The Trouble with Scientism?

Philip Kitcher is a philosopher who specializes in the philsophy of science. He is a professor at Columbia University in New York, USA. He's well known in the atheist, skeptical community and he's an outspoken critic of creationism.

He just published an article in The New Republic entitled: The Trouble with Scientism: Why history and the humanities are also a form of knowledge.

Many of the debates on the issue of "scientism" depend on how you define "science." As you can see from the subtitle of his essay, it's about the two cultures. Kitcher separate the search for knowledge in the humanities from the search for knowledge in the natural sciences. Here's what he says ...
It is so easy to underrate the impact of the humanities and of the arts. Too many people, some of whom should know better, do it all the time. But understanding why the natural sciences are regarded as the gold standard for human knowledge is not hard. When molecular biologists are able to insert fragments of DNA into bacteria and turn the organisms into factories for churning out medically valuable substances, and when fundamental physics can predict the results of experiments with a precision comparable to measuring the distance across North America to within the thickness of a human hair, their achievements compel respect, and even awe. To derive one’s notion of human knowledge from the most striking accomplishments of the natural sciences easily generates a conviction that other forms of inquiry simply do not measure up. Their accomplishments can come to seem inferior, even worthless, at least until the day when these domains are absorbed within the scope of “real science.”
It's clear the he thinks of "science" as something that only natural scientists do. This is a different definition that the one I prefer. I think of "science" as a way of knowing that involves evidence, skepticism, and rationalism. I agree with Rush Holt [Rush Holt on Science and Critical Thinking] that critical thinking is an important part of science as a way of knowing and I agree with him that the scientific approach can be used everywhere—even in philosophy departments.

Kitcher's view is different. That leads him to define scientism as ...
The problem with scientism—which is of course not the same thing as science—is owed to a number of sources, and they deserve critical scrutiny. The enthusiasm for natural scientific imperialism rests on five observations. First, there is the sense that the humanities and social sciences are doomed to deliver a seemingly directionless sequence of theories and explanations, with no promise of additive progress. Second, there is the contrasting record of extraordinary success in some areas of natural science. Third, there is the explicit articulation of technique and method in the natural sciences, which fosters the conviction that natural scientists are able to acquire and combine evidence in particularly rigorous ways. Fourth, there is the perception that humanists and social scientists are only able to reason cogently when they confine themselves to conclusions of limited generality: insofar as they aim at significant—general—conclusions, their methods and their evidence are unrigorous. Finally, there is the commonplace perception that the humanities and social sciences have been dominated, for long periods of their histories, by spectacularly false theories, grand doctrines that enjoy enormous popularity until fashion changes, as their glaring shortcomings are disclosed.
That's a really stupid definition of scientism. I don't know anyone who actually thinks like that. Do you know any "natural science imperialists" who dismiss the humanities and the social sciences?1

I believe that people in the humanities and social sciences use the same approach as those in the natural sciences. I call that way of knowing "science" but if someone wants to come up with a better name, I'm all ears. As far as I'm concerned, science (as I define it) is the ONLY way of knowing that has actually been successful in discovering true knowledge. I guess that makes me guilty of "scientism."

It's very easy to refute scientism as I define it. All you have to do is show that there's some other way of knowing that produces universal truths or true knowledge. Perhaps philosophers have discovered truths using some other way of knowing?

1. I criticize evolutionary psychology. The reason why I'm so critical is precisely because they don't conform to the scientific way of knowing. They are not doing "good science" by any definition of the word "science."
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