Did you know that there was a divine division between imperfect Earthly matter and perfect Heavenly matter of the gods? While geometry is all well and good for building a shed in your backyard, the heavenly planets were mystical and beyond the knowledge of science.

So began the scientism slur a few thousand years ago. Certain things in the world cannot be explained through empirical evidence and reason. According to this, science is just another “belief” that is no better than anything else.

Idealism comes up with some strange stuff. Intellectuals are given free reign to uncover ‘truths’ about the universe inside their own minds, then deduce everything from these fantasy axioms. No need for evidence or anything silly like that.

Anyone who disagrees with them is accused of scientism. So far as I can tell, there’s no need to define what that means. I guess it’s something they say when mean men ask them to prove their wild claims.

Idealism – as a philosophy, an art, or a religion – used to routinely make claims about the natural order of the world which are absurd today. Wherever there is a lack of knowledge on some subject, an “intellectual” will gladly set forth a mystical explanation. This usually involved spirits infesting the world like a virus of some sort. Only after science makes new discovers do people reject that idealism or consider it a mere “metaphor” to understand uncertainty.

Natural Idealism still exists – see the continued belief in Creationism and Astrology. Despite having a 0% accuracy track record over thousands of years, Idealism and mysticism are commonly accepted as “equivilant” to science in other parts of nature, like humanity.

Just to pick on one person in particular. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:

Some aspects of our nature are not susceptible to scientific enquiry, cannot be dissected, categorised and validated in terms that would satisfy the “rational” disbelievers, whose intellect is colossal but imagination puny.

There are no experiments and tests to explain love, empathy, longing, the agony and ecstasy of the heart, the wild and wonderful creativity of the brain, that thing that happens to you when a full moon appears above the sea and is reflected in it.

Except for neuroscience of how the brain works, how neurons fire in patterns, and how hormones affect emotions, sure.

There have been a number of studies on emotions like love. Neuroscience identified the parts of the brain associated with the behavior. Psychologists test the extent of irrational attachment that results. There are a number of hypotheses to explain how the emotion evolved.There are also many studies on other emotions, particularly a unique human one – spite.

She continues:

Sorry, but knowing the science of why the moon shines is irrelevant to the experience. Faith is the light of the moon above and that light in the sea, reality and spirituality, both making you tremblingly conscious of forces vast and beyond words. Impertinent scientists cannot know what they speak of.

Fundamentalist atheists want to replace old religions with their own. To them all previous prophets were false. Their fervour makes them as blind and uncompromising as those following the religions they detest. Science gave them no immunity – they too are infected by the virus of faith.

We’re still talking about how neurons fire in patterns. Though mystics used to believe that scientists would never know anything about the moon either.

But see? Science is just another faith.

Ophelia Benson responds at thebutterflies and wheels blog
“Oh not that again”

That is such kack – yet people go on trotting it out as if it were transcendent and indisputable wisdom. Of course there are experiments and tests to explain love and the rest of it – experiments and tests, theories and evidence, as well as centuries of stories and personal accounts. They’re not a black box, they’re not immune to inquiry and even experiments and tests, and the findings of experiments and tests are highly interesting. It’s not the brash fanatic zealous hysterical atheists who are trying to rule knowledge out of order, it’s obscurantist epithet-hurling Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Kack!

Here’s how I see it. This is not just a religion problem. The Humanities is a fraudulent pseudoscience which will be looked upon with disdain and bafflement within two centuries, similar to metaphysics and astrology.

It’s like those who think “culture” and personal emotions are produced by something other than genes. Well no. Animals have cultures and emotions. Culture is a learned behavior trait that emerges from our genes. That’s all. Let’s not mystify it and place it outside the realm of inquiry.

I get that many prefer to think of humanity as a special spiritual creature and not just another species of ape. All those other species of apes are controlled by selfish genes and evolution, but humanity is free from that genetic stuff. Humanity can be perfectable and is not subject to empirical testing and reasoning. This is pure and simple Idealism – religious in origin or otherwise.

Ophelia Benson’s essay “Paradigms U Like” addresses this idea that science is forbidden from studying certain things.

It goes by the name of perspectivism or situatedness or social constructionism. This view purports to show that science is neither universal nor peculiarly well equipped to arrive at the truth; that on the contrary it is local, Western, socially and culturally embedded, and therefore, merely one form of knowledge among many. Its claims of objectivity and dispassion are an illusion, rationality is window dressing for power, evidence a matter of negotiation and agreement, and truth an outdated metaphysical word that should be confined to the dustbin of history. Indeed, in this view science is not only no better at discovering the truth about the world than any other method, it is worse. Some epistemologies are more unequal than others. Science is crippled by its blind infatuation with reason, its foolish insistence on evidence before believing something, its tiresomely pedantic insistence on replicability, peer review, statistics, falsifiability, distinguishing correlation from causation, and all such nit-picky hair-splitting rules that impede a good imaginative hypothesis. If Freud had gone about things that way, imagine what would have become of his daring theories. Furthermore science is Eurocentric, and male, and white, and a product of the Enlightenment. And in spite of all those obvious faults, science has an enormous amount of undeserved status and prestige and power and influence. Scientists sometimes use this power and prestige to say that other people are wrong about certain things, and that is a very undemocratic situation that shouldn’t be allowed.

I’ve noticed that the scientism slur is spreading in some areas. In academia especially, but generally too, because some areas are still mystically taboo.

Benson continues:

We want the freedom to believe what we like, ignore facts, sugar-coat reality, but then we have to recognize that there is a price to pay…We have to choose, we can’t have it both ways, we can’t embrace irrational ideas we just happen to like and reject the ones we don’t. If you insist on setting sail for the realm of hunch and intuition and thinking with your gut, you’re likely to meet some fellow voyagers who are not all peace and love and light.

What can I say, I like Benson. She’s got spunk. And kack.

I’m not convinced many will ever accept scientific research into humanity whether it is useful or not. We’re still burdened with literalist Creationism from a primitive nomadic tribe thousands of years ago. There are plenty in the humanities who seem to think that human feelings are instantly created from mystical ether or sprout forth like Athena from Zeus’ mind.

But myths persevere.

Advertisements