I admit it. I haven't read Curtis White's "The Science Delusion."
But I've read reviews of the book. I considered buying it to see what a skeptic about science has to say. However, White seems so off-base in his claim that science is determined to supplant the humanities as well as religion, I figured it would be a waste of money.
Slate has a fairly favorable review. Some comments on the review make a lot more sense to me, though.
That doesn't mean the arts are useless. Art allows people to tell their own personal experience. Science can't and doesn't try to do that.
Biology can explain that we evolved as social creatures and have brains fine tuned to pick up social information from friends, family, and strangers. But it of course doesn't truly explain the joy of winning your town's Little League world series when you were 12, or the joy and sadness of your relationship of your estranged best friend from college. Only art can do that.
The two don't do the same thing. But if we want to know what the world is and how we work, science is the only means. The arts can explain our experiences in the world but it can't tell us how the world works at a fundamental level.
Yes, indeed: science (like atheism, in many people's minds) did in fact cause the Holocaust. All scientists should immediately fall on their knees, repent, and swear never to commit the crime of scientific research again.
Yes, indeed (and without the sarcasm now), scientific discoveries can be used for harm, but--believe it or not--so can religion, and just about everything else humans come up with. What White is missing is Feynman's crucial principle, discussed in his Cal Tech commencement talk about "cargo cult science," that if you want to discover anything about reality, you have to use a method that will keep you from fooling yourself. And that, in the long run, is the method science uses.
Poets and artists can give us insight into a lot of things, but how do we know that the insights they offer are in fact true? That's what science is for. Certainly neuroscience has a very long road ahead of it, given the enormous complexity of the human brain. And the little knowledge it has produced so far has been hugely oversold, especially in the popular news media. But that's a reason for getting a better understanding of just what science is and how it works, which is a difficult intellectual task. Unfortunately, something that the popular news media is just not up to.
I completed the course requirements for a Ph.D. in Systems Science (sort of the "science of sciences"). I've known a lot of scientifically-minded people, including some professional scientists. I've read many books about scientific subjects, some by the supposedly anti-humanities people White cites in his book: Daniel Dennett, Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens.
What the heck is White so offended about? I've seen no evidence that any of these guys, nor any other scientist, for that matter, denigrates poetry, philosophy, literature, music, art, or any other pursuit included under the term "humanities."
Science and the humanities are different ways of knowing and of experiencing life.
I love science, and I love philosophy. I love facts, and I love feelings. I love the scientific method and I love intuitive aha's (which, of course, are a big part of the scientific method). I love thinking and I love not-thinking. I love non-fiction books and I love literary novels.
Here's the last part of a New York Times review of "The Science Delusion." It made me feel good about my decision to not buy the book.
But where “The Science Delusion” is long on invective, it is short on argument.
White attempts to make a case for a rediscovery of Romanticism and the edgy danger of art as an antidote to a faith in science, but his approach is so scattershot and his tone so grouchy — Camille Paglia meets Andy Rooney — that he never succeeds in convincing the reader that science indeed operates as a matter of faith.
(And for all his complaints about the lack of interest in contemporary philosophy among scientists, his own preference for the early-19th-century German idealist philosophy of Friedrich Schelling, to which he devotes a far-too-slight section, doesn’t exactly give you much confidence that they are missing much.)
I don’t know how “easy” the answers are to the “big questions” raised in “The Science Delusion,” but I am sure that they’re a lot more daunting than anything White has to offer.
Let me start by saying i've not read the science delusion. However I have worked in an applied science environment for 25 years. All I can say is that my skepticism about cults and religion is only marginally more intense than my cynicism about the sanctity and purity of much of the published work done in the name of science. We know that all perception is impacted by subjectivity and that most research especially in the social and psychological sciences involves a lot of perception. We also know that what gets studied and sometimes even how it's studied is influenced by what funding is available which is always highly political and very often these days financial/profit based. Results of research these days is more predictable based on who is funding it than anything else. I have a lot more I could share on this topic but I'll stop for now.
So... Maybe my handle is quite accurate.
Thanks for the post! Love the blog!
Posted by: Skeptic | June 17, 2013 at 07:11 PM