Monday, April 4, 2016

The Prokop Challenge

There is an interesting conversation going on at Dangerous Idea regarding scientism.  The topic of the Reppert's post was Larmer's treatment methodological naturalism, which I discussed in my previous post.  Not surprisingly, the commentary has turned from naturalism to scientism in general.  And true to form, the theists can't help but drag out all their stale old tropes, stereotypes, and falsehoods about people who value science as a method of gaining objective knowledge.

As usual, Bob Prokop is quick to jump in and condemn anyone who dares to suggest that methodological naturalism has a sound basis in the empirical experience of mankind, notng the anecdotal experiences of people who have claimed to witness miracles, and then demanding the empiricist cite his own experience that proves these things are not real.  He doubles down with his unrealistic stereotyped view of scientism:
As long as people like Loftus insist on confining themselves to something called "science", then all their thoughts, all their reasoning, and all their conclusions will be circumscribed by the self-erected walls of their tight little prison. Nothing from the greater world outside the walls is allowed in. - Prokop
John Loftus made it clear that while science may not be the only means of obtaining knowledge, it is the tool of choice for matters of objective fact relating to the natural world:
my claim is that when it comes to the objective world of matters of fact, science is the only game in town for understanding the nature of nature and its workings. - Loftus 
This is typical of the views of scientifically-minded naturalists, and it obviously recognizes the fact of some kind of limitation on the kind of knowledge that is obtainable through science.  But that doesn't deter Bob from perpetuating his trope.  I have called him out on this very same issue before, but it's obvious that there are some kinds of knowledge to which Bob is absolutely impervious.  That includes anything that challenges his own limited religious worldview.

Prokop makes a ridiculous reductio ad absurdum that not only ignores the actual epistemological views views of naturalists, but tries to show that scientism is self-refuting, and would logically entail that the naturalist must be a practicing experimental scientist in order to have any knowledge at all.
By your own premises, if you're not actively pursuing scientific research, then you are not engaged in learning actual facts about anything (since you also claim that nature is "all there is"). So we can only conclude that you do not care about knowing anything at all. - Prokop
I've never heard any naturalist claim that there is nothing that can be known aside from the laws that govern the workings of the natural world.  Nor would they suggest that one must personally perform scientific experiments in order to possess any scientific knowledge.  Most of us agree that there is such a thing as education, and that we humans can and do share our knowledge and experience, particularly when the knowledge comes from credible sources and their experiences are well documented and verifiable.

But this seems to be Bob's way of defending the claims of those religious believers who claim to be witness to supernatural events.  Bob completely fails to distinguish between credible, verifiable, objective scientific knowledge and unbelievable, unverifiable, nonobjective, anecdotal stories told by people with a religious ideological agenda.  He wants to claim that learning science from a book is just an "appeal to authority".  Let me add that his learning about supernatural events from books is just an appeal to delusion.  If that's the choice, I'd rather appeal to authority.

Of course, Prokop is not the only one who plays this game.  One particularly obnoxious commenter who calls himself Mr. Green chimes in to echo Bob's reductio (remarking to Loftus):
Hm, interesting. Can you describe the experiment you performed to arrive at that conclusion, so I can reproduce it? - Mr. Green
Even Victor joins in the fun:
Scientism is self-refuting, since statements like "What science cannot discover, mankind cannot know" cannot be justified by scientific experimentation.  - Reppert
Victor is alluding to Bertrand Russell's Science and Ethics, from which he has taken this quote out of context.  Russell, too, recognizes that ethics does not encompass the same kind of knowledge as empirical science, and he uses the word "science" in this context in a broader sense that would encompass all kinds of empirically derived knowledge.  Furthermore, Russell has an understanding of epistemology, which Victor apparently lacks.

What these guys all seem to have in common is an overly narrow view of what in encompassed by "science", and an unrealistic denial that naturalists can recognize any other kind of knowledge.  This straw man of scientism is coupled with the belief that a miracle story told by any deluded religious believer who had some kind of subjective religious experience is just as credible as objective, documented, peer-reviewed, verifiable scientific knowledge.  This is not an attack on scientism.  It amounts to a frontal attack on epistemology.  It denies the value of having suitable justification for belief.  But after all, lack of epistemic justification is the essence of their faith.

Bob goes on to issue a challenge to all who value science, including me:
to please state their own scientific credentials, what research have they themselves conducted, what projects are they involved with right now, and what precisely have they learned about the world from them. Since by their own assertions, no one can learn anything about anything ("there is no alternative") other than by "science", then only scientists can claim to know anything at all. - Prokop
I'll answer that by informing Bob once again that we do benefit from the knowledge gained through credible sources.  And no matter what our own academic credentials are, we must rely upon those credible sources, or we would all be forced to replicate all the scientific work, and all the historical analysis, and any other scholarly research that has ever been done.

But that being the case, I have no reason to listen to a single word you say, since you, Bob, are certainly not a credible source.  If you want people like me to believe what you say about history, for instance, please show us your PhD in history.  If you want to make any claims about God, show me your PhD in theology.  And if you want to make any claims about science or scientism, or anything at all for that matter, show me your credentials, or those statements are nothing but hot air.  Show me that you have any justification for opening your mouth.  Otherwise, what possible reason would I have to listen to anything that you have to say?


  1. Poor old Bob knows he's on a loser. And there is nothing he can do to change that. The realization that Catholic religious belief is founded on nothing more than our primitive persistent predilection towards ascribing supernatural superstition to things unknown and things unseen, and that his life-long commitment to it, is simply too bitter a pill to swallow and a reality check too daunting to conceive. That's why he fights so hard to 'keep up' appearances that it means something in his life. Not just any christian religious belief system will suit, mind you, but only the old bedraggled jacket of Catholicism is the most comfortable.

    Theism or scientism? Scientism or theism? That's the dichotomy between the old and the new explanatory models. Scientism is largely in the process of replacing Theism as the explanatory system that best accords with the evidence and reality of the world we live in.

    In the main, any balanced reading and understanding of the philosophical concept of scientism, shows that such a perspective is vested with more plusses than minuses. Indeed scientism beats theism hands down as a cogent, comprehensive and epistemologically sound explanatory system. Science works.

    Only the deeply indoctrinated religiose beg to differ. But that was always to be expected.

    1. Scientism, if properly understood, is obviously superior, from an epistemological perspective, to religionism (a term I use here because Bob doesn't like to be labeled as a theist).

      Bob loves to depict people who respect the value of science as living inside a box. What he doesn't understand is the he can look up or down, left or right, front or back, and he always sees the same thing, namely God, but we're able to see beyond the confines of that narrow worldview. There's so much more to the world than what he sees - so much to learn about and experience. He's afraid of it. And that makes him contemptuous of those of us who aren't.