On scientism

Those of you who read what I scribble here and elsewhere know I nurse a few curious theories about science, like that it ought to remain distinct from scientism, and that the scientific process taught in schools is hokum, and that reductionism is just as nonsensical when it comes to dominate the physical sciences as it is in the realms of literature or theology.

Therefore, you can sort out for yourselves whether you anticipate with dread or delight my latest essay at the Image “Good Letters” blog. Here’s an excerpt:

I get the feeling, however, that the scientific method, rather than being one avenue by which we may come to know something, has become the only respectable avenue. I suppose it’s helpful for scientists to confirm that most people prefer mates who are sexually attractive, or that exercise is good for you, or that bullies pick on unpopular kids—each being a finding reported in science journals in recent years—but was our knowledge of these facts less valid before scientists undertook to measure them?

. . . Nobody is saying we should run an abuse victim through an MRI, give her a calibrated pharmaceutical cocktail, and call her cured. At least not yet. But the danger with privileging scientific findings is that it tempts us to think what we can know most concretely is therefore what’s most important to know. It reduces people to a single dimension, rendering them nothing more than amusing sacks of chemical combinations. Scan the brains of enough abuse victims, perhaps include their spines, maybe for good measure, the electromagnetic impulses cast off by their entire central nervous system working in concert, and pretty soon you forget that they have souls, and likely distorted notions of God and self.

You can read the rest here.


  1. MarcV

    Glad to see you posting again on the intertubes. If I may be so bold as to propose a follow-up essay: we surf the Internet on the world wide web, so full of information yet how much of it is useful?
    For the past several hundred years man has built up authoritative establishments to house and disseminate “truth and facts”. Now a single Twitterer can bring down nearly anything. That’s progress?

  2. Tom

    “pretty soon you forget that they have souls”

    I’m going to head over and read the whole thing but before I do I thought I’d mention that the problem, or one of the many, with modern science is that most people who consider themselves “scientists” don’t believe we have souls. Lately they seem to be almost proud of the fact.

  3. Post

    I’ll think on what you propose. There does seem to be an odd correlation between the proliferation of opinion and the decline of wisdom. Maybe there always has been.

  4. Post

    You’ve put your finger on the problem. They reduce us even before they begin their slicing and analyzing. Some of them even express wonder that a bag of chemicals could have such complex behavior, and are surprised that the rest of us don’t find it wondrous, and conclude that the average person doesn’t see the great beauty of the natural world.

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