Category Archives: Scientism

Semantic Negligence (揚げ足)

What is at the stake is the whole structure of a discipline. Can you imagine such a thing in geology or geophysics? It is something similar to replacing modern physics by another. Probably you cannot understand the real issue of economics.

Yoshinori Shiozawa, 2/5/2018, Personal Communication

Arguments do not always wear their true purpose on their face, nor are [we] required to take them at face value.

Martha Nussbaum (2008, 343-344) in Liberty of Conscience

Logic is a subtle science. It was discovered in Classical Greece, but it was not formalized in any other areas in the classical age. Mathematics began also in Classical Greece and developed in Alexandrian age, but it did not develop as logical science in other areas until the Greek influence arrives. A typical case is East Asia which includes China, Korea and Japan. After the 17th century in Japan, geometry became a kind of intellectual hobby and many posed problems asking others to solve them. We can find very complicated problems which comprise a dozen of circles but the notion of proof did not develop in Edo period (before 1867). (Of course, this is a very rough description.)

[All this history is simply a red herring, a distraction form his real purpose, which he hides.]

In my long life with various people, I came to understand that there are many people who never understand logic. Ernst Haeckel is famous by his recapitulation theory, i.e., “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.” But we may not be able to apply his thesis to human thinking. It may not be correct to assume that everybody arrives at the logical stage. Some people may stay at the pre-logical stage even if they become adult. Logic is a subtle science. It was discovered in Classical Greece, but it was not formalized in any other areas in the classical age. Mathematics began also in Classical Greece and developed in Alexandrian age, but it did not developed as logical science in other areas until the Greek influence arrives. A typical case is East Asia which includes China, Korea and Japan. After the 17th century in Japan, geometry became a kind of intellectual hobby and many posed problems asking others to solve them. We can find very complicated problems which comprise a dozen of circles but the notion of proof did not develop in Edo period (before 1867). (Of course, this is a very rough description.)

My personal experience taught me that it is often useless to argue with those people. Logical persuasion never works for them. My first experience was in my college student days. We talked about syllogism. I argued that syllogism is not based on experience and cited this case:

Pig is mortal.
Socrates is a pig.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

My colleague never understood that this is a correct syllogism. He insisted that this syllogism is wrong because the small premise is false.

— Shiozowa Yoshinori, Real World Economic Review (RWER), 7/19/2017

Logic can be used to clarify as well as to be obfuscate; to make one’s meaning clear or to hide one’s true meaning; to illuminate truth or hide behind bullshit. Yoshinori’s purpose is to abuse logic to engage in ad hominem, a form of unethical word-play, the sole purpose of which is demean another person via arrogant intellectual intimidation by accusing them of being hopelessly pre-logical. Yoshinori is engaging in “world play” above, using a form of semantic negligence in that he could, if sincere and a descent human being, be explicit in the difference between sound and unsound logical arguments and the difference between valid syllogism, but unsound argument (i.e., the conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the false premises), and a valid syllogism with a sound argument (i.e., the conclusions follows necessarily from true premises). An argument that is valid is one where the premises if true necessarily lead to the conclusion. And argument that is sound is one where premises necessarily lead to the conclusion and the premises are actually true. Hence, an argument can be perfectly valid syllogism even with false premises, but an unsound argument in which the conclusion is true not by necessity, but by accident or manipulation meant to obscure truth and/or confuse or demean someone, which seems to be the purpose of Yoshinori’s argument above.

Bullshit is pretension or over-portentousness: discourse which may or may not be superficially complex but which over-intellectualises the straightforward, the obvious, sometimes even the trivial and banal. Bullshit includes evasion, elision, insincerity, procrastination and other forms of dissembling in discourse that fall short of lying, which is very common in, though hardly exclusive to, politics.

Gary Hardcastle, George Reisch. Bullshit and Philosophy: Guaranteed to Get Perfect Results Every Time (Popular Culture and Philosophy Book 24) (p. 199). Open Court. Kindle Edition.

Semantically negligent definitions are parasitical on this process [search for truth or clarity]: they foreclose argument about doubtful identities by disguising them as definitions. Hidden arguments are difficult to criticize—but also easy to ignore. Thus the semantically negligent definer may gain short-term rhetorical advantage by disguising his arguments as definitions, but risks the backfire effect, which is a direct consequence of his neglect of the full meaning of his redefined expression. For a definition to be semantically diligent any concealed arguments must be made explicit to all parties. Moreover, if the proposers hope for their definition to prevail, these arguments must be won.

Gary Hardcastle, George Reisch. Bullshit and Philosophy: Guaranteed to Get Perfect Results Every Time (Popular Culture and Philosophy Book 24) (p. 168). Open Court. Kindle Edition.

Yoshinori Shiozawa confuses sophistry with logic, equating a quest for deeper understanding with the manipulation of words for an untrue purpose merely to win an argument. He wraps insult in pseudo-history to sound erudite, as dishonest intellectuals like to do, but it is really nothing more than debased ad hominem. Shiozawa is playing a dishonest sematic word play game. The same can be said about Shiozawa’s disingenuous, manipulative, and false use of Ernst Haeckel’s biogenetic law, which he cites for rhetorical purposes even though it has long been disproven (Laubichler and Maienschein 2007: 2-3, From Embryology to Evo-Devo. Dibner Institute Studies in the History of Science & Technology Series. MIT Press.). He doesn’t even get his historical and scientific facts correct. This is not science, but scientism.

Yoshinori Shiozawa lacks the wisdom to understand that while logic is valid in the material world and mathematics is reliable when limited in its application to physical things, neither is to be regarded as wholly dependable or infallible when applied to life problems. Life embraces phenomena which are not wholly material and not all of life’s problems are mathematically tractable.

