Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Blind Faith in Science

Creation of Adam by M.Angelo
Science has contributed myriad of amazing and wonderful benefits to human life.  Due to wonders, there is often a tendency to think that science can explain everything and leaning to a notion that anything outside of this is only a matter of personal belief and opinion, as if they view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge.

Here’s how Fr. Robert Barron explained it based on his observation:

The sciences - and their attendant technologies - have been so massively successful that people have come, understandably enough, to see the scientific way of knowing as the only epistemological path. 

Time and again, my conversation partners on YouTube urge me to admit that the only valid form of truth is that which comes as a result of the scientific method […]

Not only him who observes this, I myself who is active in engaging a dialogue with atheists in FB Forums saw a lot of people (Atheists) who had same notion as describe above, giving much faith to science, as if there is no rational, objective form of inquiry aside from it (science) telling us that we should not believe any proposition that cannot be scientifically proven.

But what about that very proposition itself? Prof. Edward Feser a former Atheist who by reason and philosophy as said, came to become a Catholic, succinctly laid a profound answer:

The moment they attempt to defend it, they will have effectively refuted it, for Scientism or positivism is itself a metaphysical position that could only be justified by using metaphysical arguments.

(a) Scientism is unscientific

Scientism is the view that “Science is the only way to really know truth” or only things that are”scientific” are true.

As Prof. Feser once said, how could you prove this statement as true using scientific test? Well, despite its adherents' pose of rationality, there is no scientific experiment to prove that scientific knowledge is the only true knowledge. Scientism itself is unscientific! A premise not something that can be established using scientific methods (or using its own standard) Thus it is a self-refuting premise!

Here’s how it goes: with their own premise: that we should not believe any proposition that cannot be scientifically proven, and it cannot itself be scientifically proven therefore we should not believe it. Scientism thus defeats itself.

(b) Science -the study of “physical” realities

It can only claim true theoretical knowledge in so far as a thing is "physical" and is "measurable". 
I keep on saying this every time I’m with the discussion of the existence of metaphysical reality to atheist person that I am dealing with, and yet it appears as if he compelled himself to ignore the epistemological differences between scientific boundaries and the province of metaphysics.

Let’s go back to Prof. Feser’s brilliant analogy when he criticizes Atheist Alex Rosenberg; Prof. Feser laid the basic argument of Mr. Rosenberg into two:

1. The predictive power and technological applications of physics are unparalleled by those of any other purported source of knowledge.

2. Therefore what physics reveals to us is all that is real.

Then he compares and demonstrates it to the following metal detector argument:

1. Metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins and other metallic objects in more places than any other method has.

2. Therefore what metal detectors reveal to us (coins and other metallic objects) is all that is real.

And here’s the problem as seen by Prof. Feser with the metal detector argument:

Metal detectors are keyed to those aspects of the natural world susceptible of detection via electromagnetic means (or whatever).  But however well they perform this task — indeed, even if they succeeded on every single occasion they were deployed — it simply wouldn’t follow for a moment that there are no aspects of the natural world other than the ones they are sensitive to.

[…] Similarly, what physics does — and there is no doubt that it does it brilliantly — is to capture those aspects of the natural world susceptible of the mathematical modeling that makes precise prediction and technological application possible.  But here too, it simply doesn’t follow for a moment that there are no other aspects of the natural world.

But Mr. Rosenberg responded,

“Scientism” is the pejorative label given to our positive view by those who really want to have their theistic cake and dine at the table of science’s bounties, too.  Opponents of scientism would never charge their cardiologists or auto mechanics or software engineers with “scientism” when their health, travel plans, or Web surfing are in danger.  But just try subjecting their nonscientific mores and norms, their music or metaphysics, their literary theories or politics to scientific scrutiny.  The immediate response of outraged humane letters is “scientism.”

And as usual, Prof. Feser swiftly rebutted what Mr. Rosenberg assert,

According to Rosenberg, then, unless you agree that science is the only genuine source of knowledge, you cannot consistently believe that it gives us any genuine knowledge.  This is about as plausible as saying that unless you think metal detectors alone can detect physical objects, then you cannot consistently believe that they detect any physical objects at all.

