"Scientism" - religion or philosophy?

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by SkinWalker, Jan 15, 2006.

  1. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    The topic of "scientism" keeps coming up in conversations with both those who criticize the rigorous demands of the scientific method as well as through a short monograph on the internet (Menton 1991) with the title, Carl Sagan: Prophet of Scientism.

    Interestingly enough, the term scientism exists among scholarly references and refers to the notion that science and the scientific method can be used to explain all that can be observed or experienced in the universe. This is consistent with logical positivism, which holds that there is an objectively knowable universe.

    However, a different use of scientism has been co-opted, which implies that there are those within science that are to be derided as extremists or, at the very least, alarmists who reject critical thought and reason by denying "both the special revelation of truth and the existence of a sovereign, supernatural and external being (Menton 1991)." The assumption here is that science generally accepts the supernatural and spiritual "revelations" as valid methods of obtaining truths.

    More often than not, the sources of these implications and assumptions originate with theistic proponents of creation mythology. Some, however, tactically avoid the direct association with creation and supernaturalism as if to provide plausible deniability if directly called on either to produce evidence or supporting references. It is, after all, difficult to logically prove that which cannot be tested, and the intellectual and educated theist wisely avoids this. The tactic, instead, appears to be to assert that there is a subculture called scientism, which is an amoral and extremist faction of real science.

    The overall thesis of this assertion seems to suggest that scientism as an extremist faction of science is somehow a danger to society, perhaps with its rampant atheism and certainly with its naturalistic and materialistic views of the universe.

    Menton's paper on the subject made Carl Sagan the focus of the anti-scientism movement (as it were). Menton accuses Sagan of being a "prophet" of scientism, which implies very clearly that the author believes this to be a new form of religion. Menton's opening paragraph makes the unsupported claim that Sagan's work consisted of "only a tissue of empirical science covering a great bulk of improvable speculation liberally laced with Sagan's own philosophical and religious views of life." Menton then states, very plainly, "Sagan's religion […] is 'scientism.'"

    Menton's article is short and falls even more short in delivering any support for either his claim that Sagan was a representative of a religion or that this religion of "scientism" actually exists. Menton's derision of Sagan's work goes little beyond merely stating that it is speculative and supported only be a "tissue of empiricism." He does, however, criticize Sagan's position (Cosmos 1996) that evolution is a fact and that it really happened. Menton is unconcerned with the enormous body of evidence that exists to support Sagan's assertion and seems only interested in attempting to negatively affect Sagan's credibility in the matters of science. In doing so, Menton invokes the words of Harlow Shapely, an apparent one-time professor of Sagan, who is alleged to have said, "some piously record, 'In the beginning, God,' but I say in the beginning hydrogen." Menton then vastly oversimplifies Shapely's contention by concluding that Shapely is suggesting hydrogen + time = H. sapiens as if the complex processes and mechanisms between hydrogen and civilization came about in a few days. I'm not sure what specific creationist beliefs Menton has, but it is interesting to note that he rejects the hypothesis that hydrogen, many billions of years, and untold energy can result in the universe as we know it. The irony is that he probably has little difficulty accepting that a mysterious, supernatural entity can speak the world into existence –complete with people in just a few days!

    Menton mines several quotes from Sagan's Cosmos, which he takes from their original contexts and juxtaposes with a new context –the one of an atheistic scientist attempting to convert the masses to become godless heathens. Menton's deception isn't very subtle. He quotes Sagan from a 1980 newspaper article as saying, "I feel in order to survive we someday must be able to give up our allegiance to our nation, our religion, our race and economic group and think of ourselves more as just a temporary form of life under the creation of a power beyond our comprehension." Menton cites the St. Louis Globe-Democrat as the source but immediately follows the quote with "Sagan concludes that if man is to worship anything greater than man himself, it should be something which amounts to the pagan worship of nature," to which Menton follows with another Sagan quote mined from Cosmos (p243): "Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish. And yet the Sun is an ordinary, even mediocre star. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars?"

    Perhaps Menton truly believes that Sagan's position was that the sun should be worshipped and that a pagan religion was necessary. But a look at page 242 of Cosmos (Sagan 1996) and reading on through 243 reveals the context of Sagan's words. The chapter these pages reside in is titled The Lives of Stars and Sagan is describing the power of a star on the community of planets from which one is lucky enough to be able to support life. He was noting that the power of the sun did not go unnoticed to man and the footnote that was attached to the quote was this: "The early Sumerian pictograph for god was an asterisk, the symbol of the stars. The Aztec word for god was Teotl, and its glyph was a representation of the Sun. The heavens were called the Teoatl, the godsea, the cosmic ocean." The very next paragraph that follows the quote begins with, "The Galaxy is an unexplored continent filled with exotic beings of stellar dimensions."

