Is Science Enough?

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Curtis White, novelist, essayist, English professor at Illinois State University, and author of the Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, defends poetry and philosophy against the culture of "scientism," despite his own atheism.

Event: Curtis White in conversation with with Lewis Lapham at Melville House 145 Plymouth St. in Brooklyn (DUMBO) tonight at 7pm,



Curtis White

Comments [35]

Richard Sloat

HJS11211 made the statement "I can prove eveything I believe with science the rest is just my opinion. I think u have a misunderstanding of science."

There is "Scientism" in a nutshell. It is a misunderstanding of what science does, claiming it "proves beliefs". Science proves experiments, but does not prove beliefs. As one commenter on the show pointed out true science does not claim certainty, it explains the world through theory and experiments. Alfred North Whitehead says science is based on logical possibility it can approach certainty but never obtain it. Gravity theory is near certainty but in a quantum world it does not have as much certainty. In this way science is free, to alter it's ideas to fit the situation. When we hear such a vague theory as the "Big Bang Theory" is certainly true, the way the universe was actually made, this is belief not science, "Scientism".

Jun. 05 2013 10:59 PM

It's hard to understand how an academic-- an English professor no less-- can be so inarticulate. It's not just a matter of wording. This author doesn't seem to have familiarized himself with the most basic sorts of humanities-based reasoning that would required to establish a foundation for his inquiries. He seems to have all the attainment of an ill-prepared freshman composition student. This topic deserves far abler exploration.

Jun. 05 2013 05:37 PM
michelle from rome

I agree with a lot of what Curtis is saying and I would like to add that I think scientists are some of the most unaccountable people on the planet. All they have to say is that the research they are doing will have medical benefits and we let them run loose on whatever they want including singularity and developing a post human species. We don't have a debate about whether this is a development that we are even able to cope with as a race or we don't even ask about the morality of their work. You can't put up a building without having a ton of permits but you can utterly change the human race and require little or no real supervision.

Jun. 05 2013 04:27 PM
Nick_A from NY

"I believe that one identical thought is to be found--expressed very precisely and with only slight differences of modality-- in. . .Pythagoras, Plato, and the Greek Stoics. . .in the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita; in the Chinese Taoist writings and. . .Buddhism. . .in the dogmas of the Christian faith and in the writings of the greatest Christian mystics. . .I believe that this thought is the truth, and that it today requires a modern and Western form of expression. That is to say, it should be expressed through the only approximately good thing we can call our own, namely science. This is all the less difficult because it is itself the origin of science." Simone Weil....Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life, Random House, 1976, p. 488

Jun. 05 2013 12:56 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ hjs11211

It's easy to beat up on Creationists, Dawkins has made a whole career out of it, but not so easy to dismiss that role of spirituality in human history and experience, specifically with regard to art, family life and community.

You can make all the same old, dull points about religion and war but it has almost always been the case that religious difference is but a pretext (the crusades) or part of a larger political gambit (30 Years war). There were wars and stupidity before organized religion and even if organized religion were abolished there would be wars and stupidity still.

Jun. 05 2013 12:27 PM

Oh but which rock which god?
Can u also tell me the right way to pray ??

Jun. 05 2013 12:22 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

Well then hjs11211... that would be idolatry, wouldn't it?

Jun. 05 2013 12:21 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

At a university lecture about the Big Bang theory there was a question from a student: he asked “What was before the Big Bang?” The professor’s answer was: “you can’t ask that”. Exactly, it is beyond our human brain/capacity to even think what was before time & space were created. WHY? Because we are bound by those limitations. Of course Professor Dawkins is of the opinion, that if G-d does not fit into the enlightened theory of evolution, then G-d can’t possibly exist! And that is his proof & the basis of his entire book. Since G-d can’t possibly be omniscient/all powerful, etc & by definition be “simple”, thereby fitting G-d into the Darwinian model, then He most certainly does not exist! Of course, Dawkins can’t prove anything. He just defined the problem when one tries to fit the concept of G-d into the theory of evolution. Of course this make no sense because if G-d does exist, he would not be bound to the rules of nature that He created. The concept of G-d’s essence is by definition OUTSIDE of nature & just like the professor who wouldn’t allow the question: what came before the Big Bang, we can’t ask the question: what is the essence of G-d. This is, basically, the same question but people like Dawkins have difficulty in acknowledging their non-omniscience.
Interestingly, Dawkins does allow for other Big Bang theories, eg. the occillating model of expansion/contraction, & other creative ideas that can be postulated, but certainly not verified by scientific theory. Amusingly, he finds no problem entertaining these ideas.

