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Scientism 2001: “Scientists have an intrinsic bias …”

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Robert Locke, “ Evolution Is In Trouble: What Should Conservatives Do About it?”, , Tuesday, August 21, 2001:

There is an intrinsic difficulty in debating evolution in that biology is a highly technical discipline in which the arguments of laymen can be attacked simply for the layman’s lack of expertise. But we cannot as a society turn this question entirely over to the scientists. Scientists are not reliable judges here because they have an intrinsic bias in that they are committed, by the very fact of their choice of profession, to defending the prestige and cultural standing of science. If evolution is the final word on the origin of life, science, and in particular biology, has a higher claim on our respect as human beings than if it is not. So do scientists and biologists. Therefore they have an incentive to exploit public ignorance to push a dubious theory whether it is true or not.

One also gets the sense, when debating this question with scientific types, that they feel that more is at stake. A lot of them seem to feel that science depends upon the a priori conviction that there are no metaphysical causes and that attacking evolution, because it raises the possibility of creation by a metaphysical being, i.e. God, opens the door for an uncontrollable flood of metaphysical nonsense as explanations for scientific phenomena. If logic allows Judeo-Christian biology, why not New Age chemistry? Why not Taoist quantum mechanics (as has been tried in books like The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu Li Masters)? They seem to feel that science will crumble if the door is not kept rigorously shut against all but purely physical explanations of phenomena. The problem with this view is that it is not really a defense of science, but of a particular and dubious version of the philosophy of science. Science, which claims to be empirical, cannot show a single experiment that proves that there is no metaphysical causation. I cannot even imagine what such an experiment would look like, and I challenge anyone who disagrees to tell me what empirical observation could prove otherwise. Naturally, the point is not entirely worthless, and promiscuous use of metaphysical explanations would clearly turn science into intellectual mush. It is fair enough to make the lesser claim that anything metaphysical isn’t science, but one cannot then go on and claim that all knowledge must be scientific. How could one prove that, particularly since a proof that science is everything cannot itself be scientific without begging the question? Repeat: an a priori ban on metaphysical causation isn’t science, it’s a philosophical dogma. There are interesting philosophical arguments for and against it, but we’re talking philosophy here, not science, and these arguments will have to stand on their own and cannot draw upon the vast credibility that science (rightly) enjoys with us as proof.

Actually, today we can say it in two words: Steve Pinker.  Scientism is just as prevalent and just as, er, popular today as it was back in the days of Scientism 2001.

Hat tip: Matthew Cochrane

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