|Rosenberg's Empirical Scientism and Empirical Naturalism|
Fri, 30 Sep 2011 14:52:43 +0000
Alex Rosenberg in his new book "The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions", in his article for the New York Times and in the article "The Disenchanted Naturalist's Guide to Reality" writes to defend scientism and naturalism. There are of course different varieties of naturalism, for example neo-Aristotelian naturalism, Scholastic naturalism, methodological naturalism etc. So too for scientism. The way Alex Rosenberg describes his naturalism and scientism seems to imply a sort of Empirical Scientism and Empirical Naturalism whereby all knowledge is limited to the empirical sciences.
In his article to the New York Rosenberg defines his naturalism as:
Naturalism is the philosophical theory that treats science as our most reliable source of knowledge and scientific method as the most effective route to knowledge.
The term "science" appears to be used in this context to refer solely to the empirical physical sciences and NOT the other more general sciences such as logic, philosophy or metaphysics as previously discussed.
Rosenberg goes through great lengths in his book to clearly state what he means by "scientism". For example:
Let's expropriate the epithet. In the pages that follow, we won't use the label 'Bright' as a variant on atheist. But we'll call the worldview that all us atheists (and even some agnostics) share 'scientism.' This is the conviction that the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything; that science's description of the world is correct in its fundamentals; and that when 'complete,' what science tells us will not be surprisingly different from what it tells us today. We'll often use the adjective 'scientistic' in referring to the approaches, theories, methods, and descriptions of the nature of reality that all the sciences share. Science provides all the significant truths about reality, and knowing such truths is what real understanding is all about.
Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 300-305). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Scientism starts by taking physics seriously as the basic description of reality. Fortunately, we don't need to know much physics to answer our unrelenting questions. Even more fortunately, what we do need is relatively easy to understand and not at any risk of being overturned by future discoveries in physics. The slogan of Chapter 2, that the physical facts fix all the facts, will get repeated throughout the rest of the tour.
First, we see how these facts determine the biological ones, and then through biology, how physics fixes the rest of the facts about us.
Taking physics seriously has the surprising consequence that you have to accept Darwin's theory of natural selection as the only possible way that the appearance of purpose, design, or intelligence could have emerged anywhere in the universe. We'll see exactly why this is so and what this means for the persistent questions about the meaning of life in Chapters 3 and 4.
Scientism dictates a thoroughly Darwinian understanding of humans and of our evolution'-biological and cultural. But that does not in any way commit us to thinking about human nature or human culture as hardwired, or in our genes. It does mean that when it comes to ethics, morality, and value, we have to embrace an unpopular position that will strike many people as immoral as well as impious. So be it. Chapter 6 takes the sting out of the charge, however, without denying its basic accuracy. If you are going to be scientistic, you will have to be comfortable with a certain amount of nihilism. But as we'll see, it's a nice sort of nihilism.
Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 475-489). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
IF WE'RE GOING TO BE SCIENTISTIC, THEN WE HAVE to attain our view of reality from what physics tells us about it. Actually, we'll have to do more than that: we'll have to embrace physics as the whole truth about reality.
Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 511-513). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Rosenberg also appears to link physics to a kind of mechanistic-cum-atomistic (MCA) view of matter. The core components of a MCA view of matter can be summed up as follows: 1) Homogeneous and of the same nature and only distinguished by quantitative differences of size, shape, mass, spin, tension (string theory) and motion. 2) Having no intrinsic finality or goal-directedness. 3) At the fundamental level has no conscious activity. 4) In ancient Greek atomism there are two fundamental principles, atoms (Greek = tomos) and the void. These are analogous to todays "fundamental particles" and "empty space-time" respectively. 5) All change is described in terms of the arrangement and rearrangement of these fundamental principles.
The basic things everything is made up of are fermions and bosons. That's it. Perhaps you thought the basic stuff was electrons, protons, neutrons, and maybe quarks. Besides those particles, there are also leptons, neutrinos, muons, tauons, gluons, photons, and probably a lot more elementary particles that make up stuff. But all these elementary particles come in only one of two kinds. Some of them are fermions; the rest are bosons. There is no third kind of subatomic particle. And everything is made up of these two kinds of things. Roughly speaking, fermions are what matter is composed of, while bosons are what fields of force are made of. Fermions and bosons. All the processes in the universe, from atomic to bodily to mental, are purely physical processes involving fermions and bosons interacting with one another.
Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 523-530). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
So Rosenberg seems to endorse and assume some sort of MCA which of course is a metaphysical view not an empirical one. The logic and rationality of this view cannot be determined empirically. Aristotelian metaphysics is perfectly compatible with modern physics (and vise versa) so Rosenberg has to at least make an argument for why his particular metaphysical thesis is logically and rationally supportable. However, since Rosenberg's scientism and naturalism appears to limit all knowledge to empirical sciences it is also logically impossible to ever know whether such a position can ever be rational or irrational or logical or illogical. Pure blind faith that cannot in principle be logically grounded in reason (as opposed to how faith is normally understood) appears to support Rosenberg's metaphysical view.
Rosenberg also seems to endorse Darwin's view of natural selection as some sort of causal factor in biological change. In other words natural selection is prescriptive and not descriptive if we are to accept Rosenberg's view of natural selection. He writes:
When it comes to the biological realm, all that is needed to banish purpose is the recognition that the process of natural selection Darwin discovered is just physics at work among the organic molecules.
Rosenberg, Alex (2011-09-26). The Atheist's Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life without Illusions (Kindle Locations 911-913). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Darwin was a teleologist precisely because of his view of natural selection. So Rosenberg's assertion that natural selection banishes purpose seems incoherent. Aristotle's formal and final causality are preserved in Darwin's natural selection, however, natural selection as used by Darwin is some sort of extrinsic teleological factor or force or cause relative to the matter as conceived by the MCA metaphysical view of matter while the formal and final causes of hylemorphism are intrinsic to substances. This view of natural selection is another metaphysical view of Rosenberg and again, if we are to accept Rosenberg's scientism and naturalism then he will have to accept it on pure blind faith that cannot logically be grounded in reason.
One does not necessarily have to restrict oneself or conform to such a crude form of scientism and naturalism. One can adhere, in part, to a form of scientism that can merely be defined as the pursuit of knowledge by the unaided capabilities of the human intellect and human reason. There is no need to limit oneself to the empirical sciences or what the Scholastics described as 'real sciences' or 'scientiae reales'. We can of course be informed by the findings of the special sciences such as the empirical physical sciences, the social sciences and the mathematical sciences. The study of logic, what the Scholastics called 'scientia rationalis' or the 'rational science', is not off limits and we are free to employ the general sciences (metaphysics and philosophy) to answer deeper, more extensive and ultimate questions. Theology of course also tries to answer and reason about ultimate questions, however, it does so by making use of reason that is aided and enlightened by Divine revelation.
One can also adhere, in part, to a form of naturalism that is committed to studying the secondary or natural causes of reality (for example those described here). This is merely the methodological naturalism advanced by medieval thinkers and basically just Scholastic naturalism.
Rosenberg can have his empirical scientism, naturalism and "nice nihilism" that he will have to accept it on pure blind faith that cannot logically be grounded in reason. His version of scientism and naturalism just isn't the only version in town.
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