10 Defeaters of Scientism
Let me start this blog off by defining 3 terms for you. First is scientism, it is the belief that everything is discoverable through science. Second is physicalism, the belief that everything in existence has physical properties. Third is naturalism, the more common term, the belief that nature is all that exist, and there is no supernatural. It is apparent to me that these 3 terms scientism, physicalism, and naturalism are tied together. If 1 falls, then all 3 fall.
With those defined, let’s explore some of the logical consequences that would follow if these beliefs were true. First and most foundational is the cosmological issue. Naturalism would be incapable of starting itself. The best evidence and reasoning we have demonstrates that all of Nature came into existence at a certain point. Since nature can’t predate nature, it is impossible that nature is the cause of its own existence. Put briefly, if Nature needs a cause then Nature is not all that exists.
The second issue is with consciousness. It appears to be in infinite leap from non living to living. There is not a midway point between life and non-life, awareness and unawareness. No matter how high tech we have made computers, even giving them the capability to respond to verbal prompts, we have gotten no closer to causing them to have consciousness. Advances in science and adding information is completely separate from consciousness. So if the physical is all that exists there seems to be an impossible leap here.
The third issue is with rationality. Do we make free choices and decisions based on evidence and reasoning? Is the physical is all that exists? If so, then there is an unbroken chain of cause and effect stretching back infinitely far. It’s like a line of falling dominoes. Does a certain domino decide to fall or does the domino merely fall because of the laws of nature? I believe I am presenting a true dichotomy here when I say that it is either determined by physical law or by independent free choice. If our brain works the same way as a line of falling domino’s, only following physical laws, then we would not make any free independent choices to reason or choose in anyway. We would only act according to the prior physical cause.
The fourth issue is with the nature of information. The naturalist may say that information is physical because it is symbols, words, or some kind of visual auditory input. Are these symbols what information really is? Something does not become information when it’s put down in visual form or auditory form. The information predates the symbols otherwise there would be no reason to put it in symbolic form to share. The information reaches the conscious agent before it is put down on paper. It is information in the brain first. I realize this one is a bit abstract, but let me see if I can clarify. I have a page open in front of me, and in the back of the book there is a blank page. There is more information on this page than the blank page. Both pages weigh the same amount. Or take for example a blank jump drive. You would not be able to tell the difference between the jump drive being full of information and having no information. The weight does not change when information is added. Information does not carry any weight. At its root, information does not have physical properties. Information is a mental product and the brain does not change weight with added information. Information is the product of a mind. Information is not able to be weighed and therefore is non-physical. Therefore mental processes are not physical by nature. Scientism on the other hand would require a mass increase with the increase of information.
The fifth issue is with the nature of truth. Truth is discoverable and even the naturalist will assume this. But is this consistent with naturalism? I don’t think so. Naturalism only deals with what happens and cannot answer the question of why it happened or whether it could have happened differently. All we are are beings caught in a deceptive cycle of cause and effect. Truth would not be something we could reach for because we are only reacting helplessly to whatever physical causes are thrown our way. If scientism were true we shouldn’t be sure of the existence of anything but only thinking things are there based on reactions in the brain. Truth would be come whatever “fizzes” true in your brain. My brain fizzes this as true, another person’s brain fizzes a different way as true. And no amount of discussion could lead a person into a different brain fizz. A change of mind would mean a change in the physical makeup of the brain. Discussion would merely be the movement of air particles. This seems to be incapable of changing the physical makeup of the brain. It would be like a loud noise or a soft wind having the capability to drastically change your view of reality. Our ability to interpret information and seek truth is at odds with scientism.
This leads to the sixth issue, which is free will. What is free will? Isn’t it the ability to make a decision based on rational judgement. Free will implies that there are multiple possibilities, 1 of which you will select. If there are multiple possibilities then there is a chance that you would pick 1 of the other possibilities. However, if physicalism is true then decisions are physically based, based on physical law. Physical law does not have the ability to go contrary to the law. So any decision would be merely a physical law at work. When you hold a ball in the air and let go the ball does not have the options of whether to go sideways, up, or down. It will go down according to physical laws. Likewise free decisions that are only based on physical laws could not really be free if scientism were true.
The seventh issue with scientism is with emotions. If emotions are to be taken as meaningful (accurate indicators), then scientism cannot be true. If a naturalist falls in love the most they could say is that they like the way that being near the other person releases certain endorphins throughout the body. It does not really have to do with the connection with the other person, it has to do with whatever is released within the body. Emotions wouldn’t really have anything to do with outside needs or fulfillment, it would have to do with a lack or abundance of chemical substances in the body. A shot from a needle ought to be able to cure any emotional distress. “What happened? Your child died? You just need an increase of this substance in your body. All you really need is a shot from a needle.” This is obviously not the way people live with their emotions. Emotions taken as accurate indicators of a person’s state goes against the theory of scientism.
The eighth issue with scientism is with meaning. People generally assume and intrinsically know that we have meaning. But, given scientism, we are a chance product of a mindless universe. And if we want to assume that we have meaning, our meaning would have to be directly related to our physical makeup. We have x amount of mass, another person has 1 half x amount of mass, then the smaller person is worth half as much. Then, this wouldn’t just apply to people, it would apply to objects. A big object would be worth more then a small object. A big object would be worth more then a small person. Meaning could only be from the physical, since the physical is all that exists. Objectively, meaning would be according to size if meaning existed at all.
The ninth issue with scientism deals with morality. Going off the consequence that naturalism what appear to get rid of free will, then no moral action could be praiseworthy or punishable. Also, if we were to abuse somebody, then what moral wrong has really taken place? We would not have changed the physical makeup of the person all that much. In fact who’s to say the physical makeup hasn’t been benefited in the long run. Wait, who’s to say what a benefit is? Where is objective morality in naturalism? There would be no objective morality we could do no more then assign morals for ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we would be right. One person could decide the moral that rocks are more valuable than people. In their mind they ought to smash a person to pieces if that person smashes a rock to pieces. No naturalist could reasonably argue against this behavior.
The 10th issue with scientism is its self defeating endeavor. It claims that all things are discoverable by science. It says that if something is not discovered by science it can be brushed aside as foolishness or non-existent. This claim itself is not discoverable by science. Still to this day, there are not any scientific studies that explain why we should do science in the first place. At the core of scientism is a philosophy. It is built on something that it denies.
To summarize these: If scientism were true, scientism could not get started. If scientism were true, we could not be aware of it. If scientism were true there is no reason to consider it true. If scientism were true, there is no benefit to thinking it’s true. If scientism were true then scientism would not be “true”. If scientism were true then philosophy would be true and scientism would be untrue.
I have laid out 10 problems that ought to spell disaster for scientism, naturalism, and physicalism:
1. Cosmological (beginnings)
6. Free will
Of course, I believe all 10 are valid, but if any 1 of these stand then the theory is shown to be illogical and false. From here I believe we are left with a true dichotomy: that either physical nature is all there is or there is more then just physical nature. In other words either naturalism is true or supernaturalism is true. In this essay I do not even need to provide positive evidence for supernaturalism. I have shown the impossibility of the contrary, which alone proves supernaturalism.