    Even Menton couldn't have missed the literary devices of metaphor and hyperbole which Sagan effectively utilized to convey the enormity and power that a star has, even a "mediocre" one such as our Sun.

    Menton was again disingenuous with Sagan's words when he quoted UFO's: A Scientific Debate (Sagan & Page 1972, p.xiv): "cience has itself become a kind of religion." Menton inserts the period that follows "religion" as if that is the end of the thought, leaving the reader with the impression that the "prophet of scientism" has spoke and the movement begun. But to add context and truth to the eight words quote-mined by Menton, it is important to note that "religion" is punctuated with a trailing comma and the sentence completes with, "and many pronouncements cloaked in scientific attire are blandly accepted by much of the public." Clearly Sagan and Page (the co-editor Menton so conveniently omits to credit) are providing an introduction to the thesis of the collection of articles to which they are the editors of in UFO's: that science must contain skepticism and critical thought in order to balance the pop-culture appeal that it has attained.

    What then is the purpose of criticizing notable figures of science with charges of "scientism" and of starting a "religion?"

    For the theistic apologetics of creationism and it's guise under the form of "intelligent" design, this question's answer lies in an agenda to justify beliefs and promote doubt among believers. Indeed, the much talked about "wedge strategy" dictates, among it's goals, to seed doubt among lay persons regarding the validity of the science behind evolutionary processes in order to further the creationist agenda.

    For the non-religious anti-science types that we've seen here (duendy, happeh, et al), the word "scientism" doubtlessly invokes the establishment that is out to keep "truth" from surfacing. I fail to see what the alleged gain would be, but it doesn't take much for the believer in ESP, mysticism, etc. to become frustrated with the demands of science to produce evidence for their claims. Btimsah has even started a thread in the pseudoscience subforum with the topic of "pathological skepticism" probably in response to his claims being repeatedly questioned. Duendy is well-known for deriding science and can be quoted as saying, "they mean that ANY insight, observations and reasoning NOT got from their dictatoring 'scientific method' is 'anathema'......and trhey will ridicule, be hostile to, slander etc etc those who DO speak of the alternative unexplanable interactions wit reality!"

    Scientism is the philosophical belief that the universe can be observed and explained using the scientific method and it's processes, such as the hypothetico-deductive method. Science, necessarily, excludes the mystical and the supernatural in arriving at explanations.

    Is there any disagreement with the above paragraph? If so, how could it be revised and why?


    Menton, D. N. (1991). Carl Sagan: Prophet of Scientism (Get the Facts). Retrieved 13106, from Missouri Association for Creation, Inc.: http://www.gennet.org/facts/sagan..
    Sagan, C. (1986). Broca's Brain. New York: Ballantine Books.
    Sagan, C. (1996). Cosmos. New York: Ballantine Books.
    Sagan, C., & Druyan, A. (1997). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine Books.
    Sagan, C., & Page, T. (1972). Introduction. In C. Sagan & T. Page (Eds.), Ufo's: A Scientific Debate (p. xiv). New York: W W Norton & Co Inc.
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  3. duendy Registered Senior Member

    haha...well for a start you are apppropriating tern 'scientism' to mean materialistic science. anymore and i will call your apporach 'sciencism' like i did first

    look Skin. can you not see this: that in your measureing frenzy--ie., you insistance that the criteria for 'proper evidence' is via scientific method, a your materialitic philosophy specifies how this measurement shall be conducted--you conneniently seem to ignore the analysis/measurement of the history of mythology. Though i do realize you claim to be an Anthropologist, yet your insihts do not gell with mine. for you are one ofthe most insstent scientific materialists here. very meticulous tho i must say. but this surely shows your passion FOR it.

    Skin.....yyou are both objective AND subjective. you seem to glorify objective meaurement yet denigrate subjective insight/awareness..........From where i am standing, what you are doing is re-pressing your Depth. Your subjective depth, and put all yo money on how andiof some thing, event cannot be measured.

