. The split brain experiments and other have already highlighted different form of information perceived and stored in the brain, beyond the logical and language-based.

    The rejection of all information beyond the rational, conscious product of the left brain’s narrative skills seems dangerously limited to me.

    If you accept this, then the question becomes: can nonconscious information become knowledge? Can information be received, processed and have its effect without entering into consciousness? If those effects are noticed, how does the conscious portion of the brain interpret them? How much decision-making do we do that bypasses our rational/philosophical (or religious) consciousness? How often does our conscious mind impose a superficial veneer of reason onto irrational, unjustified knowledge? or a veneer of irrationality onto justified and meaningful knowledge nonconsciously produced?

    I’m not prepared to say that my knowledge of the world is limited to the product of one portion of the left hemisphere of my brain. I extend that to other people, and don’t condemn them for making claims about knowledge they receive from revelation, mystical insight, or whatever. They have a personal narrative that works differently from mine in labelling and interpreting the information they receive. This difference doesn’t to me implies that they have ceased to acquire and organise data consciously, it means that they do so in a way that is different than me.

    I can’t give you a good compelling example of non-scientific knowledge from my own thinking, because my interpretive schema tend to discard, ignore, or repress those sorts of things. I’m still suspicious of the idea that scientific thinking is the only form of knowledge.

  103. #103 John B
    January 8, 2007

    This difference doesn’t to me implies that they have ceased to acquire and organise data consciously, it means that they do so in a way that is different than me.

    Blargh, never hit the ‘post’ button, before finishing the first coffee of the day.

    edit: This difference doesn’t imply, to me, that they have ceased to acquire and organise data consciously…that is different than mine.

  104. #104 Jason
    January 8, 2007

    John B,

    I believe the Christian’s position on sexual ethics to be an example of such knowledge.

    Of course, there is no one Christian position on sexual ethics. Different Christian denominations and individuals hold different, and often mutually contradictory, beliefs of this kind. For example, some Christians believe that homosexuality is immoral and others believe it is not immoral. Is it your position that both of these religious beliefs constitute knowledge?

  105. #105 Kevembuangga
    January 8, 2007

    The rejection of all information beyond the rational, conscious product of the left brain’s narrative skills seems dangerously limited to me.

    If you accept this, then the question becomes: can nonconscious information become knowledge?

    Are the acquired skills of a skier or ice-skater knowledge?
    If not, what are these?
    In any case this is quite different from “revelations” which claim to introduce knowledge in the consciousness ex-nihilo.
    For a skier or ice-skater, even if their “knowledge” cannot be directly seen, the evidence of it can be easily checked ;-)

  106. #106 John B
    January 8, 2007

    Jason,

    I’m getting the feeling that consensus is important to your definition of knowledge. Is that correct?

    I’m willing to bet that the Christians who disagree on that topic would probably belong to different communities. Do you have some examples?

  107. #107 John B
    January 8, 2007

    For a skier or ice-skater, even if their “knowledge” cannot be directly seen, the evidence of it can be easily checked ;-)

    Well, physical proficiencies wasn’t really what i was thinking of… presumably the athletic has some belief that their training regimen will improve their skills, and is aware of gradual improvement, the correction of mistakes the conscious acquisition of information about style or technique through observation and education…

    From what i have seen in previous comments in this discussion, this type of thing would interpreted as 100% scientific knowledge.

  108. #108 Jason
    January 8, 2007

    John B,

    I’m getting the feeling that consensus is important to your definition of knowledge. Is that correct?

    No, not really.

    I’m willing to bet that the Christians who disagree on that topic would probably belong to different communities. Do you have some examples?

    Sure, the Roman Catholic Church and the United Church of Christ, for example. Both are Christian denominations, but their teachings on the morality of homosexual sex, the morality of artificial contraception, and a number of other sexual ethics, are mutually contradictory. Even within a single Christian denomination, different members often hold mutually contradictory religious beliefs on sexual ethics. Again, is it your position that all such beliefs are knowledge? If not, how do you distinguish the ones that are knowledge from the ones that are mere belief? I’m trying to make sense of your statement, “I believe the Christian’s position on sexual ethics to be an example of such knowledge.”

  109. #109 John B
    January 8, 2007

    Jason,

    Using your definition, from your conversation with Crow “Knowledge is justified true belief” (same Jason, i hope) Then yes, the contradictory beliefs of different groups are examples of religious knowledge, each justified and true according to their standards. Each propbaly also has ready arguments for the opposing position, that would demonstrate pretty clearly how their standards differ.

  110. #110 Jason
    January 8, 2007

    John,

    My definition is irrelevant. I’m asking what you believe about knowledge, not what you think follows from my definition of knowledge, or from “their standards” of justification and truth. Do you in fact consider all religious beliefs to be knowledge? What do you think knowledge is? How do you define it?

  111. #111 Nathan Parker
    January 8, 2007

    the contradictory beliefs of different groups are examples of religious knowledge

    Question: If a statement has its origin from something other than science or reason, should the statement be amenable to verification via science or reason, or should it be considered beyond reproach from any methodology?

  112. #112 Coin
    January 8, 2007

    Chris:

    So in other words, you’ve coopted some obscure philosophical term, given it a definition that isn’t quite the one in normal use, started randomly attaching it to people to whom it doesn’t quite apply even your own definition, and used it to provoke flamewars with Dawkins cultists. Lovely.

  113. #113 hoody
    January 8, 2007

    Caledonian, try this:

    A person claims love exists.

    You can claim that you love someone, and I can observe certain behaviors that indicate same. (wanting to spend time with the person in question, engaging in behaviors to please that person, and so on).

    But what if that person is a drug addict? NOw, out of love, you may engage in behaviors that are the direct opposite of the prevously described behaviors denoting “love”. The method does not serve. Only the claims of those involved matter. Scientific method will not serve.

    MIke Stone is dead correct, so far as I can tell.

    You are serving as another example that SEED is simply trying to run a site that -among other things- is dedicated to the assault upon all heresies that challenge the might of the Prophet Dawkins (Brayton and Chris as exceptions to the rule). Anyone who dars suggest that scientism is a form of faith is to be run out of the temple.

  114. #114 SmellyTerror
    January 8, 2007

    Hoody: first, what makes you think that science expects the same outcome or uses the same test when the conditions change? Of course the manifestation of “love” would be expected to change when the conditions change.

    But, second, let’s assume you’re right. Let’s assume that “love” is unscientific. Great! You’ve just used it to *disprove* scientism. Remember, scientismists, by definition, don’t believe unscientific claims. Yet I’m sure Dawkins et al would happily agree that love exists. So they are not followers of scientism.

    If love is what you mean by “unscientific” knowledge, then scientism does not exist.

  115. #115 Jason
    January 8, 2007

    hoody,

    Mike Stone (falsely) accused Dawkins of committing the naturalistic fallacy. I’m not sure what you think that has to do with what you write above. And your own criticism is hard to understand. It is debatable whether a claim of the form “X loves Y” could be tested empirically, but even if it couldn’t, so what?

  116. #116 John B
    January 8, 2007

    My definition is irrelevant. I’m asking what you believe about knowledge, not what you think follows from my definition of knowledge, or from “their standards” of justification and truth. Do you in fact consider all religious beliefs to be knowledge? What do you think knowledge is? How do you define it?

    Oh, I didn’t realise you wanted my definition. I’ve been sort of using yours since your comment asking for examples.

    I do, in fact, consider religious beliefs to be knowledge, though I disagree with it, I don’t think there’s a universal standard to evaluate it by. I use my standards for my knowledge, and my understanding of their standards to evaluate them.