So using with his metal detector analogy, Prof. Feser offers the Metallicist’s Guide to Reality,

“Metallicism” is the pejorative label given to our positive view by those who really want to have their stone, water, wood, and plastic cakes and dine at the table of metallic bounties, too.  Opponents of metallicism would never charge their metal detector-owning friends with “metallicism” when they need help finding lost car keys or loose change in the sofa.  But just try subjecting their nonmetallic mores and norms, their music or metaphysics, their literary theories or politics to metallurgical scrutiny.  The immediate response of outraged humane letters is “metallicism.”

Those beholden to scientism are bound to protest that the analogy is no good, on the grounds that metal detectors detect only part of reality while physics detects the whole of it.  But such a reply would simply beg the question once again, for whether physics really does describe the whole of reality is precisely what is at issue.

[…] One hears this stupid non sequitur over and over and over again when arguing with New Atheist types.  It is implicit every time some Internet Infidel asks triumphantly: “Where are the predictive successes and technological applications of philosophy or theology?”  This is about as impressive as our fictional “metallicist” smugly demanding: “Where are the metal-detecting successes of gardening, cooking, and painting?” — and then high-fiving his fellow metallicists when we are unable to offer any examples, thinking that he has established that plants, food, works of art, and indeed anything non-metallic are all non-existent.

For why on earth should we believe that only methods capable of detecting metals give us genuine access to reality?  And why on earth should we believe that if something is real, then it must be susceptible of the mathematically precise prediction and technological application characteristic of physics?  I submit that there is no answer to this question that doesn’t beg the question.

(c) Science cannot make a distinction between what is right and what is not.

Let’s posit to the presupposition of Atheist, that all truths were scientific truth. Now, like philosopher Peter Levine (know who he is by clicking here) ask a profound intriguing question that:

[I]if all truths were scientific truths, we would be in deep trouble. We would then reject  any claims that science cannot support. For example, do all human beings have equal value or worth? Either that makes no scientific sense (because objective or intrinsic value is not a scientific idea), or it is manifestly false, because science translates “value” into something like capacity or functioning, and then it is obvious that not all humans are equal. A hospice patient has nothing like as much capacity, potential, flourishing, or significance as, say, Mitt Romney.

Human equality is just one example of a truth that we would have to jettison if all truths were scientific. All other moral assertions would also have to go.

It is evident now that this will regard a person as a complex biological machines like with all the other objects in the universe. A tendency towards what Pol Pot did: "Since he is of no use anymore, there is no gain if he lives and no loss if he dies"

(d) Science - it knows nothing about aesthetic value

Consider the experience of seeing a beautiful painting hanging on the wall. We can directly experience the beauty of the painting. But can any scientific experiment measure that beauty?
This will lead them to another dilemma as describe by Prof Douglas Mcmanaman:

Scientism is also reductionistic. The problem with reductionism as it is applied to the human mind is that it eliminates the mind.

[...] A final difficulty with reductionistic scientism is the following: I perceive an apple, and I see that it is large, solid, of a certain size, weight, and position in space, etc. But the apple's quantifiable aspects – which alone are objective and real, according to scientism – are perceived by methrough my perception of the apple's qualities, that is, its color, texture, in short, sense qualities. If my perception of these qualities is mere projection, thus appearance, that is, if the qualities are nothing other than objective neurological activity, then my perception of the thing's quantifiable aspects (size, shape, position in space, weight, etc.) is mere appearance as well. Hence, there is no objective world at all. To be is to be perceived. The world exists only when I perceive it.

And so, reductionistic scientism leads to the conclusion that there is ultimately no mind, and at the same time, there is no objective world outside the mind. The world is inside the mind, and yet there is no mind in which the world can exist. Ultimately, nothing exists.

In the end Fr. Barron is correct when he pointed out by saying:

I customarily respond that the scientific method is effective indeed when investigating empirical phenomena but that it is useless when it comes to questions of a more philosophical nature, such as the determination of the morally right and wrong, the assessment of something’s aesthetic value, or the settling of the question why there is something rather than nothing.

Suggested article:
Why Scientism is False by Prof. Douglas Mcmanaman

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