Scientism & the Epistemic Limitations of Science.


I am critical of the worldview of scientism, the view that science is the only reliable way to know truth, or anything about reality. It is often a view held by the non-religious, and it is one I wish to challenge again.

Because scientific consensus frequently changes this limits its epistemological authority. This means that often the scientist’s claims to knowledge about the universe can be questioned. However, this is not surprisingly for science is progressive natured; namely, that it is self-correcting the further scientists advance in knowledge of the physical universe. This is significant point for it suggests that science (and scientists) makes errors in the first place. As a result of this one may well be in her right to ask:

“How much of science can we actually trust? Could there be errors in current scientific consensus?”

To which one could reply that there are almost certainly, undoubtedly errors in consensus. There needs to be those errors for science to progress. Consider phrenology. Phrenology was, at a time (from about 1810 until 1840), one of the most popular and well-studied branches of neuroscience. It was believed that a person’s character traits (intelligence, aggression, creativity etc.) were all confined to very specific parts of the brain. As a result the bigger a certain part of a person’s brain was the more likely they were to behave in a certain way. Today it is largely obsolete and viewed as a fringe science. This same analogy can be applied to other once popular scientific theories that have now been rendered obsolete, for example, Einstein’s Static Universe theory in cosmology, Maternal Impression in biology, or the Blank State Theory in psychology.

What this suggests is that if this is a true diagnosis then how might it apply to contemporary scientific theories such as, for example, evolutionary or big bang theory etc.? It is not my purpose to knock any one theory but to instead prove a point (hence one should refer to a widely accepted and generally known theory). What theory may be of consensus now could look overwhelming different in 100 or 200 years time (it may even end up being totally rejected).

Thus this is my challenge to those who put far too much emphasis on science itself, as if it is the sole arbiter of truth (adherents of scientism). I believe science is momentously useful, but a limited, fallible tool too. In other words, to believe solely in science while rejecting other avenues of knowledge is not only limited but it is also basing belief on often changing grounds, as history clearly proves.

So, for those who hold to scientism, I’d like to question: “How rationally justified is a worldview based on grounds that often change, or could even look entirely different in the future? How can one ever be certain of what she believes?”

I believe it is inconsistent if she replies that “that is the beauty of my worldview. I am open to adjusting my worldview on evidence.” This already assumes that new evidence is trustworthy. However, that new evidence will highly likely end up being rejected, or revised. Her worldview then becomes a perpetual cycle of uncertainty; a worldview that is thus not a rational one to hold. Don’t hear what I am not saying: I am not suggesting that we should deny new evidence or not have our own worldviews adjust according to that new evidence (it would be irresponsible & irrational not to do so); instead, I argue against basing an entire worldview on scientific theories that will continue to be revised and changed the further we progress in knowledge (as adherents of scientism do).

So, not only is scientism limited (refer to my linked article) but it is also uncertain. It thus cannot be a rational worldview.

Let me know your thoughts!

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