Friday, March 12, 2010

Recovering Sight after Scientism

Seeing that scientism is unsustainable, we must embrace a return to philosophy. Here is the second article in a two-part series on scientism I wrote for Public Discourse.


  1. Edward,
    I am sorry to hear about your family crisis, I pray that it will pass.

    I read your critique of scientism via Public Discourse. It was heartening, and has whet my appetite for your book - it's on my wishlist.

    Forgive my discursive informality - My agreement with you may reduce confusio lignarum; my old, addled brain can't sustain scholastic polemics, so forgive my terseness.

    Scientism is both self-refuting and trivial. I'd rather substitute incomplete (in the Gödelian sense) for trivial, and qualify that by saying it's fatally incomplete. This seems to be the meta-property of all self-reflexive systems, empirical and rhetorical.

    I will argue that all of created reality, everything in the spheres of material and (human) idea, contains a caustic, self-negating quality, and that it is man's destiny to "master and possess" it by proper use of will, thereby offering a way out. Aristotle is a great starting point; early Christian Church Fathers (Macarius the Great, Maximos the Confessor, etc.) had much to add, and paradoxically, mathematics and good scientific observation provide astounding symmetries with theology and philosophy.

    I will argue that putting philosophy before theology is cart-before-horse, though that's not important here.

    Scientific observation and contemplation of certain phenomena are windows into the room that dialectics reside. These windows can be clearer than those of philosophy, without the dross of language, disagreement, and scholastic reductionism. Mathematics provides similar windows. Not to identify with Hegel too closely here, because we're still stuck in his room of mirrors.

    Especially exciting is the study of optical and mathematical caustics. I will argue for their analogues in dialectics, or any self-reflexive (or refractive) system as Gödel did. You state this problem as "self-refuting/trivial". If it's axiomatic, it's not complete, and vice versa. Analogous to this is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. The policeman stopped Heisenberg for speeding. "Do you know how fast you were going?" "No, but I know where I am." There still is no way out.

    The problem is that we live in a vector world, while our Creator is both scalar and vector. We used to think of it as Euclidean; now we call it Minkowski space-time, adding linear time, chronos, to the universe. The scalar property of time, kairos, is not that of yesterday then tomorrow. It is of the eternal now; it is not scalable, and is in fact, the only time that actually exists. Analogues are found in qualities of distance, location, temperature, charge, spin, etc. While of utility, these quanta are necessarily limitations in a limitless universe.

    The way out is, as the ancients found, through theology. But not just any theology. We may come to a solution by way of apophasis. Buddhism is ultimately self-reflexive, a nothingness, a non-theology. Zoroastrian monotheism leads to nihilism, Manichean dualism is anchorless and non-equilibrating. Gödelian theism is a vague retrograde of Spinoza's muddled panentheism (not that panentheism is muddled). A way out might be found in an analogue with thermodynamics' three laws.

    Entropy, enthalpy, and equilibrium might find their metaphors in the Holy Spirit, God the Father, and Jesus Christ, respectively. Christ is where the imminent meets the eminent, the uncreated meets created, the knowable meets unknowable. The mystery may lie in embracing all that Jesus Christ did, and, in so doing, become true scientists.

  2. I hope your family crisis ends well.

    I think the problem with scientism or naturalism is simpler than your take on it.

    When you argue with such a man, just give him his head with regards to himself. A lot of thinking regarding things like this will inevitably have an introspective component anyway so it's kind of the right thing to do.

    Next, point out that if his scientistic, naturalistic views are correct with regards to himself, then the only views or opinions that a creature like himself might have that actually could have anything to do with reality would be what he thinks regarding his sense experiences, his 'take' on what he saw/heard/smelled/tasted/touched might be sound, but his take on anything beyond that, like whether his scientistic views apply to other people, cannot have anything to do with reality at all. He thinks and says what he does with regards to his scientism merely because he is metaphorically programmed to do so, the truth or falsity of his scientism cannot ever come into play.

    Per the scientismist, taking him seriously means caring what he thinks.