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Everyday, we see new technologies, new feats of engineering, new sciences unfolding before our very eyes. In a very real sense, the scientific progress of the world around us directly effects our lives and changes each generation in their views and experience of the world.

Scientism is precisely this view: progress is inevitable. Science continues to triumph and discover new truths about the world, and the world becomes better for it. Yet, the answers science comes up with are not really ‘the Truth’ but the best understood and most supportable position (At least, under Popperian Science).  Physics itself still uses lots of theoretical knowledge, and in addition, the theories created by physics, as amazing models of the universe, have been used to create simulations and thought experiments of thousands of alternative possible worlds – something not ‘empirically’ testable?

In the social sciences, we have even a more difficult position. In psychology, for example, we must admit that people can change and though we may find some fundamental biases and cognitive effects, things like personality traits and motivations are malleable, something strange when compared to the physical laws of the universe which seem to hold steady. How can one find ‘the Truth’ of something which is ever changing?

Is progress the only possibility?

As a dogmatic philosophy about the world, Scientism touts the “Idea of progress” that will forever help and improve humanity as science continues. Quality of life has surely gone up because of science, but new problems have arisen. The possible destruction of our environment, new oppressive economic structures, the ethical mistreatment of scientific participants, weapons of mass destruction, etc. Some scientists claim that all new problems will simply eventually be solved by science and therefore are unproblematic in the long run (David Deustche, in his book The Beginning of Infinity). Fundamentally however, science may solve problems within its closing brackets, but its selection of problems, and its value statements are still lacking within itself. How could it critique within its own system, for example, capitalism as a system which is fundamentally reshaping the reality of its citizens into a new dogma of money, greed, power and alienation? Also the sociological view of the oppressors crushing the cultural values of those they oppress by power, erasure and propaganda? We could even talk about the guilt the new bourgeois feels on its horrible skull throne, looking upon its ‘ivory’ with the thinnest psychological mask. These questions, while supportable by evidence from science, must be considered in a broader context. Not as a construction of truth upon truth, but a debate between foundational possibilities of our principles as a species.

Historically, before the progressive view of life took hold, most cultures believed in a cyclical view of the world. Imagine, instead of the view that progressing knowledge is the greatest good, people looked to keep all things in perfect balance and harmony. In any individual person’s life, this is how the world would seem — progress and invention was slow to nonexistent. Yet, regardless of how it may seem to individuals, we must actively make a choice in our era. Is progress dangerous or good? Or is harmony with nature rather than dominion over it our ultimate aim?

Even under our new progressive state, we see totalitarianism, world wars, economic and cultural oppression — all of these things, all around us. Progress, in the social sense, is truly not inevitable.

Scientism has been becoming the new religion of the rationalist West, we look to its supreme guidance to solve the world’s problems, and have given up on our religious and political leaders for radical transformation. Our new rational society has taught us a new ideology — the cult of the economic self with a feeble pinch of ‘social justice’ and perhaps ‘environmentalism’, as a charitable aside.  Capitalism invades our every vein, and the virtues of our life are simply our functionality in society. The unstoppable march of science will solve all, and any one persons actions as a free agent are only at worst a slight misstep in its procession. Where though, does this procession lead to?

Today, is there less famine, less murdered, less genocide, less war, disease, oppression, suppression  suicide, depression, anxiety, etc, etc, then ever before?  Are we truly happier under the rule of secular, rationalist, capitalist scientism? I absolutely love science — but the belief that it will provide all the answers, the its progress will be undeterred, and that it always provides what is best, is simply too idealistic.

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