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A Post-Scientistic Worldview

Updated on August 16, 2013
"Scientism is simply an exaggerated belief in science.  Scientism claims that the methods of the modern natural sciences provide our only access to the world and give the only kind of 'truth' " -- John W. Keck
"Scientism is simply an exaggerated belief in science. Scientism claims that the methods of the modern natural sciences provide our only access to the world and give the only kind of 'truth' " -- John W. Keck
A meme that jokes about the weight of science
A meme that jokes about the weight of science
Copernicus challenged the Catholic Church's presentation of reality by claiming we lived in a heliocentric solar system
Copernicus challenged the Catholic Church's presentation of reality by claiming we lived in a heliocentric solar system
To Hindus, and many native cultures, all life is thought of as a dance involving all aspects of reality and life
To Hindus, and many native cultures, all life is thought of as a dance involving all aspects of reality and life

Science has come to dominate modern consciousness, bringing about disastrous results for both humanity and the world. An inspection of science’s history reveals that it has assumed the role of a worldview as a reaction against the oppression of individual intellectual assertion and religion in general. The now dogmatic tenets of science, however, contain seeds of disaster when inflated to the degree of a Weltanschauung, the consequences of which are apparent in the very metaphysics on which it operates. In reifying the subject/object dualism a kind of thoughtlessness emerges, which plagues contemporary thinking and results in the alienation of man from himself and the environment, breeding an exploitative approach to nature. Yet by recognizing these dangerous consequences, and science’s inability to account for the existence of vital human experiences, a new worldview shall emerge, one that is integrative, holistic, utilizes technology yet checks its pervasiveness, and is profoundly spiritual in nature. At last, all imagined dualism will vanish and man will no longer be subject to ideological and historical extremes.

The history of the scientific movement reveals how science came to assume the role of a worldview as a reaction against the Church’s suppression of intellectual freedom. In its earliest years science was believed able to "show the path to God" (Weber, Science as a Vocation, 142). As science progressed a fear of man's curiositas transgressing the humilitas demanded by God arose, spawning the doctrine of nominalism (Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age, 344-5). This theological declaration made a distinction between God's Absolute Power, which was unfathomable, and His Ordained Power, which was comprehensible by man in that it constituted the regular and predictable ebb and flow of nature. Hence, the individual was able to explore an aspect of God (nature) without being able to grasp His entirety, permitting the scientific inquisitor to "behave as though God were dead" free from the fear of committing sin (Blumenberg, Legitimacy in the Modern Age, 346). However, Copernicus upset this situation by exploring the heretical possibility of a heliocentric solar system (361). This event spurred the Church to suppress those who investigated reality scientifically, since the empirical evidence they gleaned challenged the worldview enforced by religion. Eventually, this repression drove early scientists "into...conspiratorial societies" and caused their ideas to resurface "more radicalized and [to] spread wherever ecclesiastical institutions tried to maintain intellectual...control" (Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World, 30). Science, being highly individualistic in nature, was more easily assimilated by the Protestants. However, the utterly transcendent God of Protestantism made it easy for science to “cut the umbilical cord between heaven and earth” in the name of its “subjective expressive-aesthetic-moral” critique of religion, revealing that science, due to its subjugation at the hands of the Church, now despised all religion and not simply those who smothered the importance of the individual (Berger, The Sacred Canopy, 112; Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World, 30). Science then replaced religion as the West’s dominant worldview, its technology and prognostic power attaining the status of God. However, the metaphysics upon which science functions foretell disasters when augmented to the scale of a Weltanschauung.

Heidegger correctly identifies science as fundamentally quantitative and primarily concerned with prediction (The Age of the World Picture, 188-9). In attempts to foster precision science is coerced into translating and understanding the phenomena of the world via the language of mathematics (120). This then forces it to predefine what may be considered an existing thing (120). In other words, "science…encounters only what its kind of representation has admitted beforehand as an object…" (The Thing, 170). In this situation, that which exists allows “itself [to] be put at the disposal of representation," fundamentally altering the "very essence of man itself....in that man becomes subject" (The Age of the World Picture 126+128). In marked contrast to worldviews of the past "man becomes the relational center of that which is…" (128). As the pivot point around which the universe turns, "human capability as a domain [is] given over to measuring and executing, for the purpose of gaining mastery over" all of existence (132). This dualism of subject/object, at first merely hypothetical, becomes a nightmarish, modern reality, eventually dissolving the connections between humanity and its environment, bringing about widespread calamity and harm.

