Scientism & God: a meta-approach

Sean Carroll, over at Preposterous Universe, wonderfully critiques the word “scientism”.  Scientism has again popped up its ugly head due to a recent Steven Pinker article in the New Republic. But as I do often here on Triangulations, Carroll’s first reflex is not to accept the word as a real thing and then take sides, but instead, he gets behind the word “scientism”.  He does not defend or attack the word.  Nor does he seek a better definition.  Instead, he explores the various ways it is used. He then exposes how those who use the word often talk past each other. He does what I often do, he embrace the meta-conversation.

We forget the very nature of words and mistakenly argue about them as if they have some objective meaning. We get angry if people don’t accept our use of a word. We keep arguing with each other without realizing we use words differently. And we are often unaware of all the nuances and confusion behind our own words.

And so it is with the word “God” or “Supernatural” or “Freedom” or “Faith” …. the list goes on.  Instead of wasting our time defending or attacking abstractions, it is often more productive to address the more concrete, specific concept behind the words — and more importantly, how our minds use them.  Read Carroll, he says this all much better than I do — besides, you’ll learn something about “scientism”!

Question for readers:  Is “Scientism” a useful term? Why or why not? How would you improve it?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

2 responses to “Scientism & God: a meta-approach

  1. TWF

    I miss the link soup of version 1.0. 😉

    Funny, I haven’t bumped into “scientism” very often, but when I have, it’s been a pejorative used by people of faith against people without it, in the sense of “you claim to have no faith, but you do have faith; you have faith that science is the answer to all of our problems! See, you do have faith! Nana-nana-booboo!” The “ism” is just put there to align it with other religions. Given its fundamentally flawed inference, and my personal lack of hearing it often, I haven’t given it, or the banana-heads who use it, much more thought than I give to school-ground name-calling. 😉

    Perhaps in Pinker’s position, he is confronted with it more often, so adopting the term seems like a viable option, but I side with you and Carrol that its meaning is so nebulous as to be impractical for effective communication.

    Complicated concepts are not well suited for single-word label creation. I’d bet all the “bling” you could rest on J-Lo’s “bedonkadonk” continuing to use this Franken-word on either side of the fence will only serve as an hindrance of true understanding.

  2. LOL — yeah, well this is mainly a reference post for my own sake. I didn’t expect many comments and so just put the list of links in the end. But I am very glad you stopped in TWF.

    Yes, I have heard “scientism” used in the silly way you describe: desperate religious folks. However, I feel many atheists DO cling to the idea of “science” in very tell-tale religious ways. And, outside of religion circles, I see people buying into manipulative uses of the word “science” often. I see it strongly in medicine.

    But since the word is a manufactured abstraction, and has no definition to be discovered, it can lead to huge misunderstandings. Mainly people throw it around thinking they are being clearer than they actually are.

    Your last paragraph cracked me up!

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