The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers

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Overview

One of our most brilliant social critics?and the author of the bestselling The Middle Mind?presents a scathing critique of the ?delusions? of science alongside a rousing defense of the role of art and philosophy in our culture

The so-called new atheists, most famously Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, made a splash in the new millen?nium. They told the evangelical and the liberal believer that ...

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The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers

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Overview

One of our most brilliant social critics—and the author of the bestselling The Middle Mind—presents a scathing critique of the “delusions” of science alongside a rousing defense of the role of art and philosophy in our culture

The so-called new atheists, most famously Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, made a splash in the new millen­nium. They told the evangelical and the liberal believer that they must give up religion and submit to science.

More recently, neuroscientists and their fans in the media have delivered a variation on this message: the mapping of the human brain will soon be completed, and we will know what we are and how we should act. Their faith is that the scientific method provides the best understanding not only of the physical world but also of art, culture, economics, and anything left over. The message is nearly the same as that of the new atheists: submit to science.

In short, the rich philosophical debates of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have been nearly totally abandoned, argues Curtis White. An atheist himself, White fears what this new turn toward “scientism” will do to our culture if allowed to flourish without challenge. After all, is creativity really just chemicals in the brain? Is it wrong to ponder “Why is there something instead of nothing?” or “What is our purpose on Earth?” These were some of the original concerns of the Romantic movement, which pushed back against the dogmas of science in a nearly forgotten era.

In this brilliant multipart critique, White aims at a TED talk by a distinguished neuroscientist in which we are told that human thought is merely the product of our “connectome”—neural connections in the brain that are yet to be fully understood . . . He examines the ideas of a widely respected physicist who argues that a new understanding of the origins of the universe trumps all religious and philosophical inquiry . . . and ends with an eloquent defense of the poetry and philosophy of Romanticism, which White believes our technology and science-obsessed world desperately needs to rediscover.

It’s the only way, he argues, that we can see our world clearly . . . and change it.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novelist and critic White (The Middle Mind) outlines his concerns about reductionist "scientism" that seeks to explain the human mind as a machine at the expense of a great philosophical tradition. It's a hit-or-miss polemic that's as erudite in its explications of Romantic German Idealism as it is woeful in its grasp of contemporary biology or cognitive science. He rightfully takes Stephen Hawking and Lawrence Krauss to task for their assertions that "philosophy is dead", and laments Official Science's classism and collusion with state and corporate power. Other deserved targets of White's ire include Jonah Lehrer, Sebastian Seung, and TED's Rand-ian "Silicon Valley politics". Unfortunately, White doesn't separate the scientific process from its practitioners (particularly with regard to morality) and levels ad-hominem attacks at Richard Dawkins instead of critiquing him on his scientific work. Nevertheless, his secular solution to the problem of corporatist science's sanitizing of creativity and counterculture is an embrace of Romanticism, and he advises looking to the teachings of philosophers like Friedrich Schelling and scientists like Morse Peckham and Jacob Bronowski for "what science is mostly clueless about: how we ought to live." Though slightly off-target, White's argument is worth consideration and his delivery passionate and humorously bitter. (June)
Library Journal
Social critic and novelist White (English, Illinois State Univ.; The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves) is itching for a fight. He calls out religious fundamentalists and especially the "neo-atheists" (e.g., Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens) for claiming knowledge beyond their expertise. And scientists, e.g., Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, he says, have no right to speak about beauty or claim awe at what they see because they haven't thought such concepts through and can't possibly grasp them. Their "scientism" holds that we are all simply biological machines with no purpose. However, White believes that "the poorly understood tradition of Romanticism" is where purpose, art, and beauty are given their due. To reinforce his arguments, White quotes most prominently the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Schelling, while adding, "…is Schelling's philosophy difficult? Yes, I suppose so…." Many reading the book will agree. VERDICT White makes a passionate case for the Romanticist view that recognizes mysteries inexplicable through science and without pinning them to the actions of a god. With some broad generalizations and extensive use of challenging quotes from philosophers he admires, White's book requires readers to be ready to put in some serious intellectual effort.—Richard Maxwell, Porter Adventist Hosp. Lib., Denver
Kirkus Reviews
White (English/Illinois State Univ.; Barbaric Heart: Faith, Money, and the Crisis of Nature, 2009 etc.) disputes the triumphalism of neuroscientists, evolutionary psychologists and geneticists who proclaim "the victory of science and reason over religion." The author pays particular attention to the writings of Jonah Lehrer, Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens, all self-professed atheists whom White charges with having encroached on the "domain of philosophy, the arts, and humanities." As an impassioned social critic, he does not endorse the fundamentalist Christian attack on science, and he argues against what he calls scientism, exemplified by Dawkins' contention that the human mind, social behavior and morality can be explained as the working of selfish genes or their cultural counterpart, memes. Without a "collaboration with art," he writes, "science is doomed to moral sterility, or to a nihilism that asserts that there are no values." White goes a step further, charging that this "ideology of sciences meshes with the broader ideology of capitalism" by treating self-interest as primary. He skewers Hitchens as a representative of privilege and entitlement who basked in his sense of cultural superiority and found a convenient scapegoat for unjust wars in the gullibility of religious believers. White also objects to Lehrer's explanation of the role of a brain scan in showing creativity--by showing areas of the brain that are activated when a subject solves a puzzle, creativity is illuminated. This implicitly equates the creativity of Beethoven or Bob Dylan with that of the inventor of Swiffer mops, without regard to the content of their thought or the broader "social context" in which it occurred. While not denying the fascinating advances of modern science, the author stresses the importance of philosophy and other disciplines. A witty critique of scientific overreach that celebrates the totality of human achievement.
From the Publisher
”A symptomatic tour of the real sense of anxiety about the disenchantment of all those qualities that make us feel most alive and unique in the world.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A witty critique of scientific overreach that celebrates the totality of human achievement.” —Kirkus Reviews

