Can Science Replace Metaphysics?
Separating the Science from the Scientistism
The scientific method is perhaps one of the most groundbreaking applied discipline to the inquiry into the question of what is meaningful versus what is not meaningful in the pursuit of knowledge.
That being said it is the argument that scientism is created when anyone attempts to eliminate the significance or even relevance of Metaphysics that I am going to defend in this paper.
I will start by addressing a problem I have attempted to address before. And that is the question of why Atheists allow Theologians to define Metaphysical Questions.
To clarify I am including anyone in the Atheistic spectrum that is without a theistic system of beliefs or is free of a dogmatic or theological bias.
My main concerns are of course with those who enter into philosophical debates.
It is my contention that the only way to seriously address a Metaphysical question is to first address a topic completely separate from what may appear to be related.
So, if for example you want to address the Metaphysical question of God you must address this question with no relation to the Soul or Freewill.
But more importantly, and this is key… you must address this question without trying to make the Metaphysical question integrate with completely unrelated fields in Philosophy such as Moral Philosophy as an example.
In this way we can learn to separate Philosophy from Pseudo Philosophies like Theology.
In fact, I question whether Moral Philosophy itself should be considered a proper discipline of philosophy.
To bring a little more clarity to this statement I will address the problem in which Moral Philosophy brings a lot of the same problems with it that Theology does, in that Moral Philosophy often involves evaluating systems of beliefs.
Perhaps if we can find a way of separating Philosophy from Theology in all the Philosophy Disciplines including that of Moral Philosophy it is possible that a discipline will emerge that will justify itself by helping us to resolve Moral questions. or at least better help us get to the root of what we call Morality. At present we cannot utilize Moral Philosophy in the same way that we attempt to get to the root of knowledge within the discipline of Epistemology.
And so, I think the best way to get to the crux of what Scientism is would be to differentiate the Scientific Method from a movement known as Logical Positivism.
Ironically the movement known as Logical Positivism had very similar goals of separating the Sciences from Theological Speculation as I have hinted in this paper as my goal in relation to the pursuit of Metaphysics.
The reason why this movement ultimately failed is because it failed to attack the root of the problem of Theology.
The root of the problem is not Theologians ability to generate nonsensical sentences. Any discipline of science or philosophy can if used without proper care generate a lack of concise wording or clarity of thought.
Sometimes I have encountered too much explanation and precision in philosophy. This has even been the case with philosophers who had already successfully separated themselves from any form of Apologetics for religion.
Many philosophers go in circles trying to clarify the meaning and purpose behind every philosophical concept they attempt to address. This is by no means a problem only found in Theology.
The reason why I think that Theology should not be considered a discipline in Philosophy is because it is structured in a way that guarantees a Pseudo Metaphysics.
So now I must examine how Logical Positivism evolved into Neo Positivism and how this evolved into Scientism.
As you can see Logical Positivism was essentially a way to help the sciences continue to advance by giving the sciences a philosophical foundation that shields the discipline from unwarranted attacks from those outside the Scientific Disciplines.
This all started with “Ludwig Wittgenstein's philosophy of language”.
From Logical Positivism Neo Positivism was born. To clarify Neo Positivism is a Philosophy of Science that can be reduced to the “givens”.
What distinguishes neo-positivism from the older positivism is the ‘method of logical analysis’ and hence the focus on the language of science. According to Otto Neurath, neopositivism is 'characterized by the reduction through logical analysis of the meaning of sentences to the simplest statements about something empirical. Scientific knowledge thus derives from experience which in turn rests on what is immediately given. Social Research Glossary Neo-positivism
So, let us examine the roots of Neo Positivism further.
Oxford Index (2011) describes neopositivism as follows:
A movement in early 20th-century American sociology which blended together the three themes of quantification, behaviorism, and positivist epistemology. Its principal proponents were Franklin H. Giddings and George A. Lundberg, although the mathematical sociology of writers such as George K. Zipf (1902–50) can be seen as a development of neo-positivist theory.
In his Studies in the Theory of Human Society (1922), Giddings offered a qualified defense of behaviorism, arguing that ‘psychology has become experimental and objective. It has discriminated between reflexes and conditioning’.
He also insisted that ‘sociology [is] a science statistical in method’ and that ‘a true and complete description of anything must include measurement of it’.
Similarly, Lundberg maintained that sociology could be modelled on the natural sciences and should observe the behavior of human beings in social situations but without reference to concepts such as feelings, ends, motives, values, and will (which he described as ‘the phlogiston of the social sciences’).
Like Giddings, Lundberg argued that science dealt in exact descriptions and generalization, both of which required ‘the quantitative statement’. He emphasized the importance of attitude scales in this context, and insisted (in common with earlier positivists) that science cannot formulate value statements, and that sociology must be a science in this mould…
Social Research Glossary form same article
I cannot entirely dispute this reasoning that we should attempt to study the psychology of human beings without reference to value judgements based on feelings in relation to will.
