N.T. Wright’s The New Testament And The People of God, devotes chapter 2 to a brief introduction to some of the epistemological challenges facing study of the New Testament. He described positivism in this way:

“The positivist believes that there are some things at least about which we can have definite knowledge. There are some things that are simply ‘objectively’ true, that is, some things about which we can have, and actually do have, solid and unquestionable knowledge. These are things which can be tested ’empirically’, that is, by observing, measuring, etc. within the physical world. Taking this to its logical conclusion, things that cannot be tested in this way cannot be spoken of without talking some kind of nonsense.” (pages 32-33)

The positivists position was what I was spoon-fed throughout my entire time as a Psychology student. Positivism is key to the research methods of modern psychology, as well as the work of great sociologists such as Émile Durkheim. Positivism is everywhere, and it was what I believed.

It took the teaching of Kyriacos Markides, one of my Sociology professors at the University of Maine, to show the error of my reductionistic ways. My view of knowledge acquisition via strictly empirical method seemed silly after taking his class on the sociology of religion. We discussed how the social sciences in the western world are still operating under a paradigm that is well over two-hundred years old. This paradigm has not even began to incorporate recent knowledge from fields like quantum physics as well as others branches of science. Knowledge that may show that there is far more to the universe than we can ever observe empirically.  Knowledge that transcends our feeble human scientific posturing. Knowledge that comes from the Almighty?

I do not mean that the scientific method is without merit. Empirical observation certainly has its place. However it is taken much to far, when entire areas of study are written off as mere conjecture, simply because empirical observation is difficult or impossible.

I would be interested to hear how the positivist mindset has affected you in your respective fields.