    To me, knowledge would be any organized system of information, acquired through perception, learning and reasoning, contextualized and related through some worldview so that it allows a person to understand, evaluate and produce new meanings and information. Communicability might be in there somewhere, too, but I’m not sure. The difficulty would be distinguishing between internal communicability (nonconscious or nonarticulate information to consciousness) and some kind of language-based coding that would allow for learning, teaching or action.

    I’m not a philosopher so the above might be horrible… but I spent a surprising amount of time on it.

    P.S to hoody: I don’t think anyone is being ‘run out of the temple’, If someone challenges you or asks questions, that’s no big deal. So far all i’ve seen are questions, honest reactions and some dismissals from people who think it’s ridiculous, that’s pretty good for an online discussion, afaik.

  117. #117 John B
    January 8, 2007

    edit: I do, in fact, consider religious beliefs to be knowledge, though I disagree with them, … evaluate them by.

    less time definition-wrangling, more time on post-checking.

  118. #118 Nathan Parker
    January 8, 2007

    To me, knowledge would be any organized system of information, acquired through perception, learning and reasoning, contextualized and related through some worldview so that it allows a person to understand, evaluate and produce new meanings and information.

    So correctness plays no role in what you consider to be knowledge?

  119. #119 Russell Blackford
    January 8, 2007

    Looks like epistemic relativism is rearing its unpretty head.

  120. #120 Russell Blackford
    January 8, 2007

    … which is not just a throwaway line. Dawkins is not only a metaphysical naturalist and a scientific realist. He is also an epistemic absolutist (to coin a phrase … i.e. he doesn’t think that truth is relative to individuals or cultures). Those all seem to me to be defensible, and indeed correct, philosophical positions, but it’s not a fashionable combination in the current intellectual climate.

    Still doesn’t explain why he’d want to torture prisoners, but it might explain some of the distaste for him felt by certain non-religious intellectuals.

  121. #121 Jason
    January 8, 2007

    John,

    To me, knowledge would be any organized system of information, acquired through perception, learning and reasoning, contextualized and related through some worldview so that it allows a person to understand, evaluate and produce new meanings and information.

    How does any religious claim of knowledge satisfy that definition? Consider the knowledge claim “I know God exists,” for example. How is that an “organized system of information, acquired through perception, learning and reasoning?” What’s the information?

    There’s no mention of belief, truth or justification in your definition. Do you really believe that a “system of information” could qualify as knowledge even if no one believes it, it isn’t true, and belief that it’s true isn’t justified?

  122. #122 Caledonian
    January 8, 2007

    Non-intellectual intellectuals is more like it.

  123. #123 Chris
    January 8, 2007

    Actually, my use of the word “scientism” is pretty consistent with the old Wittgensteinian (of the Tractatus) scientism that dominated Anglo-American philosophy into the 1950s. I’ve argued all along that Dawkins is, philosophically, not the heir to the free thinkers of the 19th century, but to the logical positivists of the early 20th century, and with the exception of Dawkins’ moralism (which is not entirely absent in the work of someone like Ayer, whom I’d bet Dawkins purposefully emulates), his scientism is pretty standard for positivism. It’s just couched in contemporary scientific terms and theories (like kin selection), rather than obscure logical formulas or dense logico-philosophical prose.

    Where, exactly, do you see a difference between my definition of scientism (as the belief that science can explain everything, and thus that the world is exactly like science says it is, so that any other way of describing/explaining it is false or nonsensical) and the standard definition? Noting, of course, that later scientism (Quinean scientism, say) is a bit different from early scientism, in the sense that it takes a more Kantian position about the world itself, but still believes that everything in the universe, from matter to mind, is within the purview of science, and that science is the best way to describe/explain these things.

  124. #124 Russell Blackford
    January 8, 2007

    The doctrine that science, in any reasonably narrow sense, can, in practice, explain everything is something that almost nobody believes. Even the logical positivists never made such a claim; nor did Wittgenstein in the Tractatus – in fact he seemed to claim the opposite, if I recall the ending correctly.

    Hardly anyone believes that science, even in the broadest sense, can explain everything in practice – some things may just be too hard to find explanations for. Anyway, even if someone believes something like this, it is a completely different doctrine from the doctrine that the world is as science says it is (which is actually ambiguous – as some ideal science says? or as science says right now?). Both are completely different from the doctrine that any other way of describing the world is nonsensical. This is all confusion on confusion. And nothing is entailed by any doctrine in the ballpark of any of the above about being prepared to carry out coercive procedures on prisoners. I don’t remember Quine ever making such a suggestion, for example (not that Dawkins has either).

    If you mean that Dawkins is a metaphysical naturalist, a scientific realist, and rejects epistemic relativism, say so, rather than accuse him of belonging to this quasi-religion of “scientism”. Surely you realise by now from the responses that this word is pejorative and simply inflames debate. if it was ever a respectable term that could be applied neutrally, those days have long gone.

    The impression I’m getting is this. There’s a group of distinguishable and logically independent doctrines that are popular among philosophers in the empiricist tradition. For some reason, you dislike all these doctrines, and you think that holding them leads people to moral depravity. So you condemn the doctrines and the people who hold them with the label “scientism”. That’s all interesting, but I see no reason to ascribe any intellectual credibility to it.

  125. #125 Jason
    January 8, 2007

    Chris

    Also, it seems bizarre in the extreme for a cognitive psychologist to be questioning whether mind is within the purview of science, or suggesting that there is a better alternative to science for describing or explaining the mind. What superior alternative do you propose? Religious hypotheses of an immaterial soul?

  126. #126 Caledonian
    January 8, 2007

    Standard definition of ‘scientism’

    1) the style, assumptions, techniques, practices, etc., typifying or regarded as typifying scientists.

    2) the belief that the assumptions, methods of research, etc., of the physical and biological sciences are equally appropriate and essential to all other disciplines, including the humanities and the social sciences.
    3) scientific or pseudoscientific language.

    I see little to no connection between the standard definition and Chris’ comments.

  127. #127 Caledonian
    January 8, 2007

    Since science alters its assertions about the world when it encounters evidence incompatible with those assertions, I’m not quite sure what’s meant by “the world is how science says it is”.

    The objection here seems to be to the idea that rational thought can produce accurate models of reality – and it’s one that I find very peculiar. Particularly coming from someone who is supposedly a professional scientist.

  128. #128 Caledonian
    January 8, 2007

    Looking at Wikipedia’s discussion of the topic, I find the following:

    Scientism is an ideology which holds that science has primacy over other interpretations of life (e.g., religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations). The term has also been applied to the view that natural sciences have primacy over other fields of inquiry such as social sciences.

    Checking their definition of ‘natural science’, I find the following:

    In science, natural science is the rational study of the universe via rules or laws of natural order. The term natural science is also used to distinguish those fields that use the scientific method to study nature from the social sciences, which use the scientific method to study human behavior, and from the formal sciences, such as mathematics and logic, which use a different methodology.

    The idea that human behavior isn’t part of nature is just bizarre – and the claim that the ‘formal sciences’ use a different methodology is traditional, but incorrect.

  129. #129 Michael Ralston
    January 8, 2007

    The issue with Chris’s definition is that it rests on the definition of the word “science”.

    If by “science” we mean (as some have suggested) “The way science is done by the ‘hard scientists’”, then … yeah, I’d claim anyone who thinks that kind of science is the only (useful) method to achieve knowledge is more than a little wacky.

    If by “science” we mean (as some others of us have suggested) “Observation and reason” … then I, for one, would claim it is the only (useful) method to achieve knowledge.