The first consequence of humanity’s imagined separation from its surroundings is that "the world…appears as an object open to the attacks of calculative thought, attacks that nothing is believed able any longer to resist" (Memorial Address, 50). With the loss of meditative thinking, caused by science’s “ongoing activity,” man is no longer able to "dwell...on what is closest; upon that which concerns us, each one of us..." (The Age of the World Picture 124; Memorial Address 47). This thoughtlessness characterizes a loss of humanness, transforming man into a slave of technology whose mechanical thought erroneously asserts "that life is long, but time and work are short; that every problem will be solved by a 'technological breakthrough' before it enlarges to catastrophe[, and] that any problem can be solved in a hurry by large applications of urgent emotion, information, and money" (Berry, People, Land, and Community, 160). When this mindset enters the realm of agriculture, and dealings with the environment more broadly, the short-term is given priority above the long-term to the detriment of the overall well being of the land, forgetting that "the health and fertility of each involves the health and fertility of all" (164). Another shortcoming of science is revealed in the fact that it cannot recognize the connections between the "land, work, people, and community,” which allow for a healthier, more longevous approach to farming, “because they are not quantitative" (162). Similarly, other crucial human modalities, such as love and the mystical experience, defy the quantitative representation science requires of that which is considered to exist (Jean LucMarion). The recognition of these intrinsic problems and limitations of the scientistic worldview shall necessarily bring about a shift in consciousness towards a relationship with reality that is more integrative, holistic, and spiritual.

This new, innovative worldview will be characterized by a lack of dependence on technology and, as Heidegger recommends, an openness to the meaning of technology, which "hides itself" (Memorial Address 55). This "releasement toward things and openness to the mystery...promise us a new ground and foundation upon which we can stand and endure the world of technology without being imperiled by it" (55). In this balanced atmosphere man will assume his proper place in a mysterious kind of reality, described by Heidegger as "the mirror-play of the betrothed, each to the other in simple oneness" (The Thing, 180). This mystical conception of the world is very much akin to the modern Christian concept of existence as the interplay of love between the Trinity and to the Hindu concept of the cosmic lila. Berry also believes man must relinquish his anthrocentric, hubristic mentality and develop a proper "humility," which typifies "the human place in the order of Creation" (People, Land, and Community, 161). Indeed, "it is the properly humbled mind in its proper place that sees..." "as soon as human cognition...calls for an explanation [of existence], it fails to transcend the world's nature and falls short of it" (161; Heidegger, The Thing, 180). In this humbled state, humanity will recognize its ignorance and function “on the basis of an understanding of harmony" that “ultimately defies explanation because it involve[s] an order which in both magnitude and complexity is ultimately incomprehensible” (Berry, People, Land, and Community, 164+163). This harmony, Berry claims, is best described as "a dance", further emphasizing the lila motif (167). Thus, man, and history, shall be fully reconciled, for no longer will any extreme—religious or scientific, the community or the individual—be emphasized to the exclusion of the other. Instead both are recognized, balanced, and fully integrated into the multi-dimensionality and mystery of Being.

Science has come to dominate modern consciousness because of the repression individual intellectual freedom suffered at the hands of the Church. This persecution, however, caused science to reject any form of religious belief and to raise the importance of the individual above that of its environment and community, a consequence that is foreseeable in the very metaphysics on which science operates. The ensuing reification of subject/object dualism necessarily brings about an alienation of the human from its self and environment producing a dangerous, exploitative approach to nature. However, upon recognizing these threats and shortcomings, humanity will create a new relationship with Being, one that will employ technology but check its pervasiveness, recognize man’s inability to comprehend existence in its totality, and be profoundly holistic and spiritual. At last, in this multi-dimensional, integrative environment, man will be liberated from nostalgia, the belief that today’s dilemmas will be remedied by a future revelation, and the extremes of individualism and the “hive-mind,” scientism and religious dogma. At last, harmony will have the chance to prevail.

Great lecture by MIT professor about Scientism

Fracking is a great example of a procedure that yields short-term benefits and long-term disaster

Discusses the role of religion in modern societies

A Paradigmatic Piece in Sociology and Religion

Some good work by Wendell Berry

Heidegger's best-known work. One might consider also an introduction to his works if you are unfamiliar

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    • maxoxam41 profile image

      Deforest 3 years ago from USA

      When scientists warn us against global warming where do you position them in your imaginary line? Are they the super god or is it empirical? When is science rational? Couldn't it be limited? Is the Vitruvian man the perfect example of the limit of science? But does it mean that the commoner shall not believe in science? Maybe science is an option like religion is, like spiritualism is? Why would I give more credibility to spiritualism than scientism? Why couldn't it be a choice, only?

    • profile image

      MacGregor 3 years ago

      I'm not picking sides, but think this is a good counter-point:

      http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114127/science-...

    • Nicholas Fiorito profile image
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      Nicholas Fiorito 3 years ago from Northern NJ

      Thanks, I loved researching and writing this one. It really speaks to everyone in "Western Civilization." Thanks so much for your comments.

    • WiccanSage profile image

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 3 years ago

      This is a really great and profound article. While I respect science, I do hope the future sees science more open to spiritual matters.

    • Nicholas Fiorito profile image
      Author

      Nicholas Fiorito 4 years ago from Northern NJ

      I think it is wonderful to imagine the future of human thought. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting hub on A Post-Scientistic Worldview, it has become challenging in this field and really believable by most people without a choice.