[review] Why Science Is Wrong …About Almost Everything (Alex Tsakiris)

Recently, there has been an academic and social backlash towards the elitism of the scientific community as new slogans have arisen. “Science is a construct”, taken at face value, is one of those popular buzzwords that should – and must – be brought into question. A better statement to theorize is: the trajectory of current scientific research and development is socially constructed. This is a fair assessment, I think. After all, every human endeavor, including the voices of the academic Far Left, are imbued with a philosophical vision and metanarrative. Why Science Is Wrong …About Almost Everything by Alex Tsakiris, “entrepreneur turned science podcaster”, speaks to the philosophical hijacking of science with a refreshing frankness as he looks at the ways in which scientific research and development is philosophically and socially constructed within a specific modernist, atheist perspective.

An Overview

The content of the book handles a variety of interesting topics:

  • consciousness
  • quantum physics
  • scientific itself
  • near death experiences
  • psychics and mediums
  • telepathy
  • psychic detectives
  • healing & medicine
  • atheism
  • evolution

In hilarious, sometimes painful, detail, Tsakiris, in a series of interviews with open-minded and close-minded academics, goes on a journey to answer major philosophical questions: What is the meaning of life? What is consciousness? Who am I? Has science-as-we-know-it really answered these questions?

Tsakiris argues that it does not.

If life is meaningless, then why assert anything? Why defend anything? Why do anything? Conversely, if you think your life does have meaning, where does that meaning come from? And, before you answer, remember you can’t say “you” give your life meaning because “you”, according to science-as-we-know-it, are an illusion. The Dopey Science Creed is “dopey” because no one lives his or her life thinking its an illusion. The absurdity is self-evident. But it’s also “dopey” because its underlying assumption – that your minute-by-minute experience is nothing more than electrochemical processes of your brain – is testable. It is falsifiable by experimentation. (31)

I agree.

Tsakiris contextualizes this scientific construct in this way:

The Dopey Science Creed has become inseparable from mainstream science. It’s the framework for everything science could know about life. It’s also the lens through which science could know about life. It’s also the lens through which atheists see the world. Modern-day atheists sometimes referred to as “New Atheists”, use this brand of science as the basis for their belief system. (27)

From Chapter 3 onward, Tsakiris investigates ways in which science, driven by specific philosophical aims has been co-opted from its historically rigorous foundations into a whole new animal, as it were. This hijacking of science has, he suggests, resulted in unscientific processes, poor research, and lowered academic standards.

Although Tsakiris sees himself as an atheist, an evolutionist, and a supporter of science, he is also interested in academic and personal integrity that leads to innovation and progress.

Part of the reason atheists are such sloppy thinkers when it comes to big picture science is they’ve wasted much of their intellectual muscle debunking Christianity. They act like falsifying claims of virgin births and empty tombs gives them a free pass when examining whether consciousness is an illusion. (128)

My Response

As a Christian who believes in virgin births and empty tombs and as a literature student, I found Tsakiris to be very interesting, particularly in a day and age where historical meta-narratives are under attack. As someone who has noticed the “science is a construct” trend, I feel that the staunch supporters of New Atheism, by not paying attention to or placing importance in cultural movements, will be hit hard with the oncoming tsunami of postmodern theory. In fact, when Dawkins was not allowed to come to Berkeley to speak critically about Islam (as he has before regarding Christianity), I was not surprised as some others may have been. The religion-bashing mentioned by Tsakiris is no longer welcome, particularly when the religion in question is a protected minority. Thank you, Cultural Marxism. #sarcasmhand

During these chaotic times, Tsakiris’s call to increased academic and philosophical integrity is much needed, particularly as he identifies with clarity the gaps within science. Such clarity is missing from the ranks of Humanities who strut about with half-formed slogans. Bailey and Borwein, in their article Is Science ‘Forever Tentative’ and ‘Socially Constructed’? No Way!, state:

More recent post-modern science studies have over-zealously extended the scope of their critiques, declaring that much of modern science, like literary and historical analysis, is “socially constructed,” dependent on the social and political environment of the researchers, with no claim to fundamental truth [Koertge 1998, pg. 258].

Scientists counter that these scholars have distorted a few historical controversies, and have parlayed these to a global condemnation of the scientific enterprise [Gross 1998]. What’s more the postmodern science literature abounds with: (a) serious confusion on technical issues; (b) politically charged rhetoric; (c) lengthy discussions of mathematical or scientific principles of which the author has only hazy familiarity; (d) applications of highly sophisticated concepts from mathematics or physics where they don’t apply; (e) text peppered with sophisticated technical terms or mathematical formulas and vacuous technical passages [Sokal 1998, pg 4-5; SkepticalTeacher].

I cannot agree more, having read myself the various literary attempts to elucidate on a range of topics from economics to consciousness, despite the authors (and my professors’) obvious lack of knowledge in those areas. Surrounded by people attempting to speak on topics about which they are untutored, I resorted to Tsakiris’s book as a comfy blanket while I navigated my Boat of Rationality in the Sea of Postmodern Logic. Rereading Why Science Is Wrong… gave me hope that skeptics are examining scientific claims in balanced ways. Tsakiris admits that the goals and provenance of science has been constricted due to philosophical (and socially constructed) aims, but that doesn’t mean he is tossing the baby out with the bathwater.

We have to demand more from those who seek to be intellectual leaders and yet fail to show the courage to stand up for the truth-seeking ideals of their profession. The tools of science are a wonderful and powerful gift. They offer the potential to allow us to rise above our biases and prejudices and see new vistas. Properly applied, science might even give us clues about what we should do with the precious little time our life provides. […] We must set ourselves free from the socially engineered political joke science has become and open ourselves to what lies beyond this narrow thinking. (164)

So much for the politically and philosophically motivated scientists. As for the post-modern scientists, I would imagine Tsakiris shouting with me: “Gravity is a construct! Walk off that cliff!”

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