Arithmetic says that, if one man could shear a sheep in ten minutes, ten men could shear it in one minute. That is sound mathematics, but it is not true, for the ten men could not so do it; they would get in one another’s way so badly that the work would be greatly delayed. Mathematics asserts that, if one person stands for a certain unit of intellectual and moral value, ten persons would stand for ten times this value. But in dealing with human personality it would be nearer the truth to say that such a personality association is a sum equal to the square of the number of personalities concerned in the equation rather than the simple arithmetical sum. A social group of human beings in coordinated working harmony stands for a force far greater than the simple sum of its parts. Quantity may be identified as a fact, thus becoming a scientific uniformity. Quality, being a matter of mind interpretation, represents an estimate of values, and must, therefore, remain an experience of the individual. When science, philosophy, and religion become less dogmatic and more tolerant of criticism, philosophy will then begin to achieve unity in the intelligent comprehension of the universe.

Yoshinori Shiozawa is afflicted with mathematical pride and statistical egotism, not to mention spiritual blindness. He engages in ” trivial, and pointless forms of mathematization” (Roi 2017, 4) while pushing a utterly useless literature-only (Payson 2017) style of so-called “economics” on daily basis on Real World Economics Review blog. He is more like a used car salesman, hawking his lemonshis pseudo-scientific literature-only papers and bookspronouncing ex cathedra a New Central Dogma (which I’ll deal with more fully in another post).

Whiggish History qua Scientism

You have gotten a good number of ardent supporters, but many of them are feeble minded people who believe that they can change economics if they denounce mathematics and natural sciences. They are simple minded anti-scientists.

Yoshinori Shiozawa, RWER: Lars Syll, New Classical macroeconomists — people having their heads fuddled with nonsense, 2/13/2018

This is not the first time Shiozawa has engaged in such sophistry and sematic negligence, as his performance on the WEA Conference forum reveals:

It is interesting to learn that, as an economist and social scientist, I must be in a “pre-Copernican” stage. Although what this means is not totally clear to me, I take it as revealing that our presuppositions about scientific practice differ. You claim to know what is the most appropriate way of investigating the subject I address, and that this way is the methods and tools of natural science. I claim to have devised a way which works, without knowing if it is the most appropriate, a thing whose decidability would seem to be quite problematic. And the way I have devised meets the conditions of a reflective epistemology of scientific practice, in natural science as well as in social science.

Your presupposition is that the application of the methods of natural science is the yardstick for social science. This is scientism.

Robert Delorme, A Cognitive Behavioral Modelling for Coping with Intractable Complex Phenomena in Economics and Social Science. In Economic Philosophy: Complexity in Economics (WEA Conference), 12/1/2017, italics added.

Yoshinori Shiozawa likes to engage in nasty ad hominem accusing others of being feeble minded while arrogantly pontificating a whig interpretation of the history of science (e.g., see Brush). Nussbaum correctly points out that we are not required to take such arguments on their face value, and neither should reasonable people take such disingenuous, ahistorical arguments seriously, let alone at face value.

Shiozawa’s ahistorical whig interpretation of history can be clearly seen in an exchange on RWER (it is assumed the exchange was deleted because of Shiozawa’s nasty ad hominem):

Do you [i.e., Ken Zimmerman] know that you are proving by yourself that your range of imagination is heavily biased…. If history of science (not the sociology of science; they are very different disciplines) focuses exclusively on the factors “from scientific training, to professionalism, to informal education, to friendships, to hunches, etc.”, you are excluding the most important entity or driver in a history of science.  A science is a system of theories (including and concerning concepts, observations, measurement, experiences, data, etc.) that seeks coherence. The internal logic of the system is much more important than all other social factors in which you are interested. The latter are by-players and cannot and should not be a main player. Your history of science is really the tragedy (or rather comedy?) without the prince of Denmark…. [Y]ou are repeating this kind of misplaced arguments. You pretend to have studied history of sciences (it may be true), but you have studied it through the looking glass of sociology of science. In the history of science there are specialists who are called externalists. They often give a new fresh air to the history of science. So I do not deny that they have some roles in the history of science(s). In the history of economic thought there are also externalists. Philip Mirowski is an example. On the opposite extreme of externalists, we have internalists. My paper on An Origin of the Neoclassical Economics is written from the internalist point of view. In this case, I questioned why John Stuart Mill was guided by an internal logic of the problem he wanted to solve (probably despite of his wish) to open a way to the neoclassical economics. If sociology of science can be included among the history of science(s), it belongs to the strand of externalists. It cannot be the core of history of science(s), because it lacks understanding of the main motive of scientific development.

Yoshinori Shiozawa, RWER: Asad Zaman’s Radical paradigm shifts, 7/17/2017

Your views on the history and sociology of science are dated. In 1970, they would have been appropriate. But not today. Formally speaking the two are separate. Separate department offices, chair persons, class schedules. But in theory and practice the two work together closely today. You seem to believe that sciences are magical. That “systems of theories” can somehow take science and scientists out of human ways of life, human culture, and human societies. That’s not possible. So, the same factors that enter these enter science as well. To use the phrase favored by many sociologists of science, science is “constructed in interactions of humans with one another and with the non-human.” That includes the systems of theories you mention, as well as the methods, tools (language, including mathematics, cultural standards, etc.) that are the basis of scientific work. It also includes every variation of logic and formal analytic philosophy, from which notions of coherence and sense-making in science emerge. Your statement, “The internal logic of the system is much more important than all other social factors in which you are interested” was rejected nearly 50 years ago by first sociologists and then historians of science. To accept it would mean accepting that science is somehow “supernatural” – beyond the bounds of human experience. Neat analogy with Hamlet. But by making it you undermine your entire argument.

