Sunday, May 28, 2017

Reppert On the Scientism Bandwagon

Scientism has been a topic of considerable interest to me lately, mainly because I see it as a major battleground in the war on reason.  As with other monotheistic religions, Christianity has long been hostile to anything that would encroach on its ideology.  In a recognition of the logical absurdity of belief in the Christian mythos, Tertullian proclaimed that faith was incompatible with natural reason.  That attitude is still reflected today in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which places faith above reason as a matter of doctrine.  Most Christians today deny that they are opposed to reason, but when it comes down to matters of science or secular philosophy versus religion, there is no question that their sympathies lie on the side of faith.

While claiming that they have no problem with science, Christian religionists still reject the parts of science that disagree with their religious dogma.  But most of all, they reject a scientific way of thinking, which they see as an anathema.  Science must be kept within bounds, because if it proceeds without constraint from religious ideology, it will inevitably lead to the end of that ideology.  But rather than openly declaring war on science, modern religionists seek to marginalize those who advocate empiricism and a scientific way of thinking.  As we have witnessed in wars between states, the the people on the opposing side are demonized, and made to appear as sub-humans.

Is it fair to say that by labeling the scientifically-minded with "scientism", religionists are attempting to deprive them of humanity?  I think so.  We see over and over again the claims that scientism entails a rejection of empathy, of emotion, of aesthetics, humor, and even common sense.  Of course, none of these things are true, but this is a war of sorts.  It's a war being waged by religionists against those who favor a scientific epistemology over faith-based epistemologies.

Now we see Victor Reppert weighing in again, this time attacking philosopher Bertrand Russell.  Victor has taken a statement from Russell concerning his empiricist view of knowledge, combined with his views on same-sex marriage, and tries to show that by holding both views, Russell is incoherent.  This is the statement the Victor quotes:
While it is true that science cannot decide questions of value, that is because they cannot be intellectually decided at all, and lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood. Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know. - Bertrand Russell Religion and Science (1935)
This is an expression of his empiricist epistemology.  And like most empiricists, Russell agrees that values are not part of the realm of scientific knowledge.  At the same time, Russell was known to be an advocate for the rights of homosexuals, including same-sex marriage.  Here's a statement on his views about gay rights (not quoted by Victor):
Homosexuality between men, though not between women, is illegal in England, and it would be very difficult to present any argument for change of the law in this respect which would not itself be illegal on the ground of obscenity. And yet every person who has taken the trouble to study the subject knows that this law is the effect of a barbarous and ignorant superstition, in favour of which no rational argument of any sort or kind can be advanced. - Bertrand Russell Marriage and Morals (1929)
Victor sees an inherent conflict in these two views.  The problem is that if we can only know what is accessible through empirical means (or scientific methods, as Russell states it), then we can't know whether something is morally correct.  As Victor states it:
My claim is epistemological. Some people have a scientistic epistemology, but they also claim to know that we ought to allow same-sex couples to marry. That, I am arguing, is an incoherent position. - Reppert
On its face, it would seem that Victor is correct.  As empiricists, we can't know moral truths.  But that's not the real problem.  If Russell actually made a claim that he knows moral truths, Victor would have a point.  But I don't think he makes claims to that effect.  He does have his own moral opinions, as we all do.  Notice that he speaks in terms of making arguments for one position or the other.  He does not claim that his moral opinion is some God-given truth, as religionists do.  In fact, there is nothing at all incoherent about his position.

This points out the real problem that I alluded to before.  The religionist, in placing the de-humanizing label of "scientism" on Russell, seeks to deny his human right (or ability) to have moral opinions.  How arrogant.  Christians, of course, think that their own moral opinions are some kind of divine truth.  Despite the observable reality that there is no universal ethic revealed by God or known to us by any other means, they insist that their own moral opinions are absolute truth, and that all moral opinions must be claims of knowledge.  But that's not what empiricists think, and as a philosopher, Victor should know that.

What we have here is yet another case of faith-based beliefs overriding reason.  Victor chooses to ignore the words that he quoted from Russell - that values "lie outside the realm of truth and falsehood".  Instead the projects his own faith-based "knowledge" of moral values onto Russell, and then claim that he's incoherent for holding such views.  Unbelievable.  But it's all part of the war on reason being waged by religionists.


  1. Despite the observable reality that there is no universal ethic

    Really? I find this statement astounding, since I for one do observe that there is a universal ethic.

    Your declaration that something is "reality" does not make it so - especially when it is so easily refuted.

    (The refutation lies in your use of the term "observable". For your statement to be true, then there can be no observation to the contrary.)

    1. I observe that each person has his own sense of morality. There is definitely no universal agreement on what is right and wrong. It varies by culture, by time, and by individual circumstances. One would think that if God revealed moral truths to us, he'd tell us all the same thing. But clearly, that's not the case. Morality is a matter of opinion. It is a reflection of our values, which vary from person to person