    The limitations of your approach in contrast to 'ours':

    OK. someone comes to you and clams to havehad an unexplainable experience....could be seein a ghost, seeing a UFO, having an abduction experience, an OBE, NDE, etc etc.
    From my experience of you over the times here, more thanlikely you 'accuse' person of not really knowing theirown experience.........yeah?? so straiiightaway you are being condescending to them, patronizing--actig as tho ou know THEIR experince better than them. okay?

    now, when we look closer at what you are doing. the boes of it. we see you are operating from an unknown point of view! you really do NOT know what abc experience actually means. but you decide to DISMISS it as false UNTILL it can be measured

    now the very concept andpactive OF meaurement has grown up with science hasn't it. ie., measuring material/forces.
    Thatis reatively easy. to measure a rock, a cloud, water, fiarly easy. but what is the MIND? again and again i have pointed out to yo'll the ongoing philosophical problem which affects science of course. and it can be called the mind/body problem, the mind/brain problem and/or the hard problem. its cvalled 'hard' for that reason. it is very hard to MEASURE subjective consciousness if not impossible

    and i dont know if u agreee. you as an indivdual are BOTH objective and subjective....part 2 below
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  5. duendy Registered Senior Member

    part 2

    I have mntioned the Professor of Philosophy, Christian de Quincey many times before. In his book, Radical Nature, he explores that matter-energy is both objectie and subjective. ie., Nature is sentient, 'all the way down'..........tis would man that we are not a collection of 'hard objects' intersting mechanically (QM), bit rather share innrer awareness/consciousness which in certain deep states/dimensions this can be made actually aware of

    This also clears up the phony conflict between crationism and designer god. for ifit is understood that evolution is BOTH evolution AND intelligence, then who NEEDS an outside agaency?....tis is also the Taoist philosophical position

    as long as CONCEPTS 'spirit' and 'matter' are psychologically separated, then we tend to get ideologies supporting one side or anoter. so for example, Gnosticism, monotheism, Judaic Christian myth will side with 'spirit' and materialistic science with 'matter'

    what we NEED is to see through this false dichotomy/ this is URGENT!
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  7. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Quite the contrary. I simply don't look at mythology as being a factual record of human history. There are 'truths' in mythology that can be discerned from careful analysis, but there is much fantasy as well. Perhaps it would be easier for us to discuss if you picked a particular myth.

    But to all those who criticize science for being "materialist," I challenge to show what the other objective ways are of obtaining knowledge. If not observation, how?

    Since there is no evidence to support a "spirit" involved in nature, that leaves the matter and energy that can be observed. Philosophers wax poetic about spirituality etc all the time. The only thing that can be ultimately demonstrated is that the humans think abstractly and seek patterns and order and, in so doing, develop beliefs. Critical thought and reason temper these beliefs and abstract thought, providing the balance we need to think objectively about the world and make discovery.

    As to the 'false dichotomy' that exists between science and the spiritual, science is largely unconcerned with the beliefs of the those that subscribe to the supernatural and the mystic. I say 'largely' because there are those that scientifically study religion and belief, but chemists, biologists, physicists, etc could care less. There are many within the supernatural beliefs, however, that object greatly to science. Some fear that science will render their beliefs invalid (creationists), some are just pissed because critics of silliness like ESP and ghosts demand testable, reproducible, and verifiable evidence.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2006
  8. Laika Space Bitch Registered Senior Member

    If you're worried about the misappropriation of words, I would point out to you the indiscriminate use of scientific terms (such as 'quantum', 'vibration', 'energy', 'dimension', etc.) by scientifically illiterate people.
  9. duendy Registered Senior Member

    gfood you do. cause thatis askin an honest quetion, qithout judgin and affecting closure/cosed system of inquiry

    ok. lets go back to the person who ha hd an unexplinable event happen to them. how should one apporach tis? wit sensitivity, which ssumes subjectivity, rght? orrrr, like some here to immediately call them publicity seekers, liars, woo wo, whackos, mentallly ill, and other deerogatory accusations?
    i dont want that. i find it ofensive, even if not personally aimed at me.
    You sayt ypu want to measure. isn't that FIRST listening fully to what person says. to lookin at body language, tone of voice. to one's own responses to them?

    you dont approve of hypnotherapy do you? why?.......as in abduction cases, retrieved memories
  10. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Hypnotherapy, subjected to emprical study, has demonstrated that it is extremely unreliable in trying to determine events that have alleged to have transpired. Moreover, the subjects of hypnotherapy are demonstrably open to suggestion from the interviewer and pre-hypnotic assumptions. I don't approve of hypnosis as a means of determining what has occurred. It's probably great as a tool for smokers who want to be quitting.
  11. duendy Registered Senior Member

    doesn't tis denigrate the profession you limitings it value to quitting smoking?not tat that is a small ting. it just seems the convenient bringing in of derogatory attitudes yet agin
  12. RoyLennigan Registered Senior Member

    i agree with every statment fully up until here. i would not say that science excludes the supernatural, but rather shows its possibility as something more real and assumes that the supernatural is really just a natural force that is much more subltle.