The last major article on the externalism-internalism debate in historiography was in 1992 by Steven Shapin. It’s not so much as the debate was won as that sociologists and historians lost interest in it. It’s not resolvable. But since the 1980s in practice the externalist position dominates most work in the history and sociology of science. So, your paper, if written from the internalist perspective is unusual. For example, the only way we can assume that John Stuart Mill was “guided” by an internal logic is to assume that Mill never participated in human communities, never engaged with his fellow humans, or with the world around him. From going to the Pub, to dating, to attending college, etc. As to the main motive of scientific development, there isn’t one I’m or most historians/sociologists are able to identify. I’ve worked with or observed work by a few hundred physical scientists. Most have multiple reasons for pursuing and building science. Most do not agree on what those motivations are or should be. Not surprising.

Check out: Science in Action (1987), Bruno Latour; Laboratory Life (1979), Steven Woolgar and Bruno Latour.

Ken Zimmerman’s reply to Shiozawa, RWER: Asad Zaman’s Radical paradigm shifts, 7/18/2017

Underlying the externalist-internalist rhetoric is the assumption that there are “factors extrinsic to the putative value-free application of the scientific method,” while “Economic and/or social factors influencing scientific inquiry are externalist.” The idea that there exists a domain of “scientific inquiry … free of values except for the search for truth (Hook, 2002; 3-7)” is a myth of scientism.

In the last quarter of the twentieth century discussions of the interplay of science and society have outgrown the crude dictums of historical materialism, as well as transcending the incoherent dichotomy of internalist and externalist intellectual histories. To cite just a sampling, the writings on the history of science of Brush (1978), Barnes and Shapin (1979), Mackenzie (1981), Freudenthal (1986), Elster (1975), Breger (1982) Sohn-Rethel (1978), Latour (1987), Pickering (1984), Collins (1985), Markus (1987), Forman (1971), and Porter (1981a, 1985, 1986) are evidence of a great flowering of efforts all concerned with a reconsideration of the interplay of science and social forces. [We can add Hook (2002) to this long list.]

— Philip Mirowski (1989, 106-107) More Heat than Light: Economics as Social Physics, Physics as Nature’s Economics

Shiozawa’s use of externalist-internalist rhetoric is dated, anachronistic, ahistorical; he is foolishly blinded by his own hubris. He is espousing scientism, a pseudo-scientific belief about science that is blissfully ignorant of the real nature of science. Shiozawa is espousing a whig interpretation of history:

Sometimes people want to know the presently accepted “right answer” to a question before studying its history…. For the historian of science, this uncertainty about the correct answer does have one important advantage. It undermines the tendency to judge past theories as being right or wrong by modern standards. This tendency is the so-called “Whig interpretation of the history of science” that one usually finds in science textbooks and popular articles. The Whig approach is to start from the present theory, assuming it to be correct, and ask how we got there. For many scientists this is the only reason for studying history at all; Laplace remarked, “When we have at length ascertained the true cause of any phenomenon, it is an object of curiosity to look back, and see how near the hypothesis that have been framed to explain it approach towards the truth” (1966: vol. 4, 1015). Sometimes people want to know the presently accepted “right answer” to a question before studying its history….

But Whiggish history is not very satisfactory if it has to be rewritten every time the “correct answer” changes. Instead, we need to look at the [scientific theories] of earlier centuries in terms of the theories and evidence available at the time. Sometimes people want to know the presently accepted “right answer” to a question before studying its history.

Brush, Stephen G. (1996) Nebulous Earth: The Origin of the Solar System and the Core of the Earth from Laplace to Jeffreys. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shiozawa, ignorant of his own pseudo-scientific interpretation of science, no doubt, would accuse Stephen G. Brush of being an externalist, despite the fact of his distinguished career as a scientists prior to turning to history. What does it say when scientists of a far greater caliber than Shiozawa categorically disagree with his whiggish interpretation of history?

A Case of Psychological Projection aka Pre-Logical Argumentum

What is at the stake is the whole structure of a discipline. Can you imagine such a thing in geology or geophysics? It is something similar to replacing modern physics by another. Probably you cannot understand the real issue of economics.

— Yoshinori Shiozawa, 2/5/2018, Personal Communication

This blog is attracting all those who are emotionally frustrated in the actual economy and economics. This is a dangerous symptom.

— Yoshinori Shiozawa, RWER, The Biggest Problem in Science, 7/31/2019

It appears that subtle science of logic escapes Yoshinori in his pre-logical fallacy above. Unfortunately for Yoshinori any clear thinking and reflective person understands perfectly well what Yoshinori is doing above; he is engaging in, to use his own rhetoric, pre-Freudian unconscious psychological projection of his own deepest illogical fears upon others and then couching such projections in pseudo-intellectual sophistry and nonsense (たわごと). Yoshinori is revealing he lacks self-awareness of his own state of mind and behavior, projecting onto others his own confused and flustered state of mind (慌てふためく), his own frustration and worry (はらはらする). Probably he cannot understand the real nature of what he is doing.