    (Defining “knowledge” in the above to be indicate things that are considered to be true, etc.)

    Strictly speaking, that second definition may render the word “science” sort of useless. I’d actually add qualifiers like ‘organized’ and ‘methodical’ and such to make a distinction between what a professional scientist and some shmuck at a bar do… and would then claim those qualifiers aren’t needed for achieving useful knowledge, although they certainly do help.

  130. #130 Chris
    January 8, 2007

    Russell, It is a belief that was fairly common in the early half of the 20th century, and it was held by Wittgenstein. You almost have to treat the Tractatus as two documents, with the last part being a completely different book, because it seems to render the first part of the book false.

    Jason, it probably does seem odd, but it’s not unusual within cognitive science. Within philosophy of mind, for example, there are a bunch of dualists (not metaphysical, but epistemological, with David Chalmers being the most famous example), and within cognitive psychology, it’s not uncommon to hear discussions of the limits of science in studying the mind. However, I didn’t mean to imply that the mind is not within the purview of science, though I don’t believe it can be fully or only explained through science.

  131. #131 Chris
    January 8, 2007

    Michael, in scientism, science is usually defined based on the natural sciences (especially physics). The idea that we can know the world through reason and observation is a much broader (and much older) one. I’d also argue that we can know the world through artistic expression, for example, but that doesn’t really fit with either ideas.

  132. #132 Caledonian
    January 8, 2007

    Anything can be explained with anything. The trick is finding ways to produce useful and accurate ways to explain things.

  133. #133 Russell Blackford
    January 8, 2007

    Looking again at that Wikipedia article, I see that I had some wise things to say on the talk page back in October. It had slipped my mind.

    Chris, I’m sure Wittgenstein knew what he was doing. I’m also sure that the logical positivists, for example, never claimed that science could actually discover all the answers. What they claimed was that a purported proposition was meaningless unless it could in principle be verified (or else was analytic). That is quite different. Furthermore, Ayer abandoned that view, when it was shown to be self-contradictory, without ever abandoning his empiricism.

    In the end, I think a scientismist is someone with any broadly empiricist approach to philosophical issues, and who is being sneered at by someone who dislikes that approach.

  134. #134 Jason
    January 8, 2007

    Chris,

    It’s “not unusual” for cognitive scientists to question whether the mind is within the purview of science? You have got to be kidding. If they didn’t believe the mind is amenable to scientific study they wouldn’t have gone into the field in the first place. Yes, Chalmers is a dualist, but a property dualist, not a ghost-in-the-machine substance dualist. Substance dualism is now considered thoroughly disreputable even amoung philosophers of mind, and cognitive scientists have always scoffed at it. Of course, many philosophers and scientists believe that the mind, and perhaps other aspects of the world also, will never be fully understood, but for the reason that human cognition has limits, not because there is some superior alternative method of inquiry to science that is being rejected or ignored. And perhaps even the limits of human cognition will be overcome through genetic enhancement or the development of artificial intelligence–again, using science.

    The academic study of mind is increasingly dominated by scientific, empirical, rationalist ideas and methods–exactly the trend you’re condemning as “scientism.”

  135. #135 yiela
    January 8, 2007

    OK, I’m out of my depth here but I’ll give it a try anyway. There may be “other ways of knowing” but they are not on par with science. These other ways may have social or psychological value or whatever but they do not provide knowledge in the scientific sense (prediction, repetition, explanation, real understanding of how whatever it is works). The fact is that there may be questions that will forever be impractical, impossible or beyond human comprehension to answer scientifically. But that does not mean that in these areas where science “fails” us that there is “some other way” for us to actually discover the answers to these questions. That’s something that many people can’t accept. This is scary and people get angry and emotional about it. They demand that their “other way” be taken seriously so they can have the answer. I think this is why Dawkins post set so many people off so emotionally. He keeps poking at this horrible fear that they have that there are some very important things they can’t know. He and other atheists keep insisting on exposing this fear and just won’t shut up. They used to have the satisfaction of getting to burn people that made them have this scary feeling.

  136. #136 John B
    January 9, 2007

    To Nathan Parker:

    So correctness plays no role in what you consider to be knowledge?

    Correct. Without any absolute standard to use to jump between worldviews, I can’t judge the correctness of the knowledge in any absolute way. There are evaluations, and judgements in there but they are relative. (as you notice i tried to use Jason’s definition in discussion with him, and the Christian’s standards in describing justification/truth according to that definition)

    To Russell:

    Looks like epistemic relativism is rearing its unpretty head.

    Also correct. I’m assuming that’s bad?

    Jason:

    How does any religious claim of knowledge satisfy that definition? Consider the knowledge claim “I know God exists,” for example. How is that an “organized system of information, acquired through perception, learning and reasoning?” What’s the information?

    Well, God’s existence is one of the axioms of the religious person’s worldview. It would be part of the contextualizing element I mentioned, acquired in primary socialization. Different religious people have all sorts of information related to God’s existence. I’m assuming you don’t want a list?

    Maybe you’d be amenable to parsing something a bit less central? like the example I already used of Christian sexual ethics. obviously the Christian’s stance there is the result of an organized system of information including theories about authority, fate and human moral freedom, divine judgement, etc… all coming together to allow him to know about sexual sin. Presumably he wasn’t born with this information, but acquired it through one or more of the processes mentioned (seemingly: reading scripture, interpreting it to fit the specific issue, being aware of his own sexual feelings, and whatever…).

    There’s no mention of belief, truth or justification in your definition. Do you really believe that a “system of information” could qualify as knowledge even if no one believes it, it isn’t true, and belief that it’s true isn’t justified?

    The belief part would be any of the claims the person made the product of the reasoning, perception etc… I did mention ‘evaluate’ and ‘understand’ which i guess are as close as i got to justification… Their knowledge would be understood and evaluated according to the standards embedded in their worldview… the ‘by their own standards’ part of my previous comments which you have repeatedly tried to steer me away from… again my definition doesn’t include the idea of any independent/objective standard of truth.

  137. #137 John b
    January 9, 2007

    sorry i missed this one:

    Question: If a statement has its origin from something other than science or reason, should the statement be amenable to verification via science or reason, or should it be considered beyond reproach from any methodology?

    Depends what you goals are. If you want to examination the claim’s rationality or scientific-ness (what is the word I’m looking for here?) then it must be evaluated according to the appropriate standards.

    If you want to understand what the claim means to the people who made it, you’d need to determine the forms of logic they tend to use, and their attitudes about scientific method, evidentiary standards, etc… before deciding if it’s amenable or not.

    If you just want to figure out if the claims true or not, it depends what your personal standards are.

  138. #138 Kevembuangga
    January 9, 2007

    The fact is that there may be questions that will forever be impractical, impossible or beyond human comprehension to answer scientifically. But that does not mean that in these areas where science “fails” us that there is “some other way” for us to actually discover the answers to these questions. That’s something that many people can’t accept.

    For sure when a “question” is meaningless there is no “other way” for us to actually discover an answer.
    It is a common delusion to think that a grammatically correct interrogative sentence corresponds to a meaningful question.

  139. #139 John B
    January 9, 2007

    to yiela:

    There may be “other ways of knowing” but they are not on par with science.

    Do you mean for scientists? or generally?

    What are the things you think are “impractical, impossible or beyond human comprehension to answer scientifically”?

    You’re accusing the anti-science people of being afraid of facing the truth of these mysteries, does that mean they fully understand and agree with science’s real understanding of how things work, but cannot admit it to themselves out of fear of the unknowable?

