Scientism, a sort of bogus sub-genre of legitimate scientific inquiry, often rears its head anytime scientific news is reported. I notice this anytime I see someone say something like “science tells us,” or “because science.” This personification of a branch of intellectual inquiry makes a totem of science. It’s an attempt to turn inquiry and the knowledge derived from inquiry into a holistic explanation of cause.

If the lessons of scientific branches were meant to encompass all knowledge, there would be no philosophy or theology. Science is incompetent to speak to ultimate purpose or meaning in answering the Why? of life in a universe whose entire existence is mysterious.

Fifteen years ago John Searle spoke with Reason about some of this:

Searle: Behaviorism was the idea that when you do a scientific study of the mind, you don’t actually try to get inside the brain and figure out what’s going on, you just study overt behavior.

Reason: Inputs and outputs?

Searle: Inputs and outputs. And the science of psychology on the behaviorist model was you were going to correlate these stimulus inputs with the behavioral outputs. It’s a ridiculous conception of the mind–the idea is that there’s nothing going on in there, except you have the stimulus input and the behavioral output.

The best comment about behaviorism is the old joke about the two behaviorists after they just had sex. He says to her, “It was great for you, how was it for me?” (Laughter) If behaviorism were right, that ought to make perfectly good sense, because there’s nothing going on in him except his behavior, and she’s in a better position to observe his behavior than he is.

Leon Kass has spoken to on these themes too:

The science was indeed powerful, but its self-understanding left much to be desired. It knew the human parts in ever-finer detail, but it concerned itself little with the human whole. Medicine, then and now, has no concept of the human being, of the peculiar and remarkable concretion of psyche and soma that makes us that most strange and wonderful among the creatures. Psychiatry, then and even more now, is so little chagrined by its failure to say what the psyche or soul is that it denies its existence altogether. The art of healing does not inquire into what health is, or how to get and keep it: the word “health” does not occur in the index of the leading textbooks of medicine. To judge from the way we measure medical progress, largely in terms of mortality statistics and defeats of deadly diseases, one gets the unsettling impression that the tacit goal of medicine is not health but rather bodily immortality, with every death today regarded as a tragedy that future medical research will prevent.

A healthy life means a healthy relationship with both knowledge and mystery.

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