Story Telling in Economics

A Question I Once Raised During a Conference

Many years ago, when I was attending a session at an economics conference, I heard a presentation by a professor about the relationship between economic growth and technology change. In his presentation he purported to show a high correlation between the number of new patients (registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office) and economic growth. This enabled him to conclude that there was a causal relationship between technological change (as reflected by patent counts) and economic growth. This finding, by the way, is the kind that is very often hailed by organizations that offer research grants to economic professors and to other scientists. This is because findings serve as evidence for the “social benefits of R&D” which these organizations can, and often do, use to drum up political support for their organizations. It is also highly appealing to many people—admittedly, myself included—who love science and loving thinking about how beneficial scientific and technological advancement can be when it is properly and responsibly managed. So I realized that the paper being presented would be music to many people’s ears, and that it would help him receive praise, perhaps a publication, and perhaps even grant money, for his research. (Payson 2017, 3)

Given my own background on the topic … I had a question about his stated findings, which I politely asked during the question-and-answer session. In asking my question I mentioned that I was familiar with a well-known change in patent laws that occurred at the beginning of the time span that he was analyzing. As many who are familiar with patents know, the vast majority of patents that are issued have no real value and are not in fact used by the company that holds the patent. What generally occurs is that a company acquires a very valuable patent and also createes dozens of other patents that are “close” (in their subject matter) to that valuable one. The reason for their doing this is to protect their valuable patent so that no company can produce a similar patent that competes with theirs. The change in patent laws, which I just referred to, had made it easier for companies to acquire similar patents to ones that already existed, which essentially created a need for companies issuing important patents to “surround” their main patent by more of these other unused “protective patents.” (Payson 2017, 3)

So, in my question to the presenter, I asked whether it might simply be possible that the increase in registered patents that his study observed was attributable to that change in patent laws, which was apparently occurring at the same time that GDP was growing fairly well. GDP was growing at that time due to a general upturn in the economy in which employment was on the rise and inflaction had been brought under control. In other words, perhaps it was simpl a coincidental that both patent counts and real GDP were rising during the same period, but there was no causal relationship between the two. I asked him, essentially, if he thought that such a coincidence might be an alternative explanation for why patents and GDP were rising at the same time. (Payson 2017, 3-4)

The presenter’s reaction, especially in terms of his facial expression, reflected a typical response that I must have seen hundreds of times in my 35 years as an economist. Upon hearing my question he condescendingly smiled from ear-to-ear, while constraining himself from laughing, and he replied in an artificially diplomatic and sarcastic tone, “Oh I know all that [about the patent law change.] But … that’s not my story“—the story that he wanted to tell—and he was thoroughly amused that someone in the audience would be naïve enough to actually think about whether his findings were scientifically valid. Scientific validity of one’s findings is not only rarely discussed during paper presentations at economics conferences, but when it is, it is, more often than not, a source of amusement by the presenters of the papers and their audiences than an actual concern that might lead to improving people’s work. (Payson 2017, 4)

The Profession’s Genuine Arrogance toward Concerns about Scientific Integrity

(….) [M]any academic economists respond with smug, arrogant dismissal or laughter when the topic of scientific integrity or professional ethics is brought before them. It might be surprising to those who are less familiar with the profession that such arrogance and frivolity is as observable as much among some of the most prominent economics professors as among those who are not prominent. In the documentary Inside Job, one can observe this kind of arrogance directly among high-ranking professors as they were being interviewed. (Payson 2017, 4)

As another example, Deirdre McCloskey, a former member of the board of directors of the American Economic Association (AEA) (which consists only of highly ranked professors), has told of how she was there when the board broke into laughter when a letter was read aloud at one of their meetings. The letter was someone who was simply asking whether the AEA would consider adopting a code of ethics for economists. (Payson 2017, 4)

Many economics professors do not laugh or make arrogant statements, but express conceit in an entirely different way, such as feeling sorry for those who are even thinking about scientific integrity or professional ethics—thinking to themselves how pathetically stupid, naïve, or childishly innocent those people must be. There is, in fact a substantial literature on the more scholarly problem of arrogance in the academic economics profession. This literature was written entirely by “insiders”—highly prominent professors themselves, some even Nobel laureates. (Payson 2017, 4-5)

(….) In the absence of the commitment to contributing to useful knowledge, the behavior of the work of academic economists have been dominated by two other major forces: (1) the mathematical games that are played for the sake of getting published and acquiring grant money, and (2) cronyism within the profession, which, in combination with the mathematical game playing, has dominated the reward system and incentive system of the profession. (Payson 2017, 10)

[T]o examine the validity of the claim that these are highly useful branches of knowledge [e.g., economics], let us ask what their contribution to mankind’s welfare is supposed to be. To judge by the cues from training courses and textbooks, the practical usefulness … consists of helping people to find their niche in society, to adapt themselves to it painlessly, and to dwell therein contentedly and in harmony with their companions. (Andreski 1973, 26, in Social Sciences as Sorcery)

Andreski 1973, 26, in Social Sciences as Sorcery

Literature-Only Discourse and the Pretense of Scientific Merit

Regardless of all the various arguments made against most theoretical economics, “defenders of the faith” will continue to espouse the party line. That is, they will say that, regardless of the bad and unproductive habits of theoretical economics, good things—namely, genuine and extremely valuable discoveries in economic theory—do fall out of the chaos. They will continue to argue that these valuable discoveries, even though they may be rare, ultimately justify the chaos and the inefficiencies of the system. To get past this convenient, blind faith, I will argue that it is possible for us to identify what characteristics of most top-ranked, theoretical literature actually do prevent it from contributing to valuable knowledge. In this way, we may be able to filter it out from this point on, without removing any of the top-ranked literature that is truly valuable. (Payson 2017, 51)

Defining the Filter

Let us consider a subset of all published papers in economics that meet all of the following three criteria. If it meets any one of the criteria, the paper may still be considered as an acceptable contribution to useful knowledge. (Payson 2017, 51)

Criterion 1: The paper uses a model that has no “real application.” Along these lines, if the paper presents a model for the purpose of being persuasive on a particular policy position, but presents no real evidence in support of that position (and is only a model that essentially “rediscovers its assumptions”) then it would still meet this criterion of having no real application. (Payson 2017, 51)