  140. #140 yiela
    January 9, 2007

    John b, I think you are hitting on something that is important. You are not applying value judgements and I think you are absolutley right. The problem with value judgements is that they are are artificial in that they force human morality on the world/reality rather than just observing it and trying to understand it. Science is the only way we have to investigate the world unhindered (mostly) by our own biases. but it doesn’t prove anything, it doesn’t determine what is absolutly true (The only absolute truth is revealed truth and science has no truck with revealed truth. We can’t even evaluate the “truth” of the knowledge we gain from science), it doesn’t judge anything. That makes science sound pretty useless and pointless but in fact it is the most useful and powerful thing we know.

  141. #141 yiela
    January 9, 2007

    John b, I posted before I read your last post. I’ve got to sign off but to answer your question, I think the other “ways of knowing” are not on par with science period. They are a different thing. They have a different result than scientific inquiry. I think they are kind of an artifact of our history (historical and evolutionarily). Anyway, I’d rather try not to judge them after all my bla bla about value judgements, haha. I will say that I think it’s very important for people in general to learn to think critically and have some understanding of science.
    Hmm, no I don’t think they understand science and are just afraid to face it. The fear of the unknowable is a pretty common thing even for people that don’t put much thought into it at all. It’s just doubt and everyone experiences doubt from time to time I suspect.
    As for the unknowable, maybe things like what’s in a black hole, what was it like before the big bang. Night.

  142. #142 yiela
    January 9, 2007

    Oops, I didn’t mean to include “night” in my list of the unknowable.

  143. #143 DeanOR
    January 9, 2007

    A belated reply.
    markp said: Do those likely to be labelled as practicers of “Scientism”, say Richard Dawkins or Carl Sagan, seem to have “sad and barren” personalities?
    I don’t know about Dawkins one way or the other, but I think Sagan clearly communicated a sense of awe and wonder based on his scientific knowledge of the universe. That makes him the opposite of a reductionist. In fact it is what many of us would regard as at least the beginnings of a spiritual experience or spiritual view.

  144. #144 Davis
    January 9, 2007
    So correctness plays no role in what you consider to be knowledge?

    Correct. Without any absolute standard to use to jump between worldviews, I can’t judge the correctness of the knowledge in any absolute way.

    Whether or not you can judge the correctness of a claim is independent of whether it’s actually correct, though. Do you really mean to say something can be considered knowledge even if it’s incorrect? If so, that’s a very nonstandard definition of the term.

  145. #145 Caledonian
    January 9, 2007

    What they claimed was that a purported proposition was meaningless unless it could in principle be verified (or else was analytic). That is quite different. Furthermore, Ayer abandoned that view, when it was shown to be self-contradictory, without ever abandoning his empiricism.

    There are other formulations of the basic idea that avoid that particular contradiction.

  146. #146 John B
    January 9, 2007

    That makes science sound pretty useless and pointless but in fact it is the most useful and powerful thing we know.

    I don’t think it makes science sound useless or pointless at all. Things don’t need to be absolutely true for them to be useful and important, in my opinion.

    I think the objection, here, will be my claim to have no basis for judging the truth of other people’s claim apart from my understanding of their standards. That’s a stronger claim than the ones people here agree with (an assumption on my part). They have lots of standards that allow them to judge any claim, they have their privileged ‘way of knowing’.

    The advantage of science over and above religion, is that its focus is the field of the material, shared experience of all humans, as humans, regardless of belief system. Which would be great, if humans had something other than a subjective, socially constructed experience of that substrate.

    I think it is important to recognise that the formulation of hypotheses, the design of experiments, the interpretation of results, the programs of work, the application of scientific knowledge, etc… are all participation in a social dynamic, the construction of scientific discourse communities, that cannot lay claim to all forms of human knowledge or truth in any reasonable way.

    The participants in this social dynamic experience it as objective reality and see it as the best path to the True and the Good. This is natural and appropriate, but only appropriately totalized for the scientists themselves.

  147. #147 John B
    January 9, 2007

    Do you really mean to say something can be considered knowledge even if it’s incorrect? If so, that’s a very nonstandard definition of the term.

    This may sound glib, but yes, I really mean to say that. i don’t think it’s all that non-standard. The correctness of human knowledge is a pretty fluid dynamic thing, with lots of competing standards and no single overarching truth-o-meter that I’m aware of. Anyway, unless you only apply the label ‘knowledge’ to some information after it has been irrefutably proven, I think things can be both meaningful, justified, and open to correction/rejection.

  148. #148 Nathan Parker
    January 9, 2007

    John B wrote:

    This may sound glib, but yes, I really mean to say that. i don’t think it’s all that non-standard.

    How would you distinquish your defintion of “knowledge” from the definition of “belief”?

  149. #149 Davis
    January 9, 2007

    i don’t think it’s all that non-standard.

    Really? Go out and ask some random people if you can “know” that the earth is flat. Or that the sun goes around the earth. Or that Houston is the capital of the United States. Common usage would suggest you’re abusing the word “know”.

    If you don’t like common usage definitions, go talk to some philosophy professors. I’d be willing to be most of them go along with the “justified true belief” definition, too (at least that was the impression given in my epistemology class years ago).

    The correctness of human knowledge is a pretty fluid dynamic thing, with lots of competing standards and no single overarching truth-o-meter that I’m aware of.

    How is correctness fluid? It’s true that it’s difficult to be certain we’re correct (so by the standard definition, we’re usually not certain we know what we think we know) but that’s not the same thing as saying that correctness itself is uncertain. The statement “the earth is round” is either correct or it’s not. The same goes for any other coherent statement about the world.

  150. #150 Jason
    January 9, 2007

    John B,

    I still can’t make sense of your definition of knowledge. The standard definition is indeed justified true belief. There is some debate as to whether this definition is adequate, but I’ve never seen any serious proposal that beliefs that are neither true nor justified count as knowledge. The idea seems to me absurd. You might want to read the discussion of knowledge here.

  151. #151 Michael Ralston
    January 9, 2007

    Chris: Then … I find it highly unlikely Dawkins is a Scientismist.

    John: I would argue that knowledge is only knowledge if it is true. Which means that we can be in the position of knowing something but not being aware that it’s truely knowledge. (Indeed, that is the required “end state” of science – even if science discovers everything, that can’t be known.)

    I would then go on to add that normal use of the word “knowledge” means “things someone believes to be true that we’re nearly certain are true.”

    Which seems to me to make the concept a meaningful one.

  152. #152 John B
    January 9, 2007

    Mr. Parker,

    How would you distinquish your defintion of “knowledge” from the definition of “belief”?

    I didn’t include it in my definition: are you asking me to define belief or analysis my idea of ‘knowledge’ in relation to some specific definition you have in mind?

    Mr. Davis.

    The statement “the earth is round” is either correct or it’s not. The same goes for any other coherent statement about the world.

    Yeah, i don’t have any argument with that. If there was only one standard of truth and goodness in the world, then you’d have an easier time establishing the objective correctness of any bit of human knowledge. From what i have seen, though, people have disagreed on a number of issues. Not just about the contents of knowledge, but about the best way to determine what ‘true’ and ‘justified’ are.

    Let me ask you this: Does science have values? Please demonstrate their correctness to me, scientifically, if you identify any. (I’m not trying to be a pill, here, i have heard a number of discussions about the ethical grounds of the scientific method, particularly centered around the notion of progress, I’m curious to see how widely held they are)

  153. #153 John B
    January 9, 2007

    Jason,

    I’m going to do my suggested reading, in a moment, i just wanted to point out that true, justified belief can be found in my definition, but only as related to the worldview of the knower.

