Evaluating Scientism: Is Science The Only Way to Truth?
More fundamentally, science observes reality through the lens of subject-object dualism thus fragmenting its vision of whole reality at its very genesis. Mugees Ul Kaiser stresses, 'Note that even though being dualist in nature, science overtime has completely neglected the subject as Husserl noted.'
The splendor of science and scientific achievements has cast its spell on modern civilization, penetrating its way deep into modern mentality. Although the achievements of science cannot be belittled or negated in any way but the glamour associated has gradually developed into a philosophy of Scientism which is problematic. Captivated by the speedy and substantial progress of science, the modern mentality under scientism assumes science to be “enough in itself and the only way to unfold Truth”. But we will see in fact the reality is far from it.
The notion of scientism is self-defeating because the claim that ‘science is the only way to Truth’ itself cannot be proven scientifically/empirically. It is more of an inductive belief or conviction. Moreover, the lenses which science puts on to observe nature, are composed of certain foundational (apriori) assumptions/axioms which are taken for granted without any scientific/empirical proofs. Notions like Reality and its out-worldliness, subject-object dualism, causal relations, mathematics, etc. are some of the examples. No science is, therefore, philosophically innocent. It cannot emanate from an intellectual vacuum.
The idea that science is purely empirical and objective is a misconception. The participation of human subjects in accessing reality (recognition of Kant’s a priori grids) exposes the intrusion of subjectivity into supposedly objective natural sciences. Obsessive objectivism neglecting the subjective intervention will not do it. Dualism is an issue and science cannot just take it out of existence. We shall make another reference to this point in a moment. The Scientific Theories are not simply given to us by “raw data” as it were but rather data passes through our mental interpretation as noted by Hilary Putnam. The idea that scientists appraise data objectively as empty vessels are incorrect. There are antecedent conceptual factors that determine their whole subsequent work. Data collection and interpretation is inevitably affected by antecedent theoretical presuppositions. Similarly, Thomas Kuhn explained that individual scientific theories are part of much larger conceptual paradigms that shape and define them. He outlines two main phases of Scientific activity. Under normal standard science where we have a main theory say for e.g. Darwinian Evolution, any new data collected will be appraised through the lens/paradigm of Evolution. Then slowly and maturely minor anomalies within the theory begin to pool together till we get to a point where we reject the standard theory altogether, this Kuhn calls a “scientific revolution”.
Therefore under normal “usual” science, all data collection and interpretation are informed by and filtered through the specific “paradigm” of the time in place.
These lenses therefore naturally define, confine and thus limit science’s vision of reality. It is through these lenses that science observes nature. The point is that these foundational categories are merely instrumental that ease our observation of nature. But the assumption that these limited sets of ‘categories of understanding’ completely exhaust nature is unfounded and absolutely uncalled for. This dogmatic belief in finality and exclusivity of scientific vision of reality is actually a result of extreme Anthropocentrism. Science is a description of the world as we humans perceive it. Our particular mode of perception and understanding does not exhaust nature. Science like any other human enterprise is a mental construct superimposed on Reality. Under this construct, Reality reveals itself through the categories of quantity, matter, minerals, resources, etc. No Human construct exhausts Reality inside out. Science projects certain categories of thought on the patterns and regularities we observe in nature. Any scientific understanding rests on the “belief” that future events are going to concur and behave exactly like the past.
Verification, Falsification and repeatability provide nothing but working models of the experience of the world we have. Classical mechanics through testable and verifiable does not encompass whole reality. Moreover on verifiability scientists simply parrot the language of logical positivism which has long been appraised. This is yet another example of why scientists need to study philosophy. The statement that “true statements should and need to be verifiable” itself cannot be tested or verified. It is as good as any arbitrary statement or method.
Science is just “one way” of looking at “certain” aspects of reality and hence lacks holism. Science comprehends Reality piecemeal but man as a rational being seeks a holistic understanding of the whole Reality. Science is always compartmental and this nature of science is getting more amplified with the trend towards specialization. As Allama Iqbal notes in his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam; “we must not forget that what is called science is not a single systemic view of reality. It is a mass of sectional views of reality- fragments of a total experience which do not seem to fit together.” Elsewhere Iqbal says that it is pure dogmatism on the part of science to assume that the spatial aspect of man that it has selected for its study is the only aspect of human existence. There are normative values (how should I act), existential meanings, qualities, teleology/purpose, the pursuit of Truth (which is inadequately defended by Darwinian evolution because all quest for knowledge cannot be explained away by survival instinct theory) and other aspects which transcend scientific study. Science catches hold of one aspect of reality and specializes in that. Scientism is a dogmatic denial of this plain simple truth. Science by its very nature is “analytic”. It pulverizes stuff into individual units to understand it. It cannot taste the sense of the whole. Quality of red color for example in itself cannot be appreciated with the scientific lens because it only knows a certain number of Angstroms or a particular wavelength. A flower crushed into pieces mathematically/quantitatively is still a flower but the quality of a flower as we know it is gone. In the same light, physics is restricted within the calculations of quantities, it has no clue what phenomenon means in actuality.
Let’s go further than this. Why do we do science? What is the fun of it? “It has benefits” well what are the fun of benefits? What is the fun of life? Why live? Science and scientific rationalism have to be nihilistically characterized by arbitrariness. It lacks a fundamental ontology or reference point. Everything is therefore nonsense and unimportant in the ultimate analysis. Nothing is better than something else. A science popularizer who passionately “preaches” that we should all do science because it is good, is making a fool out of himself.
More fundamentally, science observes reality through the lens of subject-object dualism thus fragmenting its vision of whole reality at its very genesis. Note that even though being dualist in nature, science overtime has completely neglected the subject as Husserl noted. We know more about distant galaxies than our own consciousness. The mind is not directly apprehended (as Buddhists or mystics do, they are laughed away in ridicule); science on the other hand studies mind indirectly; either in relation to behavior or mental correlates. All this long science has been taking measurements but is completely oblivious of the observer who is taking the measurements. Trying to trace consciousness in atoms (i.e.; objectifying even the subject) is again missing the point because there still is the observer here doing the measurement? This sheer objectivism is science’s enduring nightmare.
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