Criterion 2: The paper relies on assumptions or data that cannot be verified, or the situation exists in which alternative assumptions or data can be reasonably found that would yield entirely different, conflicting results (as in the McCloskey’s A-Prime, C-Prime Theorem). (Payson 2017, 51-52)

Criterion 3: The methodology of the paper would only be understood, valued, and genuinely studied by a very small group of other economists with advanced expertise in that highly specific topic. (Payson 2017, 52)

Let us call a paper that meets all of these criteria a “literature-only paper”—its purpose is only for the career advancement of the author and for the production of literature to be read and actually understood by a very small audience. Similarly, let us call the work done by economists to produce literature-only papers “literature-only work” or “literature-only discourse.” To be clear, this chapter does not discuss top-ranked literature in general—only literature-only papers that meet all (every one) of the above-mentioned criteria. (Payson 2017, 52)

(….) The only thing that truly constitutes “scientific merit”—indeed, the only thing that really matters in science—is an honest and successful effort to learn how the world actually works—not an effort to create impressive systems of mathematical equations that only very smart and very educated people can proudly decipher. Many graduate students in economics, especially those with little interest or experience in natural science, are ignorant of this. They then go on to become economics professors where they remain ignorant, and pass on their ignorance to their graduate students, the cycle repeats with each generation. (Payson 2017, 52)

In response to this accusation, many theoretical economists will argue that, from looking at the work itself, we have no basis for distinguishing between valid, scientific economic theory, and invalid, unscientific economic theory. Nevertheless, I would like to propose a very simple test could enable us to make this distinction: We look at the assumptions made in the analysis, and ask, “Can an alternative set of equally defensible assumptions be made that will lead to very different conclusions?” If the answer is “Yes,” then conclusions of the research in question have no degree of certainty—implying that the research has not contributed to our understanding of how the real world works. If those conclusions are then used to provide a false understanding of how the real world works, then this is simply a deception, which may be harmful in various respects. (Payson 2017, 52-53)

Let us call economic theory that falls under this category “unscientific economic theory” to bring home the point that science plays no role in justifying the existence of such self-serving conceptual games…. So why has the problem not been solved? The answer is that this solution or anything like it, cannot be heard by unscientific theoretical economists—it falls on deaf ears. (Payson 2017, 53)

Selling New Terminology and Supposedly New Concepts

(….) In many cases new terminology is offered in literature-only discourse as the basis for a new theoretical model that appears to capture an important concept. In general, the important concept is already known and understood under different names. Nevertheless, when a prominent theoretical economist presents a new term that they promote as a “new concept,” and at the same time present a very elaborate and sophisticated model to supposedly “explain” the concept in mathematical terms, it may appear, especially to naïve observers, that their research has truly discovered something important. Many may have trouble distinguishing in their own minds the value of the new terminology from the value of the arbitrary assumptions that were used to create a sophisticated model to explain it. (Payson 2017, 60)

Prematurity in Scientific Discovery

Scientists and historians can cite many cases of scientific and technological claims, hypotheses, and proposals that, viewed in retrospect, have apparently taken an unaccountably long time to be recognized, endorsed, or integrated into accepted knowledge and practice. Indeed, some have had to await independent formulation. (Hook 2002, 3)

(….) One may classify at least five grounds on which scientific claims or hypotheses—even those later achieving widespread recognition or endorsement—may be rejected at first offering. In addition to prematurity …, investigators may reject or choose to not follow up on a scientific report or hypothesis because (1) they are unaware of it, (2) having reviewed it, they judge it to be of no immediate relevance to their current work and therefore ignore it, (3) they harbor inappropriate prejudice against some aspect of the claim or its proponent, or (4) it appears to clash directly with their observation or experience. (Hook 2002, 4)

(….) Less readily overcome obstruction may stem from strong social forces—religious, ideological, political, and economic—that lead to challenge, rejection, or suppression. In practice, the only remedy may be to seek expression and circulation of the unrecognized, inhibited, or suppression ideas, proposals, and interventions in areas and social climates where the prohibitive factors do not reign. But in principle, in an enlightened society one may suggest some goals, some general social solutions to overcome the barriers. As obvious as they may be, I believe it worthwhile to list some of them: limitation of economic suppression of new inventions or useful technology, encouragement of ideological tolerance, opposition to implacable doctrinaire social forces, and most important tactically, attempts to disconnect the apparent implications of scientific discoveries from the feared ideological consequences. (Hook 2002, 6)

Factors related to but distinct from more global social forces concern resistance at the individual level. New scientific and technical discoveries may threaten not one’s economic welfare or ideological persuasion but rather the “psychic capital” invested in current scientific views—some involving one’s own work—challenged implicitly or explicitly by a new report. Of course the longer one has held views and invested energy in them, the more reluctant one may be to alter them. This inevitably results in conceptual inertia that some have associated with aging. And ranker reasons than those produced by hardening of cerebral arteries or of scientific beliefs may arise from prejudices of culture, nation, gender, ethnicity, or race. (Hook 2002, 6-7)

All these sources of resistance to discovery originate in what some have termed the “externalist” factors influencing science.[13] And for all the above factors, one may, in principle, suggest some types of science policies to address them. For instance, the review of work by referees without knowledge of its authors, as currently practiced by some journals, clearly diminishes effects of some types of prejudices that inappropriately inhibit publication. Editors close scrutiny of reviewers’ judgements may enable them to distinguish opinions based on wounded psychic capital from legitimate methodological objections. (Hook 2002, 7)

[13] For those not familiar with the term, it refers to factors extrinsic to the putative value-free application of the scientific method. Economic and/or social factors influencing scientific inquiry are externalist. This is opposed to an “internalist approach,” which focuses on those aspects of scientific inquiry seen traditionally as free of values except for the search for truth. The image most scientists have of the ideal working of science is of course the latter. Concern with issues of acceptance of a theory based on replication, falsification, and so on may be regarded as primarily internalist, and concern with those of class and economic factors as primarily externalist. But as has been pointed out on many occasions, it is really not possible to separate those absolutely. See, for example, Nagel 1950, esp. p. 22.

