At Catholic World Report today, Christopher Morrissey reviews philosopher Edward Feser’s new textbook on Scholastic metaphysics, discussing it by way of scientism.
I’d like to propose that we may distinguish between two types of scientism: a strong scientism, which holds that science alone is capable of attaining universal, reasonable knowledge—i.e., that only scientific knowledge is publicly and objectively trustworthy, and it is also capable in principle (if not in current fact) of explaining all that is knowable about reality.
Then, there is a second form of weak scientism, which holds that there is a lot more to reality than science can ever discover, but outside of science we can have only opinion, because only science produces true knowledge. Holders of this latter, weaker form of scientism may admit that there is much that lies beyond science’s purview, and that such “knowledge” is even necessary for a full human life, but it can only ever be a private, relative “knowledge”.
Strong scientism seems to be common among the most strident scientifically minded opponents of religion; the latter, more sympathetic position, is found more often amongst “skeptics”, who often tolerate or even embrace religion, but believe it lies entirely in the realm of personal intuition and feeling, not of intellectual investigation. It is even understandable, insofar as we so often find that judgments are presented with more certainty than the evidence for them warrants.
The error of both forms of scientism, however, is the same: science depends on an extrascientific, philosophical foundation. Science’s own trustworthiness and effectiveness cannot be scientifically demonstrated. To admit science means implicitly to admit philosophy, and from the principles that uphold science, more than just science can be demonstrated. For more on that, read the article at CWR.
On a similar note, and also at CWR, Fr. Robert Barron writes about God as an “imaginary friend”, a charge leveled against believers by atheists. He argues that God’s existence as discovered by reason shows that God is not “a being”, as so many criticism of theism mistakenly think. I read Fr. Barron’s article immediately after reading this one discussing experiments testing whether the universe may be considered, at a fundamental level, as being two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional, an idea known as the holographic principle. This hypothesis is now set to be tested by a laser interferometer at the Fermi National Laboratory. Setting aside a consderation of te theory itself, my point is this: just observing the interference patterns created by the interferometer means little without a theory to interpret those observations. Observations are, as they say, theory-laden (just as theories are laden with observations). We must, that is, understand our observations in light of chains of reasoning. The observations alone are not enough. If we can reason from observations to unseen structures, as is being proposed in this test of the holographic universe theory, then at the least whatever criticisms we may wish to make about arguing for God, it does not lie in the simple act of reasoning from the seen to the unseen.