It came up again yesterday in a Facebook discussion: “The historic progress of science assures us that eventually it’s going to be able to answer all the hard questions it hasn’t answered yet.” Those questions take myriad forms. Yesterday it was about how the human brain could explain our mental lives. “Science is progressing, science will solve it.”
This is a version of a view called scientism: that every important question is the kind of question that can be explained by science, and eventually will be.
Scientists have a name for that kind of reasoning: extrapolation.
Better yet: unwarranted extrapolation.
Scientists also know that even a long trend is no guarantee that it will continue forever, and they rightly warn against the unscientific error of assuming that it will.
Science will undoubtedly progress rapidly as the years go on. It’s safe to believe that trend will continue. To believe the trend counts as evidence that science will solve all the hard problems, though, is to make an unscientific, unwarranted extrapolation.
Why don’t scientists say, “Hey, stop that! Let’s stick to real science, okay, and cool it with these unwarranted conclusions!”
Or in other words, why don’t more scientists, who really understand and respect science, call out the unscientific abuse of science known as scientism?