But again, as you can see this attempt to maneuver around any actual Metaphysical questions including the Metaphysical Question of Freewill ultimately fails.
The explanation of why I am not going out of my way to dispute this reasoning is because it is not clear that Lundberg is dismissing Metaphysical questions.
If science cannot formulate value statements then it cannot dispute them either.
If I am to accept one definition of Scientism I could apply to myself, then it would be this one …
1. The belief that the investigative methods of the physical sciences are applicable or justifiable in all fields of inquiry American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2011… then I will ultimately have to admit that my thinking is also Scientistic biased.
That is, I do accept that the investigative methods of science are indeed applicable to all fields of inquiry.
But I do not conclude that therefore all philosophical investigations are somehow invalid. And I do not assume that any Metaphysical question can be completely resolved by scientific investigation into one or more aspects of the question we are addressing.
In order to address the deeper questions of Metaphysics we must learn to separate truth from knowledge. And in order to separate truth from knowledge we must learn decide which we assign the highest value to.
When we define knowledge as a justified true belief we automatically give truth a higher value than knowledge. At the same time, we falsely assign knowledge as a lower value be defining knowledge as a type of belief.
The motivation behind this is to avoid claiming absolute knowledge or certainty in our claims.
But if your highest value is truth then your goal is to achieve certainty in your claims.
If you tell me that is raining it may be true for you. It may be raining where you currently are. But it may not be true for me. So if it is not raining where I am I will say it is not raining.
In this case I will say it is not raining and you will say it is raining and we will both be expressing the truth relative to our situation.
This is why Epistemology does not address truth. Epistemology addresses knowledge. This is why as a philosopher I do not hold truth as the highest value and I do not see knowledge as a type of belief.
You will only attempt to justify your belief if you already accept it as true. If you do not accept a belief as true you will not attempt to justify it.
This type of circular reasoning is the essence of confirmation bias and is not much better than faith. Now you can define faith as accepting something as true without evidence; but since the definition of confirmation bias is to ignore evidence that contradicts what you already believe, redefining knowledge as a type of belief does not solve the problem.
You can not build an Epistemology by redefining knowledge as a type of belief then define this new type of belief as that which validates the types of evidence you will accept.
When a sceptic or atheist states that they will only accept science based on Methodological Naturalism or philosophy based on Metaphysical Naturalism they are no different then a Theist that will not listen to anything that contradicts their Bible.
I have the same problem with Naturalism that I do with the word Supernatural. They are both outdated terms.
Let us get back to the problem of truth in relation to knowledge for a moment. And after I address this problem I will come back to the problems I have with Metaphysical Naturalism.
1+1=2 is a mathematical truth
The law of non-contradiction is logical truth
But neither is a Metaphysical truth
Mathematics gives us technological advances based on models of reality.
Logic gives us a way to assess the validity of conceptual reality.
But neither conceptual nor mathematical models answer the Metaphysical Question of what Reality is
This is why mathematical models and conceptual reasoning both fail at producing a Metaphysics.
And this is why truth is a bias when used as a tool to get at the nature of reality.
Science may seem objective but underneath any scientific discipline is a bias towards certain types of truth which are considered reality based and biased against types of truth that are not considered reality based. If the scientist is a materialist then only the material world is considered reality based.
But our understanding of matter has changed and because the branch of science known as Physics rarely acknowledges this no other branch of science acknowledges this either.
Since our understanding of our world on the microscopic level and now at the subatomic level has expanded the term "natural" needs to limited to its own domain. The term natural can no more be applied to the subatomic level of Quantum Physics then it can be legitimately be applied on the Cosmological level of our Universe.
In religion the bias is created by assuming your conclusion. This creates the problem of not being able to accept new evidence.
In science it is always possible to accept new evidence. In fact, the scientific method encourages seeking new evidence. It even has a system of verification based on falsifying your hypothesis.
But the limit is of course that using science you can only describe and compare models of reality.
Any scientist that wants to get past working models of reality to reality itself must work through Metaphysics.
Many scientists claim that they are only methodological naturalist. But the truth is most scientists in the Atheist camp are also Metaphysical Naturalist.
The problem with Metaphysical Naturalism is twofold.
One it is a Metaphysics unlike Methodological Naturalism which it is often confused with.
And two it is not a well thought out Metaphysics.
So since in philosophy we are often given the false dichotomy of Metaphysical Naturalism based on an outdated Materialist view and the Pseudo Metaphysics offered by Theology it is not surprising that the most competent philosophers often end up becoming Nihilist in response.
Can Science Replace Metaphysics? By Brian Gordon Copyright 2015 2016 2017 2018
This is an essay I am currently working on to clarify my thoughts for the book I am currently working on “The Man Delusion”. If you would like me to continue to publish the results as I expand this paper please send me a message on LinkedIn. If you would like to become involved with this project or have questions on this project please feel free to contact me.