Jun. 05 2013 12:17 PM

Elaine from Baltimore
Oh I understand now. Let me go find a rock to pray to. Thanks.

Jun. 05 2013 12:16 PM
Richard from New York City

An interesting topic. Unfortunately, White didn't make for a very good interview or spokesman for those skeptical of scientism. I would just like to inject here a functional definition of scientism, as any system of thought that continues to advocate what Husserl called "The Galilean Universe," meaning the idea that science is capable of explaining the universe. In the history of philosophy of science, this standpoint is definitively challenged by in Husserl's 1939 book, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, in which he writes that "science does not explain the world, but is itself in need of explanation." In brief and incomplete summary, Husserl's claim is that science presupposes a world of human experience, an intentional consciousness directed at an external world, and all scientific thought must harken back to human consciousness for meaning. As science arises only as a specific mode of human consciousness, it is a secondary, derivative epistemic standpoint and must stand outside of primordial human experience. Also, here's some twisted humor on the subject, for the politically incorrect, "The Poet and the God Particle".

Jun. 05 2013 12:08 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

"You must be a rabbi," opened the scientist.
"Yes, I am," confirmed his neighbor.
"I know all about Judaism," quipped the scientist.
"Do you really?" the rabbi responded, a little piqued.
"Sure: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
"I see. And what, may I ask, is your occupation?"
"I am an astrophysicist."
"Oh, really?" The rabbi paused a moment, then countered, "I know all about astronomy."
"Come now, Rabbi. What do you know about astronomy?"
"Twinkle, twinkle little star."

Jun. 05 2013 12:07 PM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Brendan from Upper West Side

Religious belief is not universally understood the same way by all believers. The notion that religion "explained" anything to anyone about anything observable or hypothesized to exist in the natural world went out with the Dark Ages in most educated circles.

Not everyone reads the Bible as factual reportage nor could any intelligent person accept that sort of ignorant, reductive view of their faith despite the fact that this sort of depiction has become common currency these days in mass media representations of religious persons.

Jun. 05 2013 12:01 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

Your list proves nothing except what Christine stated, you hide your bias' behind science.
Here are some famous atheists who "advanced" the world to a higher degree of morality: Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Kim Jong Il.

Jun. 05 2013 11:57 AM

I can prove eveything I believe with science the rest is just my opinion. I think u have a misunderstanding of science.
If I told u I heard voices in my head u would think I was crazy too
Equally if I thought the Easter bunny is the one who brings my candy.
You are just an animal that is going to die alone.
Deal with it.

Jun. 05 2013 11:54 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

@ Jim from Queens

Yes, to some extent that's true but only where they want to substitute religious dogma for scientific inquiry.

I don't think that this guest is anti-science, nor am I, but there are legitimate concerns when scientific discoveries and data is presented to the public in aid of political and moral advocacy.

The public is largely ignorant of scientific matters, especially with regard to statistical models and "soft science" and are easily manipulated into backing "scientific solutions" to human problems if it makes them feel smart and superior to knuckle dragging monotheists.

Jun. 05 2013 11:53 AM
Guy from NYC

This guy gets it. But too bad he backed down from the claim that science itself is ideological and guided by culture. Of course it is--read Stephen Toulmin for starters. You can tell by how self-appointed defenders of science get their backs up and refuse to engage the "scientism" critique. It is sad that some American simpletons paint these critiques with a GOP style-"anti-science" brush; they implicitly imagine a very un-scientific science.

Jun. 05 2013 11:51 AM
Brendan from Upper West Side

This reminds me of the Bill Hicks routine about fundamentalists who claim that fossils were put here by God to test our faith:

"You're testing *my* faith, dude."

Certainly it is fair to point out that what we consider "science" is faith (for a long time, the Ptolemaic model of the universe (the idea of celestial spheres and various types of angels) was considered a mathematically provable certainty). This seems to be a pop-psych response to a pop-science concept.

The idea that a reliance on science is an "easy answer" belies the idea that religious concepts have ALWAYS been fabrications to explain the unexplainable. The author & his publisher have great faith in the sales potential of a quasi-response to Dawkins, et al.

Jun. 05 2013 11:48 AM
Bill from NY

Believe what you want, but take responsibility for the rivers of blood dripping from the hands of the "holy".

Jun. 05 2013 11:45 AM
jf from the future

A government of selected scientists, including an untrained control group. Not just one group of scientists getting funding as is done now, but battalions of scientists independently coming up with similar conclusions.

Jun. 05 2013 11:45 AM
Dennis Moyes from Rutherford, NJ

Your comments about Richard Dawkins show that you've not thoroughly read Richard Dawkins. You are wrong about what he says on all fronts.