  154. #154 Nathan Parker
    January 9, 2007

    John B wrote

    I didn’t include it in my definition: are you asking me to define belief or analysis my idea of ‘knowledge’ in relation to some specific definition you have in mind?

    Your definition of “knowledge” seems to grant any belief held by anyone the status of “knowledge”. For instance, “the moon is made of green cheese” could be considered “knowledge”, since truth is “fluid”.

    If this is not the case, then it would be helpful to know how you can distinguish “belief” from “knowledge”, using your definitions, not mine.

  155. #155 John B
    January 9, 2007

    Jason,

    I appreciate the link, and the nostalgia it provided. I’m not sure you’ve been asking me to explain issues you are so familiar with, or why you are pretending to need examples of different kinds of knowledge, explanations of internal justification, etc… when you have already studied epistemology.

    Both our positions are described there, why ask me about it?

  156. #156 John B
    January 9, 2007

    As a general definition I tried to avoid ‘truth’, but i mentioned worldview, etc…

    any organized system of information, acquired through perception, learning and reasoning, contextualized and related through some worldview so that it allows a person to understand, evaluate and produce new meanings and information.

    I was tryong to describe sources, function, etc.. and probably tried to do too much.

    Anyway, i have no problem with the standard definition of belief and its relation to knowledge with the individual’s worldview acting as the relative standard.

  157. #157 John B
    January 9, 2007

    sorry the 8:56pm post was in reply to Nathan.

  158. #158 Nathan Parker
    January 9, 2007

    John B wrote

    Anyway, i have no problem with the standard definition of belief and its relation to knowledge with the individual’s worldview acting as the relative standard.

    I’m afraid that sentence doesn’t have any meaning for me. ;-)

    My impression to date is that those who view truth as a social construction can only maintain that worldview by refusing to write clearly. Either that, or you’re just yanking our chains. ;-)

    I’m inclined towards the latter.

  159. #159 Jason
    January 9, 2007

    Me too, Nathan.

  160. #160 SmellyTerror
    January 10, 2007

    Although I agree with John B on the mutable nature of truth, I think he’s missing the point. Yes, “truth” as we perceive it can change – for example, we “know” a lot of things about the world, but that could change tomorrow if it turns out we’re in some kind of Matrix, and the world is just a simulation. Truth – that is, true belief – can change, and that’s largely because *truth* (as we perceive it) can change.

    Fine. But notice: we can understand belief pretty well. It needs no reason for change and requires no real test – we can (usually) accept someone believes something if they say they do. But how do we test “truth”? How do we test to see if a belief is also truth, and therefore knowledge?

    Science.

    Is it absolute? No! All knowledge, all judgements on truth, come with an implicit doubt. But that’s no reason to stop trying. Sorting the knowledge from unjustified belief has had magnificent results.

    The important paragraph: So the question you avoided earlier, John B, when you were asked to show the difference between your conception of “knowledge”, and “belief” was, IMO, right on the money. The difference between belief and knowledge is TRUTH. Knowledge is both belief AND truth. Belief is, of course, subjective. Truth, then, must have some attempt by humans to be objective or we are merely combining belief with more belief, and that is not knowledge – it’s just belief.

    So when you keep arguing that truth is, in fact, actually belief, you’re missing the point. We need something *more* than belief alone to make knowledge. We need to try, as best we can, to bring objectivity into it. Is science infallible? No, sadly not. That’s why we can’t be absolutely sure of anything. Do we have perfect objectivity? No, of course not. But we do the best we can. And the best we can is science.

    It may fail, it may frequently devolve into – yes – more belief, but science represents our best real attempt to find truth. It is not claiming to *be* truth, it’s just our best tool in finding, identifying, and exploring truth. That it is at least ocasionally successful can be seen in the results.

  161. #161 Jason
    January 10, 2007

    SmellyTerror,

    Science (understood broadly as observation-experiment-reason) is what provides the justification necessary for a true belief to count as knowledge. You seemed to recognize this need for justification when you mentioned science as a test, but then forget it when you said “Knowledge is both belief and truth.” True belief itself is not enough. The belief must also be justified.

    To illustrate: Suppose you buy a lottery ticket. You may believe that you hold the winning lottery ticket, and that belief may be true, but until the winning ticket is actually announced (providing the justification for your belief), it’s just a guess or a hope. It may be a correct guess, but it’s still a guess. Only if and when the belief is justified does it qualify as knowledge.

    Or, at least, that’s how I conceive of knowledge and I think it’s how almost everyone conceives of it. Or, at least, it’s how almost everyone conceives of knowledge outside of religious contexts, where special pleading takes over.

  162. #162 Davis
    January 10, 2007

    If there was only one standard of truth and goodness in the world, then you’d have an easier time establishing the objective correctness of any bit of human knowledge. From what i have seen, though, people have disagreed on a number of issues. Not just about the contents of knowledge, but about the best way to determine what ‘true’ and ‘justified’ are.

    I have no idea how to interpret this. And I’m not really sure where “goodness” came into the discussion; at the moment I’m only concerned with the notions “knowledge” and “true.”

    Let me ask you this: Does science have values? Please demonstrate their correctness to me, scientifically, if you identify any.

    Again, this is not a tangent I wish to follow, as it’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Also, once again, I’m not sure how to parse this. Using “correctness” in reference to “values” is incoherent; values don’t have a truth value.

    Aside from that, I don’t have anything to add to SmellyTerror’s and Jason’s posts.

  163. #163 Caledonian
    January 10, 2007

    I only have one thing to add:

    Psychology is the very last refuge of the vitalists, and the prospect of the human mind being deeply understood through scientific inquiry scares the hell out of them. I can’t help but wonder how the desperate certainty that mind is beyond comprehension affects their ability to perform science.

  164. #164 John B
    January 10, 2007

    Nathan,

    My impression to date is that those who view truth as a social construction can only maintain that worldview by refusing to write clearly.

    Find any book on the history of the idea of truth (check the syllabi of first year philosophy courses, or whatever…) when they get around to talking about postmodernism, coherence theory, … constructivism will pop up somewhere.

    I can’t force you to understand the idea, but the simple diversity of theories of truth, forms of justification, evidentiary standards, etc… might suggest something of the problematic nature of the idea.

  165. #165 John B
    January 10, 2007

    Smellyterror,

    The important paragraph: So the question you avoided earlier, John B, when you were asked to show the difference between your conception of “knowledge”, and “belief” was, IMO, right on the money. The difference between belief and knowledge is TRUTH. Knowledge is both belief AND truth. Belief is, of course, subjective. Truth, then, must have some attempt by humans to be objective or we are merely combining belief with more belief, and that is not knowledge – it’s just belief.

    To repeat myself, for the upteenth time, hopefully more clearly:

    - Science has no monopoly on truth. You cannot pretend that that naturalist position is non-controversial. Whether you agree with other standards of truth or not, the diversity exists. If you want to pretend that the only knowledge anyone has ever had uses your standards by definition, that’s fine. The Christian fundamentalist uses precisely the same thinking, applying his own standards, definitions of truth and justification.

    Now picture me as an outsider, who is neither a scientist nor a Christian fundamentalist: I study both people’s positions. Each has their own definition of what counts as ‘true’, each has their own forms of evidence they use to back up their beliefs (internal v. external, coherence v. correspondence, etc…)

    Telling me that beliefs need to correspond to reliable external evidence to count as knowledge is you describing your worldview to me. It’s not providing me with a standard I can use to judge between you and the religious person’s claims. That standard of justification is part of your claim.

