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?
- Science is not your Enemy: Steven Pinker (Cognitive scientist – atheist)
- Proposterous Universe : Sean Carrol (Physicist- atheist)
- Problems Defining “Scientism”: Maverick Philosopher (Philosopher – christian)
- On Pinker’s article: Maverick Philosopher
- Pinker debones the “Scientism” canard: Jerry Coyne (Biologist – atheist)
- Criticizing Pinker: Massimo Pigliucci (philosopher/biologist – atheist)