    but that is exactly how science works. to the person developing the theory, it is true until proven wrong. to the person contending the theory, it is false until it has enough evidence and testing to virtually prove it right (it is impossible to completely prove something).

    if we submit to saying that we know nothing, and will never know anything for sure, then we get nowhere and we remain stagnant. but if we let ourselves make claims about the world around us, based on observations of the world around us, even if they are wrong, they allows us to learn and advance.
  13. duendy Registered Senior Member

    Fine. but errr alright we know sophisticated technology....many many dont, world is in trouble, whatnow??...is it learning bout techno or someting deeper's missin
    do i mean NOT use reason, logic, observe? no. i am saying that unexplianable phenomena are really chinks in thematerialist armour
  14. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Electricity from thunderstorms was once unexplainable. Hell, snow was once unexplainable. I contend that all phenomena are potentially explainable by objective observation. Science can explain all. That the human species will probably go extinct long before science is close to explaining everything is very probable. But the key word is potential.

    Moreover, just because something looks unexplainable (or significant to you) does not mean that there is a mystical or supernatural explanation.
  15. Mosheh Thezion Registered Senior Member

    The problem is that people are convinced that science contradicts religion...

    but that is only because science is dominated by secular atheists.. who want it that way....

  16. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Science is a process. If religion feels threatened, then it should adapt... evolve if you will. Science, as a process, seeks only to find out how and leaves the "why" questions to religion. That secular atheists and agnostics populate the disciplines of science says more about their critical thinking and reasoning skills than their desire to 'do in' religion.
  17. Mosheh Thezion Registered Senior Member

    do you study cosmology??? i do, in detail.

    and the facts are..... they know less than they pretend to know.

    they act as if they have all the answers... but in truth.. there are more questions than answers... but they dont promote these doubts...

    they promote their views and their genius.....

    that is a problem...

    and i agree.. religion can, AND SHOULD adapt... by studing science... as i do..

    as my church does... its fundamental.

    BUT HAVING DONE SO.. WE REALISE... science is our friend.. and can back up alot of our religious views... not shatter them.


  18. SkinWalker Archaeology / Anthropology Moderator

    Good for you.
  19. duendy Registered Senior Member

    the operative word is UN-EXPLAINABLE. yeah? Quantum Physicists do NOTunderstand quaqntum reality but they use it.......!

    i havve told u or someone i dont dig 'mystical' and 'supernatural'. tese terms come from dogmas tat have psychologically split 'spirit' from 'matter'----------we aren't doing that, but we are speaking abouy a D E P T H to reality your materialist one-sided philosophy cannot explain. why? cause you are lookin outta one eye
  20. Giambattista sssssssssssssssssssssssss sssss Valued Senior Member

    Umm, Duendy, is this the same philosophy that says only MAN-WOMAN sexual relations are natural? The ones that NATURALLY lead to procreation?

    Galileo had problems with the established "authority". Why wouldn't anyone else?
  21. duendy Registered Senior Member

    Galileo disentangled himself from the stifling confines of scriptural dogma--without understanding that that dogma was riddled wit cpontradictions. thus the formula he founded for discovering truth can only ever be half arsed
  22. shaman_ Registered Senior Member

    Do you think this is all that needs to be done to investigate what happened? Whatching body language?

    So you wont accept any empirical results because they came from materialists?
  23. Cross Registered Senior Member

    This is saying that "scientism" is a philosophy. Not sure I'm right about this, but I assume Science and Philosophy ought to be treated as distinct disciplines, like history and archeology. If that's right, then "scientism" as a concept is a contradictory hybrid. Apparently then too, it would be aimed at denying the role of philosophy itself, making all knowledge and insight the province of science.

    Off the top of my head, I'd have to say what distinguishes philosophy from science, is unaided reason. Philosophy ends where science picks up with the use of instruments of measurment.

    Scientism as a philosophy then would amount to eclipsing philosophy, as a perogative of science. Doing that is somewhat a religious act of faith, not a thing of reason.

    It's somewhat of a new word. I always thought that "scientism" meant just trying to explain everything by science, not just the use of reason to understand things, or to be objective. I'd disagree with scientism on the basis indicated above, that "science" begins with specific measurements, yet not all knowledge involves measurement. A philosophical abstraction omits all measurement regarding concretes, while science deals with concretes specifically, and while it may still draw abstractions like certain physical "laws", it garners those abstractions through experiments and measurement first.

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