    The critique of Scientism, is a critique of the totalizing nature of the worldview, the inability of the proponents of scientism to recognise that their worldview (with its proper definitions, standards, etc…) is only one among many. The claim that the label ‘scientism’ is meaningless because science is the only source of knowledge, is just another instance of the stubborn refusal to recognise the diversity of human thought on the topic of truth and justification.

  166. #166 John B
    January 10, 2007

    Davis,

    Let me ask you this: Does science have values? Please demonstrate their correctness to me, scientifically, if you identify any.

    Again, this is not a tangent I wish to follow, as it’s irrelevant to the discussion at hand. Also, once again, I’m not sure how to parse this. Using “correctness” in reference to “values” is incoherent; values don’t have a truth value.

    Excellent, then you recognise the foolishness of claiming that science is the best way of understanding human life.

  167. #167 Davis
    January 10, 2007

    Excellent, then you recognise the foolishness of claiming that science is the best way of understanding human life.

    Umm, what? Science is not a set of values, it’s a process, so your statement makes no sense.

    Science has no monopoly on truth.

    No one has claimed science has a monopoly on truth — that idea doesn’t make sense. The claim is that it has a monopoly on justification.

    Now picture me as an outsider, who is neither a scientist nor a Christian fundamentalist: I study both people’s positions.

    Here’s the problem with this — the two positions are not equivalent. “Christian fundamentalist” describes a belief system. “Scientist” describes an occupation. Ignoring that for the moment, I’ll point out that almost no one rejects science (in the non-professional, general sense) as justification. We all apply science to learn about the world, whether or not we acknowledge it: “What happens when I do this? Oh!”

    In other words, the scientist doesn’t say “X is true because of science”; she says “X is true because I can show you X happens.” The process of science is simply a formalization of how we naturally learn about the world.

    The claim that the label ‘scientism’ is meaningless because science is the only source of knowledge, is just another instance of the stubborn refusal to recognise the diversity of human thought on the topic of truth and justification.

    And yet you, and everyone else, has failed to give any examples of knowledge not obtained through science.

  168. #168 John B
    January 10, 2007

    In other words, the scientist doesn’t say “X is true because of science”; she says “X is true because I can show you X happens.”

    alright, so your position is that this external justification accepted by all humans who are not mad? and this form of justification (the only correct one) is not related to a belief system?

    I don’t know if you followed the link Jason provided so I’ll reproduce one element of the document:

    6.2 Naturalistic Epistemology
    According to an extreme version of naturalistic epistemology, the project of traditional epistemology, pursued in an a priori fashion from the philosopher’s armchair, is completely misguided. The “fruits” of such activity are demonstrably false theories such as foundationalism, as well as endless and arcane debates in the attempt to tackle questions to which there no answers. To bring epistemology on the right path, it must be made a part of the natural sciences and become cognitive psychology. The aim of naturalistic epistemology thus understood is to replace traditional epistemology with an altogether new and redefined project. According to a moderate version of naturalistic epistemology, one primary task of epistemology is to identify how knowledge and justification are anchored in the natural world, just as it is the purpose of physics to explain phenomena like heat and cold, or thunder and lightning in terms of properties of the natural world. The pursuit of this task does not require of its proponents to replace traditional epistemology. Rather, this moderate approach accepts the need for cooperation between traditional conceptual analysis and empirical methods. The former is needed for the purpose of establishing a conceptual link between knowledge and reliability, the latter for figuring out which cognitive processes are reliable and which are not.

    If you feel inclined, check out parts 2.2, 2.4, 5.5, 5.6, from some interesting discussions of different ways things are justified, diverse standards of evidence (showing you how x happens) and theories about knowledge.

    And yet you, and everyone else, has failed to give any examples of knowledge not obtained through science.

    No, I gave several in that one example, in my jan 7, 10:56 post, that Christian has all kinds of true justified beliefs (by coherentist, internal standards) in his comments on sexual sin.

  169. #169 Jason
    January 10, 2007

    John B,

    Your position is self-refuting gibberish. In order to make any assertion of truth–such as your assertion that there is no privileged or absolute standard of truth, just different “worldviews”–then you must commit to an absolute standard. Otherwise, you’re not making an assertion of truth at all, you’re just describing a “worldview.” But if you’re not making an assertion of truth, you’re not asserting that there is no absolute standard of truth.

  170. #170 John B
    January 10, 2007

    Are we just getting around to reading Plato?

    Of course, I’m describing a worldview – a contructivist one, which makes statements about truth doctrines, in other words, i’m making epistemological claims not claims about reality. You’re mistaking a discussion about people’s beliefs about truth, with a discussion about objective facts.

    This is, by the way, a standard response, to which you should have a standard response. We’re not really discussing anything atm, just going through the usual realist v. relativist script.

    I don’t mean to be rude, but can we not just do the traditional moves?

  171. #171 Jason
    January 10, 2007

    I don’t think you understand the problem, John. If all truth is relative (to particular “worldviews”), then the truth “all truth is relative” is itself relative. In which case it is also true (under some other “worldview” than yours) that all truth is NOT relative. Your argument contradicts itself.

    I very much doubt you really believe this nonsense. You don’t really believe that it’s true both that the moon is made of rock and also that the moon is made of green cheese, do you? If you do, can I quote you?

  172. #172 Caledonian
    January 10, 2007

    Jason, in order to comprehend how you demonstrated his arguments to be invalid, JohnB would have to apply reason to the statements and derive a conclusion from them through logic. Since JohnB rejects those things, he cannot perceive how his argument is invalid.

    In short, you’re wasting your time. You cannot reason with someone who doesn’t use reason.

  173. #173 John B
    January 11, 2007

    I do understand the problem. But my argument does claim that all truth is relative, only that truth claims are, don’t make the mistake of confusing words with the reality they represent.

    This exchange is getting formulaic, Jason. Do you mind if i liven it up with another example of religious knowledge? It has the benefit of being agreeable to you, not that that will affect your reception of it, of course. For consistency’s sake, another Christian example:

    “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
    Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

    Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

    it’s an excerpt from the first chapter of the apostle Paul’s first Letter to the corinthians.

    Notice the stance toward the knowledge of the world, imagine the validity of science’s evidentiary standards to the man who wrote this.

  174. #174 John B
    January 11, 2007

    Edit:But my argument does not claim that all truth is relative.

    boo. sorry.

  175. #175 John B
    January 11, 2007

    Caledonian,

    You don’t need to explain things to Jason, he has some studied epistemology. He’s just pretending that he’s not aware of the diversity of human formulations of ‘truth’ and ‘justification’ or the difference between human formulations of truth as relative, and reality as relative. I don’t know why he’s pretending in this way, but unless he never read the material in the link he provided (basic as it is), he is aware of the lack of consensus and the concommitent existence of knowledge that is not scientific knowledge.

    I’m guessing it’s just his commitment to Scientism that is behind this. I can’t remember him stating his attitude toward the idea. From the evidence so far, he seems to be defending Scientism as the only reasonable position a person can hold. Which is more of a graphic depiction of Chris’ point than any real argument about anything in particular.

    Remember our exchange from four days ago:

    me:

    Keep in mind, Jason requested something that is both ‘meaningful and justified’ to scientists while being irrational and non-empirical. I can’t see Chris pulling that off.

    you:

    I can’t see anyone pulling that off. Because it’s impossible.

    Which is why Chris was so deeply stupid to have made the claims he did – he’s not only wrong, and obviously wrong, but it’s impossible for him to be right. He chose to argue a contradiction, which is choosing an indefensible position

    We both recognised the disingenuous quality of Jason’s initial question. From the beginning, Jason has been a person who, I guess predictably, has proceeded without good faith. Which makes two kinds of faith that he thinks are meaningless.