"There’s certainly a very real need to march on that citadel, because the idea that there can be only one kind of truth has to be deeply damaging to the intellectual development of a culture.” —Slate

"His brisk takedowns of Hitchens, Hawking, Krauss, Lehrer and others are sharp and necessary, wielding elementary logic against figures who should know better. [White shows] just how easily good science can shade into the self-aggrandizing ideology of scientism."
—Mark Kingwell, The Globe and Mail

Praise for Curtis White and The Middle Mind

“Cogent, acute, beautiful, merciless, and true.” —David Foster Wallace

“Re-visioning the world takes brawling muscle and a sneer. Curtis White gots that.” —Andrei Codrescu

“The most inspiringly wicked social critic of the moment . . . White exalts the subversive pleasures of the imagination, not simply as a tactic for individual psychic survival, but also as a spark for collective engagement.” —Will Blythe

“Curtis White writes out of an admirable intellectual sophistication combined with viscerality, pain, and humor.” —John Barth

“A master of bewitchments, parodies, and dazzling tropes.” —Paul Auster

“Not the least pleasure in reading the book resides in the refreshing malevolent irony that transpires from every page. Absolutely indispensable.” —Slavoj Žižek

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781612192000
  • Publisher: Melville House Publishing
  • Publication date: 5/28/2013
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 8.66 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

CURTIS WHITE is the author of the novels Memories of My Father Watching TV and Requiem. A widely acclaimed essayist, he has had work appear in Harper’s Magazine, Context, Lapham’s Quarterly, Orion, and Playboy. His book The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves was an international bestseller in 2003. 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 16, 2013

    I am still reading this book and enjoying it much. So far, this

    I am still reading this book and enjoying it much. So far, this has not been too technical from philosophical point of view. He does do a pretty good job of explaining how the anti-religious are basically appealing to a religious basis for their brand of scientism. And White goes on to show that this so-called new atheism is not only anti-religious but anti-humanities. The new atheism is attempting to hijack humanities appreciation of humanity. Other review have said White rambles. I don't think so, unless repeating oneself in different ways is rambling. I think it helps for getting the point made. 
    What is most beneficial is that White recognizes that appeals to science are not appeals to the most holy grail of truth. There is value in being alive beyond a biological yearning expressed in the imaginations of culture. If there is not, then placing so-called science as the supreme value is itself a contradiction. This is easily recognized in philosophical cirlces. But when you have some emotively deprived scientist dismiss philosophy as passe (see chap 1) there is a complete dismissal of seeking truth. 

    The problem with science as a religion is that personhood is only treated in the third person, as a thing, as perhaps a necessary evolutionary survival illusion. Real meaning and value, even though conceptually possible are simply necessary figments of the human imagination.  
    White does well in attacking this position. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2013

    I loved it. More than just a critique of writers like Dawkins or

    I loved it. More than just a critique of writers like Dawkins or Lehrer, this book points toward the alienation of the Romantics as a way forward. I passed my copy around once I was through.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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