Notes From Babel

How "Scienceism" Hides the Ball

with one comment

I have been trying to find time to formulate a position on the schism between the “religious right” and, well, what is now apparently called the “Secular Right.” Although there are several posts on that site that raise familiar frustrating issues for me with “scienceism,” Heather MacDonald has this post that prompted a comment from me, which I thought I’d post here:

Ms. MacDonald,

The trouble with attacking paradigms is that of finding common ground to do so. Various religions of course attack the validity of other religions, and when they do so, they start by finding the common threads between them. Mormons are a great target for Christians, for example, because Mormonism purports to share all the same presuppositions, but then purports to add a whole slew of additional tenets. This is easy pickings for Christians, who will say that the New Testament, which both religions share, specifically forbids this. (I’ve been a bad student of the Bible the past several years, so forgive the lack of a citation.)

The problem with your meta-attack (i.e., an attack on sectarian attacks) is your incorrect assumption of neutrality. I find this to be the most frustrating aspect of secularists — they believe by disavowing religion, they take a paradigm-neutral position by suggesting that science is the only necessary and sufficient common ground allowed. But as David Hume (the pudgy dead Scotish one, not the blogger on this site) showed, science doesn’t come out of the box ready to use. It requires certain extra-empirical preconditions. Nor is it readily apparent that we can talk about things like morality and teleology without laying out your views on what things like “human flourishing” means, what “the good life” entails, and so on.

Religionists have their own internal problems, but at least they give us an instant sense of their presuppositions. We don’t get that with secularists [or “science-ists”], as they tend to take a “shopping cart” approach to values and preconditions of science and rationality and intelligibility. (E.g., “since science requires induction, and I cannot observe induction empirically, and I really really want to use science, I will just assume the uniformity of nature and that the future will resemble the past.”)

This may be fine for most purposes, but secularists ought to be honest about it. Before attacking someone else’s paradigm, then, a secularist ought to first put the terms of his or her own on the table in a philosophically cogent way.


Written by Tim Kowal

December 4, 2008 at 6:09 am

One Response

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