    Jason has finally gotten around to making the same objection that you made then, which is grounded in the totalizing nature of Scientism’s stance, as pointed out by Chris. Scientism lays claim to all knowledge by definition, not in fact. It has nothing to do with the rationality of my position, just the stubborn refusal to recognise any meaningful controversy or diversity of opinion on issues of ‘justification’ and ‘truth’.

    Nothing in his reaction, so far, makes any argument against Chris’ original observations about Scientism. Some other people have made interesting points, though.

  176. #176 John B
    January 11, 2007

    looking back, I realised i forgot to respond directly to this:

    If all truth is relative (to particular “worldviews”), then the truth “all truth is relative” is itself relative. In which case it is also true (under some other “worldview” than yours) that all truth is NOT relative.

    This is almost exactly right, all you need to do is change ‘all truth’ to ‘all truth claims and modes of justification’. Then the claim “all truth claims and mode of justification” is itself relative. In which case, it is also true (under some other ‘worldview’ than mine) that all truth claims and modes of justification are NOT relative.

    You don’t need to tell me that there are absolutist worldviews. As you point out, parenthetically, understanding that in relation to the worldview is the key. Worldview is not objective reality.

  177. #177 Davis
    January 11, 2007

    This is almost exactly right, all you need to do is change ‘all truth’ to ‘all truth claims and modes of justification’. Then the claim “all truth claims and mode of justification” is itself relative.

    Where has anyone made the claim that science has a monopoly on “all truth claims and modes of justification”? Even in Chris’ description of scientism, he only seems to be saying that it’s a belief that the scientific method is the only source of justification, not justification and truth.

    He’s just pretending that he’s not aware of the diversity of human formulations of ‘truth’ and ‘justification’ or the difference between human formulations of truth as relative, and reality as relative.

    Are you saying truth is something distinct from reality? If so, then I have no idea what you mean by the word “truth.”

  178. #178 Kevembuangga
    January 12, 2007

    John B : Worldview is not objective reality.

    This is really what seems to be missed by most disputers here, along with the fact that there is NO way to refer to “objective reality” in a manner independent of a specific worldview.
    This goes hand in hand with ignorance or misunderstanding of constructivism and even epistemology.
    There are as many distinct epistemologies (specific worldviews) as there are thinkers/observers, the fact that on trivial points (whether “the moon is made of rock or the moon is made of green cheese”) nearly all agree does NOT mean that there is a “one and true” epistemology about which everyone has to agree and that it matches “objective reality”.
    In other words the concept of “truth” does not apply to ANY epistemology or worldview (as something being related to reality) but ONLY to analytical philosophy such as in logic or mathematics.
    NO epistemology is “true” or “false” except in the sense that it may be inconsistent and in which case always false.
    An epistemology is only more or less “adequate” for some purposes related to reality, that is, when you act or experiment on the basis of your epistemology you may or may not get what you expect.
    The more success you have in such experimentations (which confront your hypotheses to reality) the better your epistemology is, but it is NEVER “true”, it may fail sometime no matter for how long it worked before.
    It is therefore futile to argue that knowledge is about truth or not, ALL what can be deemed knowledge has to have some truth, relative at least to the underlying epistemology which has to have some consistency.
    This entails that it is possible to have DELUSIONAL epistemologies with no consistency and therefore NO “truth” whatsoever and they can rightly be denied the qualificative of “knowledge”.
    There are also poor epistemologies which are too simplistic or lacking in scope so that they “fail” quite often but they can nevertheless be anointed as knowledge as long as they are consistent and allow some “true” predictions once in a while (above pure chance of course).
    As for Scientism, if I properly understood the word from its usage in the controversy, it seems to be a putative “all encompassing” epistemology, there is certainly no such thing.
    There should be a distinction between Scientism as defined by Chris “a methodological and epistemological position, [which] is also a metaphysical one, that includes not only philosophical naturalism, but an associated strong realism in which the world is exactly as it appears scientifically”, which is certainly not only erroneous but nearly devoid of meaning (a circular definition : scientism is asserting that the “world is exactly as it appears scientifically”) and the prospect of having “everything understandable” through some approach, which is certainly a commendable goal.
    Revelling in “mysteries” is of no use to anyone but snake oil salesmen.

    Davis : Are you saying truth is something distinct from reality? If so, then I have no idea what you mean by the word “truth.”

    See above, please tell us HOW you can check “truth in reality” without using some epistemology or world view, i.e. a set of HYPOTHESES about the way you conduct your experimentations and evaluate the results.
    Re Einstein’s quote:

    Whether or not you can observe a thing depends upon the theory you use. It is the theory which decides what can be observed.

  179. #179 Caledonian
    January 12, 2007

    In other words the concept of “truth” does not apply to ANY epistemology or worldview (as something being related to reality) but ONLY to analytical philosophy such as in logic or mathematics.

    Is that statement within a worldview, or does it hold for all worldviews?

    (snicker)

  180. #180 Kevembuangga
    January 12, 2007

    Is that statement within a worldview, or does it hold for all worldviews?

    To clarify the meaning of “the concept of truth does not apply” :
    NO worldview or epistemology is “true”, some are consistent but lacking in scope (not giving ANY answer to some questions), some are inconsistent with respect to their own framework (in other words, plain garbage) and it is probable that NO worldview could be consistent and all encompassing.

    Of course you may say that this statement is only from within particular worldviews (mine and some others too) but since this statement is made ABOUT worldviews you have to account for the intricacies of meta-hierarchies like the category of all categories, Russel paradox etc…
    I don’t know if you familiar with this but usually “plain” philosophers are quite ignorant of that kind of logic problems, this is the reason that philosophy is mostly endless inconclusive bickerings which fall back to “beliefs” and “feelings of evidence” and no consensus can be reached.
    Not that it would be easy or even possible (may be not, who knows…) to reach consensus, but NOT making the distinction between statements and meta-statements guarantee that consensus is impossible.

  181. #181 John B
    January 12, 2007

    Davis,

    Sorry, this is so long.

    Scientism is a worldview. As you correctly pointed out before, science is the privileged process of justification within Scientism. Other people have objected that there are better labels for worldviews that privilege the scientific method in this way, and they are probably right, it’s probably just laziness that makes it easier to say ‘Scientism’ outside of philosophical arguments instead of pragmatic empiricism, metaphysical realism/objectivism, or whatever -ism that makes too strong a claim about modern science’s position in the production of knowledge in human societies.

    The ‘truth’ part is, superficially, more dependant on the Scientism, not the science. I�ll elaborate on the problem with this later. The problem is that when you talk about scientific knowledge, you have emphasized the identity between science and the process of justification required for knowledge. Continuing in this thread’s tradition of reliance on online encyclopedias (and in the spirit of Jason’s “self-refuting gibberish” objection) consider this:

    The regress problem emerges in the context of asking for justification for every belief. If a given item of justification depends on another belief for its justification, one can also reasonably ask for this latter justification to be provided, and so forth. This appears to lead to an infinite regress, with each belief justified by some further belief. The apparent impossibility of completing an infinite chain of reasoning is thought by some to support skepticism. The skeptic will argue that since no one can complete such a chain, ultimately no beliefs are justified and, therefore, no one knows anything. However, many epistemologists studying justification have attempted to argue for various types of chains of reasoning that can escape the regress problem.

    from the entry Epistemology on Wikipedia:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivism_%28metaphysics%29

    The process of justification itself needs justification (how we know what we know, how we know how we know, etc…).