Oracles of Science

[S]cientism“—an exaggerated and ideologically explainable respect for a certain mistaken image of science. Indeed, two of the most remarkable figures in thrall to “scientism” were Freud and Marx themselves. Their own theories must be reinterpreted in order to free them from this incubus.

Alexander Rosenberg, Philosophy of Social Science, 2016, p. 156.

[S]cientism is] an exaggerated and often distorted conception of what science can be expected to do or explain for us. One aspect of scientism is the idea that any question that can be answered at all can best be answered by science. This, in turn, is very often combined with a quite narrow conception of what it is for an answer, or a method of investigation, to be scientific. Specifically, it is supposed that canonical science must work by disclosing the physical or chemical mechanisms that generate phenomena. Together these ideas imply a narrow and homogeneous set of answers to the most diverse imaginable set of questions. Everywhere this implies a restriction of the powers of the human mind; but nowhere is this restriction more disastrous than in the mind’s attempts to answer questions about itself.

John Dupré, Human Nature and the Limits of Science, 2002, p. 2.

Science as Pseudo-Religion

Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, one of the greatest particle physicists of the twentieth century, assured his readers that the universe was “pointless” in his classic The First Three Minutes, still selling briskly a quarter century after its initial publication. We look in vain, says Weinberg, for a purpose for human existence or anything else and must console ourselves selves with the knowledge that science can lift the human experience above its natural level of “farce” and give it the “grace of tragedy.” (Giberson and Artigas 2007, Kindle Locations 40-43)

[Oracles of Science argue] that outside science we cannot find respectable truth; this, of course, is scientism, not science…. Scientism is a belief that serves its adherents very well, assuring them that only science provides vides a valid paradigm for assessing knowledge claims. Scientism is, however, an obviously self-defeating ideology. Its claims about its own epistemology are not the consequence of any scientific investigation but rather reach outside itself into the very realm that it claims does not exist. The claim that there is no valuable knowledge outside science certainly cannot be supported from within science. This is an extremely simple philosophical error, akin to a child claiming that because all the people he knows are in his house, that there cannot be any people outside his house. (Giberson and Artigas 2007, Kindle Locations 565-570)

When we reflect on science—its aims, its values, its limits—we are doing philosophy, not science. This may be bad news for the high priests of scientism, who reject philosophy, but there is no escaping it. Dawkins is a good scientist and a brilliant communicator and certainly would have been an effective lawyer or politician, but he seems strangely unaware that he is an abysmal philosopher and an even worse theologian. (Giberson and Artigas 2007, Kindle Locations 570-573)

How a scientist becomes a disciple of scientism is mysterious, because science and scientism are incompatible. Science owes its success to its restricted focus—its acknowledged inability to even address questions like those raised by scientism, much less answer them. Scientists concentrate on very particular subjects, generally astonishingly narrow, and use rigorous methods to study them, submitting their hypotheses to careful scrutiny and avoiding extrapolations or unwarranted generalizations. In contrast, scientism is an unsupported generalization, bad philosophy masquerading as science or one of its consequents. This qualifies as a virus of the mind, to use Dawkins’s own terminology. Most of scientism’s disciples are casual and probably not even aware that they hold this philosophy, but when scientism is seriously adopted, it becomes a sort of pseudo-religion, providing a meaning to life, and an ideal for which one will fight. Conversion to this strong form of pseudo-religious scientism often derives from two related factors: a disillusionment with some form of traditional religion, and the discovery that science is wonderful and seems to provide meaning and values, in addition to knowledge. (Giberson and Artigas 2007, Kindle Locations 573-579)

There are indeed important values associated with scientific work, and the progress of science contributes to their spread. Progress in crucial aspects of contemporary culture reflects the spread of scientific values. But as most practicing scientists have discovered, one can work in science, easily mixing its values with unrelated extra-scientific interests. (Giberson and Artigas 2007, Kindle Locations 579-580)

Dawkins points, repeatedly and with enthusiasm, to the diversity of religions and concludes that their very diversity proves that no one of them is reliable. Of course, Dawkins’s ideas are themselves much debated among scientists, and serious disputes do indeed exist regarding the very aspects of evolutionary theory that he champions. This, however, hardly constitutes an argument that all these various points of view are equally vacuous and that there can be no serious discussion about them. Dawkins seems strangely unmoved by the large number of thoughtful scholars—including his colleagues leagues at Oxford University, like Keith Ward, Alister McGrath, and Richard Swinburne—whose religious beliefs are accompanied by serious reflection and considerations of evidence. (Giberson and Artigas 2007, Kindle Locations 580-584)

There is, to be sure, a great difference between the general unanimity of science and the diversity of religions. But there is a considered response to this. We reach the peculiar agreement and intersubjectivity of natural science only when we deal with repeatable patterns in the natural world. Scientists have the luxury of gathering together in laboratories to share common, repeatable, and predictable experiences. It is no surprise that when we pose problems related to meaning and spiritual realities, it is more difficult to reach agreement. When we insist on testability, empirical control, quantification, repeatability, and so on, we should be aware that we are confining our study to those realities that meet these criteria. This study is both wonderful and exciting, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the scientism that would impose its straitjacket on the human mind, denying the value or validity of other explorations. (Giberson and Artigas 2007, Kindle Locations 584-589)