Jun. 05 2013 11:45 AM
Jason from Upper west Side

The Dogon issue that Ms. Abramovic brought up is a bit of a misunderstanding, based on a 1976 book that popularized the idea that the Dogon had been visited by aliens. In fact these aliens were a French Astronomy team that had contact with the Dogon while studying the solar eclipse from Africa in 1893 and discussed Astronomy with them. Thus, later anthropologists found that the Dogon knew, for example, about the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

Jun. 05 2013 11:44 AM
Christine from Westchester

hjs: first, you can't prove everything with science or in science. That's why they're often called "theories". So some of us have a theory that ther is a higher power. Confusing those of us who have faith with religious extremists is unfair. So calling yourself open minded because you are biased and have some view of science is all is just silly. Maybe you could use some additional maturity. The world is worse for those who use religion as a reason to do harm. It is also worse for those who are biased against all others based on the actions of a few. Don't hide behind science.

Jun. 05 2013 11:44 AM
Jim from Queens

Is not one of the great threats to our survival, the Anti-Science wing of the USA ?

Jun. 05 2013 11:43 AM
jf from the future

I want a government that uses scientists instead of politicians, and artists instead of product designers. The indie pop music of today is cheesy and humorless.

Jun. 05 2013 11:41 AM

I am the one whose mind is open
I find it strange even crazy to believe in something without proof
The Boston bombers, the guy who shoots abortion doctors. The cult in upstate ny that took over the school board
The people who don't care about the warming of the earth cause Jesus is come next week
All crazy.

Jun. 05 2013 11:40 AM
John A

Scientism is adoration of science and scientists in the popular culture (usually by nonscientists).

Jun. 05 2013 11:38 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Well, yes, isn't scientism religious? Except, without the ability to answer how something came from nothing. And why.

Jun. 05 2013 11:38 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

This is one of Chris Hedges great themes and it is less "Scientism" than the very soul of "Progressive" political thought. Religion and science do not deal with the same questions. Science can tell us nothing about morality or spirituality in a world where we presume free choice. Religion can tell us nothing about chemistry, biology or anatomy other than that which was known thousands of years ago.

Chris Hedges attacks this sort of "Progressive" thinking that sees science as some sort of salvation for humanity, despite a complete lack of empirical evidence that would suggest that is the case. Blind faith in "science" as a substitute for god is just as foolish as any fundamentalist's unexamined beliefs.

Jun. 05 2013 11:37 AM
JT from NJ

Noooooooo ... not the brain wave segment!!!

Jun. 05 2013 11:36 AM
Christine from Westchester

hjs: How can you say "respectfully" that all people who are religous are "crazy." Strong language and unfair. How would it be if those of us who have some faith said "all atheists are crazy." Each to his own and I'll thank you to be a little more open minded.

Jun. 05 2013 11:31 AM
John A

From the looks of the cover this book, we may need more effort to move in this direction. But I commend WNYC for putting this segment on. Books written by popular PhDs (in the physical sciences) on subjects of abstract philosophy are likely examples of popularity leading the way - of scientism.

Jun. 05 2013 11:26 AM
Paul from Aberystwyth

@Ed from Larchmont: “That's why science emerged in the universities of the Judeo-Christian West”

“Theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili believes the modern scientific method was pioneered by Ibn Al-Haytham (known to the west as “Alhazen”) whose contributions he likened to those of Isaac Newton.[4] Alhazen helped shift the emphasis on abstract theorizing onto systematic and repeatable experimentation, followed by careful criticism of premises and inferences.[5] Robert Briffault, in The Making of Humanity, asserts that the very existence of science, as it is understood in the modern sense, is rooted in the scientific thought and knowledge that emerged in Islamic civilizations during this time.[6]”

Jun. 05 2013 11:14 AM

I would like to respectfully suggest that all religious people are CRAZY!

Jun. 05 2013 10:19 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Also, science can't show that science itself is internally consist or 'scientific', it relies on an assumption that it is, an act of faith. But it's a good act of faith that rests on the Judeo-Christian world view -that the physical world is created, is consistent over time, is governed by rules, is knowable to the human mind, is external to the human mind. That's why science emerged in the universities of the Judeo-Christian West.

Jun. 05 2013 07:22 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Of course science is not enough, unless you recognize the scientific method (which is appropriate to science but not other disciplines) as the only road to knowledge (scientism).

But even admitting poetry and philosophy, a big step in the right direction, one is still leaving out religion and revelation as the great other source of knowledge and wisdom.

We have several ways of knowing. (See 'Faith and reason', John Paul II.)

Jun. 05 2013 05:49 AM

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