Edward Feser on Scientism

Reading an article by Edward Feser titled “Scientia ad Absurdum” (published Nov. 2011) in which Feser reviews Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. Feser comments on scientism:

But why should anyone accept scientism in the first place? Rosenberg gives a single brazen non sequitur in its defense. The predictive power, explanatory range, and technological successes of physics, he says, far outstrip those of other purported sources of knowledge. And this, he concludes, shows that what physics tells us is real is all that is real. But this is like arguing that since metal detectors have had far greater success in finding coins in more places than any other method, metal detectors show that only coins exist.

I’ve considered this argument based on the explanatory power of science but never really had a good reply till now. Feser’s response is devastating and his analogy hits the nail on the head.

Science (as in the natural sciences) is certainly useful. That’s precisely why people use it! That doesn’t mean it’s useful for everything nor does it mean it’s the only method for gaining knowledge.

And as Gene Callahan points out, science has its own philosophical presuppositions:

The fact is that a [scientific] finding that “the brain and body function in a perfectly deterministic manner” would say nothing at all about free will. The world of science is an abstraction from the totality of experience, and, as such, does not speak of that totality, but only of its own, abstract world. But a statement such as “I have free will” is a statement about the totality of experience, and thus  is not impacted at all by any conclusion from the world of science. In fact, to reach a scientific conclusion such as “the body is perfectly deterministic” assumes free will: one has concluded x only when one could have concluded y instead: one must choose a conclusion. But for it to have been possible to have chosen one course but for another to have been chosen is just what “having free will” means. Free will is assumed by scientific reasoning, and, as such, certainly can’t be disproven by it.

Only philosophy tells us about reality unabated.

Photo Credit: Terry Hancock www.downunderobservatory.com via Compfight cc


Posted on September 3, 2013, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Hi, I am from Australia.
    Please find a congruent but also completely different Understanding of the baneful limitations of the ideology/paradigm of scientism in which we now all trapped, with NO exceptions including all the big-talking religionists who like to quote Aquinas and/or Aristotle.

  2. Feser’s analogy is misdirection. Philosophers have been using more than metal detectors in their search for what exists. It’s incumbent upon them to show their ‘detectors’ perform as well as the metal detectors. They have been completely free to do that. When they do find something other than coins, then Feser can drag out his analogy. Until then it’s speculation.

    • Doesn’t meaning and purpose, which science fails to explain and which Feser does lay out a positive explanation for elsewhere, count as “something other than coins”?

      Scientism also is not a weak claim like the one you are making. Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge. But with presuppositions such as the one Callahan points out, it’s clear this is not the case. There is “something other than coins” at the very foundations of science.

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