Saturday, August 8, 2015

Kirk Pt IV: Scientism!

Kirk's back in his series on how bad science is and why we should just trust in God and forget all this thinking.  I mean where does thinking really lead you?  I guess curing disease, flying, the Internet would have all happened anyway if we had only given up on science and stayed on our knees, right?

Today's topic has the usual philosophical bent, and one he tries to broadly brush all of science in the worst possible way, "The Corrupting Influence of Scientism" is his latest and I think the most entertaining of his posts to date.

First of all what is 'Scientism', and the truth is no one really knows.  Here is a copy from Wikipedia on the many dictionary definitions of Scientism [I numbered them for easier reference]:

  1. The use of the style, assumptions, techniques, and other attributes typically displayed by scientists.
  2. Methods and attitudes typical of or attributed to the natural scientist.
  3. An exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation, as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities.
  4. The use of scientific or pseudoscientific language.
  5. The contention that the social sciences, such as economics and sociology, are only properly sciences when they abide by the somewhat stricter interpretation of scientific method used by the natural sciences, and that otherwise they are not truly sciences.
  6. "A term applied (freq. in a derogatory manner) to a belief in the omnipotence of scientific knowledge and techniques; also to the view that the methods of study appropriate to physical science can replace those used in other fields such as philosophy and, esp., human behaviour and the social sciences."
  7. "1. The collection of attitudes and practices considered typical of scientists. 2. The belief that the investigative methods of the physical sciences are applicable or justifiable in all fields of inquiry.
When Kirk uses the term, he is using the 6th definition.  When he says 'Scientism' he is certainly using it in the most derogatory way possible.  This is another post that supports the DI tactic of "Teaching People to Mistrust Science".  The real question is Kirk's definition of 'Scientism' a significant problem?

Wait a minute, Kirk seems to change his definition of 'Scientism'?  In his very first post of this series of his "Should We Have Faith in Science?" he defined scientism as  . . . here, let me quote him:
"As a scientist, I am increasingly appalled and even shocked at what passes for science. It has become a mix of good science, bad science, creative story-telling, science fiction, scientism (atheism dressed up as science), citation-bias, huge media announcements followed by quiet retractions, massaging the data, exaggeration for funding purposes, and outright fraud all rolled up together. In some disciplines, the problem has become so rampant that the "good science" part is drowning in a mess of everything else."
I added the bolding and underlining so you can more easily pick out his comment.  So, in his first in the series, he defines 'scientism' as 'atheism', yet in this post, he changes to definition a bit. . . here, let me quote this definition from his current post:
"Scientism is the belief that science is the best and only trustworthy method to discover truth. Supernatural explanations are a priori ruled out. The result is atheism dressed up as science."
Oh, so now Kirk's problem of 'scientism' is not allowing supernatural explanations in science.  Things are taking a very different turn, isn't it?  Instead of addressing a belief in the omnipotence of scientific knowledge, refusing to allow supernatural explanations is the key to Kirk's complaint, no matter how he tries to dress it up.  Not sure I have things right, here's another quote from Kirk:
"Scientism lobotomizes the quest for knowledge by turning a blind eye to God and the supernatural."

So this whole discussion of 'Scientism' is nothing but a smokescreen Kirk used to hide his religious motivation, let's examine the root of his prejudice.  Don't worry, I'll return to the smokescreen later, but first a few words about why allowing supernatural explanations might be a problem.  While I could get into all sorts of things like philosophical and methodological naturalism, I want to focus on something much simpler and state categorically:  "I will support the inclusion of supernatural explanations in science when  supernatural explanations work!"  I know, if Kirk or his friends at the DI read this, they might quote-mine part of this line and use it to paint me as a theist who wants my science to include the supernatural, wouldn't that be fun!

But seriously, think about it, do supernatural explanations work?  While people like to claim the power of prayer, is it reliable?  Is it repeatable?  Is it even predictable?  Is any supernatural explanation, whether it is ghosts, parapsychology, or Creationism/Intelligent Design useful or even usable?  In a word, No!  If you cannot use it, what good is it in explaining the world around you?  Other than a warm feeling when you think the world aligns with some personal philosophy, it doesn't seem to produce any tangible results!

Look at how successful science is, and has been! Would science be as successful with the inclusion of the supernatural?  Hmmm, let's not forget how long did the supernatural did dominate our explanations of the world around us?  How successful were those explanations?  Not very!  Would expanding the definition of science to include the supernatural actually offer any realistic benefit, other than a warm feeling to people who believe in the supernatural?  That's exactly what Kirk is talking about.  Just like Michael Behe testified about during the Dover Trial.  While he [Behe] tap-danced around it in a variety of ways, in a nutshell he testified that to include Intelligent Design in science, the very definition of a scientific theory would have to be widened to the point where Astrology also being admitted.  That's pretty much what Kirk is asking for here, isn't he?  Scientism = Atheism, so let's add in religion and make science better!  But will it?  Sure doesn't have as good a track record as actual science!

I've asked this question before, but now I would to direct it to Kirk.  Kirk, do you actually put fuel in the fuel tank of your car?  Why do you do that?  You know why, and I know why, it's because of the science -- real usable, predictable, and repeatable science minus any supernatural explanations.  While you might pray when the needle gets close to 'E', it's the activity of putting more fuel in your tank that allows you to continue driving.  If you want to prove to supernatural explanations are just as reliable as natural ones, hop in your car and see how far you get on prayer!

Now, for fun, let's look at Kirk's smokescreen.  But not as defined by Kirk, but let's use definition #3:  "An exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation, as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities."  Can this be a problem?

It certainly can be!  I'm the first to admit, and I have said it time and time again, scientists are human beings and they are subject to all the perils and foibles that come with being human.  In other words, sometimes they screw up.  The over-application of any philosophy or prejudice can certainly impact any endeavor, even science.  But as I have also said time and time again, science has methodologies that help deal with the possibility to such prejudices affecting outcomes.  In fact now that I think about it, didn't I already discuss this in addressing one of Kirk's earlier posts?  Yes, here it is:
"What's interesting about Science is that is a self-correcting activity.  Think about it, science works, the explanations match the available evidence and when they can no longer do that, they get discarded.  That's the concept of being self-correcting.  When it doesn't work it gets kicked to the curb.  The road to an accepted scientific theory is littered with ideas and explanations that failed at some point.  Some of the possible reasons include Kirk's little diatribe.  When scientists are guilty of anything Kirk doesn't seem to like, their ideas end up among the discarded.  There is a level of actual scientific support required before ideas move forward, something ID proponents can't seem to reach."
So, another question for Kirk.  If we allow supernatural explanations in science, what are the methodologies to determine the success or failure of a supernatural explanation?   I didn't see anything in your post addressing this?  Did I miss something?  While you are a little entertaining, I have seen a common thread in your posts.  You like to whine, but have you offered one suggestion to improve science and scientific methodology?  Letting in the supernatural might give you a warm feeling, but will it improve science?

One last point, and one of my pet peeves, as you probably know.  Why is Kirk trying to throw religion into science and yet the DI, who are posting Kirk's mental meanderings, still insisting there is nothing religious about it?  I know, it should be glue by now, but until the DI comes clean about their motivations, I'll keep beating that dead horse!

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