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The Ideological Uses of Evolutionary Biology in Recent Atheistic Apologetics

Why should we be concerned about biology and ideology? One good reason is that the use of biology for non-biological ends has been the cause of immense human suffering. Biology has been used to justify eugenic programs, enforced sterilization, experimentation on living humans, death camps, and political ambitions based on notions of racial superiority, to name but a few examples. We should also be concerned because biological ideas continue to be used, if not in these specific ways, then in other ways that lie well beyond science. Investigating the past should help us to be more reflective about the science of our own day, hopefully more equipped to discern the ideological abuse of science when it occurs. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

One of the most remarkable developments during the opening years of the twenty-first century has been the appearance of a number of high-profile populist books offering an aggressively atheist critique of religion.’ This “clustering” of prominent works of atheist apologetics in the period 2004-7 is of no small historical interest in its own right, and is widely taken to reflect a cultural reaction against “9/11”-the suicide attacks tacks in New York in September 2001, widely regarded as being motivated by Islamic extremism. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

Yet the appearance of these works is of interest for another reason. A central theme of two of them is that developments in biology, especially evolutionary biology, have significantly negative implications for belief in God. Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, both published in 2006, express the fundamental belief that the Darwinian theory of evolution has such explanatory power that it erodes many traditional metaphysical notions-such as belief in God-through its “universal acid.” This represents an extension of the basic lines of argument found in earlier works, in which an appeal to biological understandings of human origins, subsequently amplified to include accounts of the origins of human understandings of purpose and value based on evolutionary psychology, which was made in order to erode the plausibility of belief in God. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

From its first appearance, some saw Darwinism as a potential challenge to at least some aspects of the traditional Christian view of creation. Yet it is important to appreciate that most early evolutionists, including Charles Darwin himself, did not consider that they were thereby promulgating or promoting atheism. Since the beginning of the nineteenth century, serious ous Christian thinkers had come to realize that at least some metaphorical interpretation was demanded in considering the early chapters of Genesis, so that their possible incompatibility with evolution was not the major stumbling block for the intelligentsia that might be expected (see also Harrison, Chapter 1, this volume).’ Nor is there any shortage of later significant evolutionary biologists who held that their science was consistent with their faith, such as Ronald A. Fisher, author of The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), and Theodosius Dobzhansky, author of Genetics and the Origin of Species (193’7).’ The emphasis upon Darwinism as an acid that totally erodes religious belief, though anticipated in earlier periods, appears to have reached a new intensity in the first decade of the twenty-first century. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

This chapter sets out to explore the emergence of this focused appeal to evolutionary biology in Dennett’s and Dawkins’ recent works of atheist apologetics, both considering it in its historical context and offering an assessment of its impact on the popular understanding of Darwinism in the early twenty-first century. This appeal to biology in the defense of atheism is complex and nuanced, and there are significant differences of substance and emphasis between atheist writers who adopt such an approach. Nevertheless, some common factors emerge, which suggest that this is an appropriate line of inquiry to pursue, of no small intrinsic intellectual interest to both historians and evolutionary biologists. (Alexander and Numbers 2010, emphasis added)

As my concern in this chapter is specifically with biological issues, I shall not engage with the more general argument, also embedded within some recent atheist writings, that the natural sciences as a whole make faith in God intellectually irresponsible or risible.’ This argument occasionally reflects an implicit presumption, generally not defended by an appeal to historical scholarship, of the permanent validity of a “warfare” or “conflict” model of the historical interaction of science and religion.” It is clear that this model has continuing cultural authority, especially at the popular level. It may have been radically revised, even discredited, by academic historians; it is, however, clear that this development has yet to filter down to popular culture. While this atheist argument merits close attention, as it has relevance for the calibration of traditional Christian approaches to evidence-based apologetics, it is not a topic that I propose to address further here. My main theme is the manner in which Darwinism has been transposed in recent atheist apologetics from a provisional scientific theory to an antitheistic ideology. My focus is on the ideological use of the biological sciences, especially evolutionary biology, in recent atheist apologetics, a topic which I believe is best considered under three broad categories: (1) the elevation of the status of Darwinism from a provisional scientific theory to a worldview; (2) the personal case of Charles Darwin as a role model for scientific atheism; and (3) the use of the concept of the “meme”-a notion that reflects an attempt to extend the Darwinian paradigm from nature to culture-as a means of reductively explaining (and hence criticizing) belief in God. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

Darwinism as an ideology

One of the most interesting developments of the twentieth century has been the growing trend to regard Darwinian theory as transcending the category of provisional scientific theories, and constituting a “world-view.” Darwinism is here regarded as establishing a coherent worldview through its evolutionary narrative, which embraces such issues as the fundamental nature of reality, the physical universe, human origins, human nature, society, psychology, values, and destinies. While being welcomed by some, others have expressed alarm at this apparent failure to distinguish between good, sober, and restrained science on the one hand, and non-empirical metaphysics, fantasy, myth and ideology on the other. In the view of some, this transition has led to Darwinism becoming a religion or atheist faith tradition in its own right. (Alexander and Numbers 2010)

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Science as a Social Activity

Most sociologists and anthropologists agree on the definition and the domain of their disciplines; the same holds true for many psychologists, political scientists, and almost all economists. The same cannot be said for philosophers and philosophy. Philosophy is a difficult subject to define, which makes it difficult to show social scientists why they should care about it—the philosophy of social science in particular…. [T]he subject is inescapable for the social scientist…. [W]hether as an economist or an anthropologist, one has to take sides on philosophical questions. One cannot pursue the agenda of research in any of the social sciences without taking sides on philosophical issues, without committing oneself to answers to philosophical questions. (Rosenberg, Alexander. Philosophy of Social Science. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; 2016; p. 1.) 

