I was listening to an interview with Houston Smith yesterday and was exposed for the first time to the word Scientism… For years I have been contemplating the idea without knowing that a classification or definition already existed.
Scientism essentially states that “the inductive methods of the natural sciences are the only means of attaining truth and the only means of finding facts or truths about the world and the human condition.” There is then the implication that faith and intuition are false and immature.
Scientism is essentially the result of dogmatism for the scientific method, which leads to gross overgeneralization about the importance or ability of the scientific method. Most speakers on the subject relay their concern of the impact that scientism has had on the field of human psychology and spirituality.
Scientism could be classified as a religion which tends to carry the ironic belief that other religions are flawed in that they are unable to be proved using the scientific method… the existence of objectivity has yet to be proved using the scientific method… therefor the religion of science itself (scientism) is ultimately (and ironically) based on a faith that objectivity exists (as deducing new truths is dependent on precepts which are ‘established’ truths – what is an established truth?)
Let me be clear that most scientists are not followers of the faith of scientism (and there is nothing wrong with science)… speakers on the subject tend to agree that it is the larger collective’s misunderstanding of science which leads them to flawed conclusions about the published results of scientific investigations. Scientists tend to be interested in finding useful probabilities which can help to organize the material word… we collectively have a tendency to misunderstand that relative probabilities are not facts.
Science is impressively effective at organizing and at offering predictions for the material world… in this dimension; science has historically been proven to be productive… Scientism would suggest that the meaning of life itself and the explanation for the spiritual, ethereal, abstract, existential etc. aspects of life can also be found through the scientific method…
Scientism has the unconscious goal of proving the existence of objectivity in areas where objectivity is unlikely to exist. By utilizing the tools (statistical analysis, the scientific method) in non-material investigations some of us are unintentionally perpetuating the idea that objectivity exists in places that it might not…
Let us look at an example, consider the question, “why is the sky blue?” … this question is both existential and pragmatic.
The pragmatic answer to the question in “because blue wavelengths are shorter in the visible spectrum, they are scattered more efficiently by the molecules in the atmosphere… this is why the sky is blue.”
This only answers the question in the material dimension… and the method used to arrive at such a conclusion will unlikely be all too successful in the existential (or spiritual… whatever language you prefer) dimension.
“Why are shorter wavelengths blue?” “Why do wavelengths have set colors?” “Why does color exist… reflection and refraction… ok, then why does reflection and refraction exist?” “Why does contrast or differentiation exist?” “what created a consciousness of contrast which would enable one to deduce color?” “why do questions exist in consciousness?” “Why does consciousness exist?” “why is it that one can ask ‘why’ to any answer given to a ‘why’ question.”
And lastly… “Why are existential questions, such as those found above, seemingly important to humans?”
Take a minute and answer that question for yourself…
What method did you use to answer the question?
Spirituality is a part of every culture in every part of the world… Is it possible that Scientism is not the most satisfying means of engaging our spiritual selves?
My intention is not to create an “either or” debate… instead I am simply offering permission to engage in a bit of “both and” contemplation.
Perhaps there is some value in intuitive insight… in existing without the drive to quantify… in using compassion and empathy to access the collective.
Let us consider the question “what is good?” … can a research study be designed to once and for all answer this compelling question?
In each relative moment is it possible that an answer exists to the question ‘what is the good action’?
How do you arrive at that answer?
If you are going to be teaching a child to arrive at that answer what would you teach them to do?
How do you train someone to find grace in the midst of an ethical dilemma?
We already are teaching lists of rules and laws, some of which were arrived at through deduction… (and some are simply the manifestation of the desire to oppress for purposes of power)
What would happen if we trained children in empathy, dialectics, and in developing their intuition? Does this have equal value to teaching facts and means of arriving at facts?
In conclusion, let me voice my a concern that I have for the fields of human services and psychology… let us be cognizant of the positives and negatives of this ‘empirical’ movement that we find ourselves in the midst of… If we are honored with the role of helping our community to find meaning, attunement, happiness, peace, intuition, balance, purpose, compassion, empathy, dialectic maturity, kindness, wisdom and supportiveness, I suggests that we foster the development of those very attributes in our student helpers… that we foster being and the attainment of an accepting and attuned presence with equal emphasis to teaching ‘truths’.