History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Religionists muddle the question of purpose

December 29th, 2011 · No Comments

Article at Biologos on ‘scientism’, with commentary at
with commentary at

Whenever a religious writer gets into the discussion, distortion arises. Trying to make the case for extra-scientific forms of knowledge never works. The issue is to get results, and science often fails to get results because the ‘method’ isn’t really ‘science’ as genius level reason/intuition, but mechanical aping of science.
Reductionism is of course a principle issue, but with religious figures this means that some speculative metaphysics should be taken for granted.
The issue of purpose is apt. But it is important to be wary of religionists on teleology. They will always get it mixed up with theism, when the reality is that teleology would be better studied by atheists, or else, like Kant, disciplined theists who do not make mush of separate discourses.

I recomment a study of the eonic effect. Questions of purpose will confuse you, as depicted by theologians who use such things as indirect proofs of the existence of god.

Study the neutral eonic effect to see how a teleological system might work, the question of theology kept to one side.

The latest installment begins with a description of “scientism” taken from Hutchinson’s new book on the subject.

“Scientism says, or at least implicitly assumes, that rational knowledge is scientific, and everything else that claims that status of knowledge is just superstition, irrationality, emotion, or nonsense.” (Monopolizing Knowledge, page 1)

After briefly discussing “Clarity”, essentially meaning a scientific measurement of some unambiguous feature, an aspect that Hutchinson claims is characteristic of the knowledge gained from natural science, he finally provides (at long last – remember this is part three of his series) some examples in which knowledge is supposedly gained through non-scientific means.

“Consider the beauty of a sunset, the justice of a verdict, the compassion of a nurse, the drama of a play, the depth of a poem, the terror of a war, the excitement of a symphony, the significance of a history, the love of a woman.”

Or, perhaps, consider the lily?

Now that we’ve considered them, where exactly is the non-scientific knowledge we were promised and why does “scientism” constitute such a problem?

“Yes, a sunset can be described in terms of the spectral analysis of the light, the causes of the coloration arising from light scattering by particles and molecules, and their arrangement and gradient in the sky. But when all the scientific details of such a description are done, has that explained, or even conveyed, its beauty? Hardly. In fact it has missed the point.”

Hutchinson’s approach to his task is to link “scientism” to the idea of reductionism. He suggests that complex personal experiences—seeing beauty in a sunset, feeling love or appreciating great music or literature—require a type of contextual understanding that is quite separate from that produced from the kind of measurements that result in unambiguous and reproducible scientific knowledge.

“Removal of ambiguity destroys that significance, because ambiguity is at the very heart of their meaning. One cannot appreciate ambiguity unambiguously. Consequently, matters such as these cannot be encompassed scientifically.”

Rather than tackle the obvious question of whether one can appreciate unambiguous ambiguity unambiguously, Hutchinson highlights instead what he views as the inherent reductionism involved in “scientism”.

“A scientistic viewpoint very often adopts reductionism not just as a useful method, but as an inviolable principle.”

Hutchinson suggests that this type of approach cannot lead to an adequate understanding of complex systems.

“It is definitely helpful to analyze animal bodies in terms of their cells, but it is unhelpful, and fundamentally untrue, to conclude that if one completes such an analysis, then animals are demonstrated to be nothing but assemblies of cells.”

But animals ARE nothing but assemblies of cells – albeit very precise assemblies of specific types of cells that exist and function within their appropriate environment. The various genome projects, including that formerly headed by BioLogos founder Francis Collins, are based on the principle that reading the DNA code of an organism can allow us to understand or in some way ‘reconstruct’ them. Scientific investigation points us towards a conclusion that living organisms are the result of an interaction between those organism’s genes and their physical environments, a hugely complex interplay that forms the basis of much of modern biological research. What it doesn’t suggest, however, is the involvement of an additional factor that is distinct from genes and environment.

It is here that Hutchinson finds fault and he finishes this installment with a description of what he sees as a key failing in the scientific method – its inability to deal with Purpose.

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