(…) Questions about what ought to be the case, what we should do, and what is right or wrong, just and unjust, are called normative. By contrast, questions in science are presumably descriptive or, as sometimes said, positive, not normative. Many of the normative questions have close cousins in the social and behavioral sciences Thus, psychology will interest itself in why individuals hold some actions to be right and others wrong; anthropology will consider the sources of differences among cultures about what is good and bad; political science may study the consequences of various policies established in the name of justice; economics will consider how to maximize welfare, subject to the normative assumption that welfare is what we ought to maximize. But the sciences—social or natural—do not challenge or defend the normative views we may hold. In addition to normative questions that the sciences cannot answer, there are questions about the claims of each of the sciences to provide knowledge, or about the limits of scientific knowledge, that the sciences themselves cannot address. These are among the distinctive questions of philosophy of science, including questions about what counts as knowledge, explanation, evidence, or understanding. (Rosenberg 2016, 2-3)


If there are questions the sciences cannot answer and questions about why the sciences cannot answer them, why should a scientist, in particular a behavioral or social scientist, take any interest in them? The positions scientists take on answers to philosophical questions determine questions they consider answerable by science and choose to address, as well as the methods they employ to answer them. Sometimes scientists take sides consciously. More often they take sides on philosophical questions by their very choice of question, and without realizing it. The philosophy of science may be able to vindicate those choices [or undermine them]. At least, it can reveal to scientists that they have made choices, that they have taken sides on philosophical issues. It is crucial for scientists to recognize this, not just because their philosophical positions must be consistent with the theoretical and observational findings of their sciences. Being clear about a discipline’s philosophy is essential at the research frontiers of the disciplines, it is the philosophy of science that guides inquiry…. [T]he unavoidability and importance of philosophical questions are even more significant for the social scientist than for the natural scientist. The natural sciences have a much larger body of well-established, successful answers to questions and well-established methods for answering them. As a result, many of the basic philosophical questions about the limits and the methods of the natural sciences have been set aside in favor of more immediate questions clearly within the limits of each of the natural sciences. (Rosenberg 2016, 3)

The social and behavioral sciences have not been so fortunate. Within these disciplines, there is no consensus on the questions that each of them is to address, or the methods to be employed. This is true between disciplines and even within some of them. Varying schools and groups, movements and camps claim to have developed appropriate methods, identified significant questions, and provided convincing answers to them. But among social scientists, there is certainly nothing like the agreement on such claims that we find in any of the natural sciences. (Rosenberg 2016, 3)

The social and behavioral sciences have not been so fortunate. Within these disciplines, there is no consensus on the questions that each of them is to address, or the methods to be employed. This is true between disciplines and even within some of them. Varying schools and groups, movements and camps claim to have developed appropriate methods, identified significant questions, and provided convincing answers to them. But among social scientists, there is certainly nothing like the agreement on such claims that we find in any of the natural sciences. In the absence of agreement about theories and benchmark methods of inquiry among the social scientists, the only source of guidance for research must come from philosophical theories. Without a well-established theory to guide inquiry, every choice of research question and of method to tackle it is implicitly a gamble with unknown odds. The choice of the social scientist makes it a bet that the question chosen is answerable, that questions not chosen are either less important or unanswerable, that the means used to attack the questions are appropriate, and that other methods are not. (Rosenberg 2016, 4)

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The reason for the everlasting interaction between science and philosophy transpires clearly. The human mind musters an admirable ability to think up equations for physical systems. But equations need to be interpreted in terms of physical models and mechanisms. Science requires conceptual understanding. This understanding employs fundamental philosophical notions. (….) The scientific enterprise comes with philosophical commitments, whether the scientist likes it or not. The scientist needs philosophical ideas, simply because amongst the experimental and mathematical tools in the toolbox of the scientist there are conceptual tools, like fundamental notions. The despairing scientist may ask: ‘Will we ever get an answer?’ The philosopher replies: ‘Not a definitive answer, but a few tentative answers.’ Recall that the philosopher (and the scientist qua philosopher) works with conceptual models. At any one time only a few of these models are in circulation. They cannot provide the definitive answers of which the scientist is fond. But this is typical of models even in the natural sciences. (Weinert, Friedel. The Scientist as Philosopher: Philosophical Consequences of Great Scientific Discoveries. Berlin: Springer-Verlag; 2004; pp. 278-279. )

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Science is not above criticism. On the contrary, because of its influence on modern society, science and scientists need careful scrutiny as much as they deserve admiration and support. As Helen Longino eloquently puts it, science is a social process, and one that is far too important to be left in the hands of scientists alone. Perhaps the most dangerous fallacy a scientist can commit, often subconsciously, is to only do science and never think about it. Yet many scientists who I know are not aware of the broad discussion about how science is done (or shouldn’t be done) that permeates the literature in philosophy and sociology of science. Worse yet, when asked, they positively sneer at the idea of doing philosophy or sociology of science. (Pigliucci 2002: 247)

This lack of understanding of philosophy and sociology of science by scientists is, of course, at the root of … scientism … [When] a scientist of the caliber of Noble Prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg can even go so far as writing a book chapter entitled “Against Philosophy,” in which he argues that philosophy is not only useless, but positively harmful to the scientific enterprise … [we see a] sort of hubris that offends many [religionists] … (not to mention philosophers), and they have every right to be offended. (Pigliucci 2002: 247)