    Even ignoring the strong skeptic’s claim that no one knows anything, most people’s chain of reasoning does not proceed very far before becoming dependant on the necessarily or self-evidently true, i.e. falling back on their worldview as a source of knowledge, instead of some demonstrable process of justification, and the uncertainty (inability to make a truth claim) involved in justification, as far as philosophers can tell so far.

    The only absolute certainty in processes of justification is reliance on the idea of infallibility, but I’ve never heard anyone accuse scientism of that.

    Are you saying truth is something distinct from reality? If so, then I have no idea what you mean by the word “truth.”

    I have seen many differing claims about the nature of reality and truth. By definition, the justification for those claims relies the accuracy of that person’s worldview. They know something is true, and their understanding of the nature truth is entailed in the claim.

    As far as I can tell, the argument being presented here by the pro-Scientism people (not self-identified that way, of course) is that science does not depend on a worldview, but objective reality, and should be used as the sole form of justification for all beliefs… That it is a process to create an accurate and reliable understanding of the world (worldview), and that other processes for understanding the world lead to inaccurate or non-reliable results.

    My argument is that we have no direct access to objective reality and all our ideas about truth and reality might be wrong in some way (Our understanding of the world =/= Objective reality). So that if your understanding of the world is constructed from the results of the scientific process solely, your claim to have knowledge about truth and reality is provisional knowledge at best, uncertain and fallible (By some people�s definition, not �knowledge� at all, if truth is an element of knowledge and all scientific claims might be wrong� I think a sensible person would allow provisional truth to count� despite the influence it gives to the process of justification).

    Any claim that science is the best way of knowing about truth or reality is a personal judgment, and as you said above “without truth-value”.

    Any claim that it is the best by default, because it is the only way of knowing about truth and reality, is either a function of your definition of science (i.e. science is the process of knowing about things – again entailing your understanding of truth and, suspiciously, justification (regress) – i.e. a bad definition), or a absurdly confident description of your fallible worldview (“I only accept a thing as true and real if it can be justified by science”) which you can see is the basis of my objection here.

    The issue of definition is kind of obvious and boring to discuss. The issue of Scientism’s description of its understanding of the world is more interesting to me.

    Anyone who recognizes the partial and uncertain nature of the results of the scientific method avoids making this strong claim to monopoly on ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ and therefore both knowledge generally, and the even more problematic knowledge of the truth about science.

    Anyone who says, “I know science is the only valid form of justification” is making a claim that is impossible to justify, and so overstating their confidence in their beliefs about science.

  182. #182 John B
    January 12, 2007
    In other words the concept of “truth” does not apply to ANY epistemology or worldview (as something being related to reality) but ONLY to analytical philosophy such as in logic or mathematics.

    Is that statement within a worldview, or does it hold for all worldviews?

    (snicker)

    All scientific knowledge has this relative character, I don’t know why you find it funny… Were you under the impression the science adopts some position that states it bases all knowledge claims on objective reality? Science would have produced no knowledge in that case.

    What’s accepted as the best theory at the moment is not the same thing as the truth about objective reality, is it?

  183. #183 John B
    January 12, 2007

    If anyone is still interested in the philosophical parts of this discussion, I found an interesting article by Robert Koons, “The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism” that raises some interesting issues about Scientism.

    excerpts from the first little bit as teasers:

    “Science is supposed to provide us with a picture of the world so much more reliable and well-supported than that provided by any non-scientific source of information that we are entitled, perhaps even obliged, to withhold belief in anything that is not an intrinsic part of our our best scientific picture of the world. This scientism is taken to support philosophical naturalism, since, at present, our best scientific picture of the world is an essentially materialistic one, with no reference to causal agencies other than those that can be located within space and time.”

    &

    “I will argue, paradoxically, that Scientific Realism entails that either Ontological Naturalism or Representational (or both) are false. I will argue that Nature is comprehensible scientifically only if nature is not a causally closed system — only if nature is the shaped by supernatural forces (forces beyond the scope of physical space and time). My argument requires two critical assumptions:

    PS: A preference for simplicity (elegance, symmetries, invariances) is a pervasive feature of scientific practice.

    ER: Reliability is an essential component of knowledge and intentionality, on any naturalistic account of these.”

    just for fun.

  184. #184 John B
    January 12, 2007

    Sorry,

    free online version of the above article:

    http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/arn/koons/rk_incompatibilitynatreal.htm

  185. #185 Kevembuangga
    January 13, 2007

    I found an interesting article by Robert Koons, “The Incompatibility of Naturalism and Scientific Realism” that raises some interesting issues about Scientism.

    At first glance I don’t find this article terribly interesting, the kind of argument below seems to me a bit “over the top” :

    4. Since the laws of nature pervade space and time, any such causal mechanism must exist outside spacetime.

    By definition, the laws and fundamental structure of nature pervade nature. Anything that causes these laws to be simple, anything that imposes a consistent aesthetic upon them, must be supernatural.

    Asserting that “such causal mechanism must exist outside spacetime” relies on a definition of causation which postulate what has to be proved.

    May be I am not qualified to argue against Koons anyway because I don’t agree with some of his premises and I already agree with some of his refutations.

    1) I don’t think that “the laws of nature just happen to be simple”, I rather deem that since we have limited brain power ONLY simple laws are tractable and that we have indeed been evolved to make the best use of our limited abilities by being rewarded by the “beauty” feeling whenever we manage to cast the observed constraints on the phenomenons into some simple laws.

    2) I don’t support OR (ontological naturalism).
    I don’t think that reality contains or is made of ANY “objects”, not even particles or fields.
    To me objects are just constructs of our epistemologies which are handy to “hang on” properties and attributes but have no “outside reality” beyond the need we have not to postulate non-existent objects in our discourse to avoid logical fallacies.
    This is a STRICTLY TECHNICAL requirement of logic for the use of any form of universally quantified rule.
    Though you may have a valid universally quantified rule you may not instanciate it by a peculiar “object” if you haven’t proved that this object “exists” WITHIN YOUR THEORY.
    Saying that an object exists “in reality” is meaningless.

    3) I don’t support ER (essentiality of reliability) either.
    I see no reason to be certain that knowledge always increase during the flow of ongoing experiences. Here I agree with the weaknesses demonstrated by Koons about representational naturalism.

    I see Koons arguments as moot because they rely on some hidden Platonism, the supernatural “causes” exist, somehow, somewhere.

  186. #186 John B
    January 13, 2007

    I had a vaguely similar reaction, though not as well-structured, that there were more assumptions here, on the authors part than the two he identifies at the beginning of his piece. I agree it’s over-the-top.

    What I thought was interesting was his discussion of the heuristic use of ‘simplicity’ in scientific practice (& the danger of over-fitness)… Highlighting these, I thought, might be useful for those who seem to be applying a direct realism to scientists’ representations of reality and truth in this discussion so far.

    I don’t think pretending that it approaches the understanding of reality so simplistically/objectively is really an accurate depiction of the ‘process of justification’ so many here have been trying to champion.

    If the theories and explorations of science are designed, overall, to converge upon objective reality (through refinement and correction) it’s interesting that the selection process depends on these aesthetics.

  187. #187 Kevembuangga
    January 29, 2007

    It happens that I am currently involved in discussions about scientism/platonism/epistemology/etc… at various places, if some people were interested in pursuing the arguments it would be nice to pick a single thread and stick to it.
    I suggest using the GNXP thread because it is the latest and the comments facility is quite good compared to others.

  188. #188 anonymous
    March 29, 2012

    PLEASE HELP!!! How would i explain scientism to my son he is in 6th grade

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