Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The supposed dangers of scientific method

Eric Voegelin, discussing positivism, declares the dangers inherent in sticking rigidly to scientific method:

The destruction workd by positivism is the consequence of two fundamental assumptions... the splendid unfolding of the natural sciences was co-responsible with other factors for the assumption that the methods used in mathematizing sciences of the external world were possessed of some inherent virtue an that all other sciences would achieve comparable success if they followed the example and accepted these methods as their model... [and] the methods of the natural sciences were a criterion for theoretical relevance in general. From the combination of the two assumptions followed the well-known series of assertions that a study of reality could qualify as scientific only if it used the methods of the natural sciences... [T]this second assumption subordinates theoretical relevance to method and thereby perverts the meaning of science. Science is a search for truth concerning the nature of the various realms of being.

Well, it's a seductive argument in some ways, and when one hears the rigid views of Dawkins et al, one can see what Voegelin means. But this is really a piece of sophistry, as revealed by a later quote:

The truth of man and the truth of God are inseparably one. Man will be in the truh of his existence when he has opened his psyche to the truth of God; and the truth of God will become manifest in history when it has formed the psyche of man into receptivity for the unseen measure.

Really, that is tendentious to say the least. Granted, we can take scientific examination to extremes, but we can also take faith to extremes. What evidence can there be to back up that extraordinarily bold statement?


Mark said...

Voegelin was a weird one. He was often brilliant, but I feel suspicious of him. An old conservative college professor of mine said he could never love Voegelin because apparently the man would write in a bathtub of ice with his typewriter on his knees, whereas a good conservative should always write (as apparently Russell Kirk did) with a beer, a sandwich, and some form of tobacco.

As for these particular quotes, I agree with the first and don't know what to think about the second. The attempt to turn everything into science applies mechanical causality to everything, and I do believe that that sort of determinism is inhumane.

Tom Conoboy said...

I find him fascinating. There is much he says that I agree with, but then he goes off on a thought wave and forgets to posit any proof.

On the first quote, there is some truth in it. I've just made the point in response to a different comment from you that there are those who take rationalism, or scientific method, to extremes, and cannot countenance anything else. I don't think that's a helpful approach.

I now have an image of Voegelin sitting in his bath with a typwriter...