Social media seems to crawl with comments like “prove that scientifically,” a valid request in some cases, but not all. Some scream “invalid” if a claim was not published in a secular peer reviewed journal. Some popular level science writers weave a utopian vision of science, similar to science fiction. Then you get infamous lines like, “According to science…” or “Well, science says…” While it may sound authoritative, is impersonal science really able to speak? Rather, don’t persons speak?
Now, I don’t say all the above out of disrespect for the scientific enterprise, rather it seems some place science on “steroids,” and that seems delusional to me. I think it is a close kin to worship, and this causes a skewed life and conclusions. This is the trap of scientism.
The Massive Problems with Scientism
When one believes that science is at least the most reliable or meaningful way to truth, if not the only way to find truth, one is promoting scientism. It seems that most people who hold to such views come out of a materialistic worldview and promote scientific materialism. It also seems quite popular in academia and even in some more “educated” areas of society.
Scientism, however, is not science, rather it is an arbitrary and non-factual worldview. I want to be clear, there is a difference between science and scientism just like there is a difference between rational and rationalism, pragmatic and pragmatism, ideal and idealism, empirical and empiricism, natural and naturalism, and human and humanism. Authentic science, opposed to scientism, is a process or tool to study the world around us that uses systematic methods such as observation, hypothesis formulation, experimentation, conclusion formulation and peer review. Let me give you a few reasons why scientism is false.
It is limited
Remember, scientism assumes that science is the best or even the only way to find truth. However, science can’t explain everything; it really has limitations. For starters, science can’t even tell us that it is a good thing to do science! We do it for other reasons.
History is also outside of the realm of science. The US civil war is not repeatable, but we know it happened. Jesus’ resurrection is not repeatable; he would arise once. A phenomenon has to be repeatable for science to work and not everything is repeatable. Sure, using the tools of science, one can dance around the topic to help clear up questions, but it can’t be used as a primary tool.
Is abortion morally right or wrong? Well, the methods of science gives no guidance for this question and other topics of morality. It can help tell us when the baby feels pain or when it is conceived, but it intrinsically can’t tell us that it’s wrong or permissible to kill an innocent unborn baby. The Nazis promoted science, but they also used science in the most horrific and evil way imaginable.
Beauty or ugliness is also outside of science. How would one even start asking the question if a master artists’ work is scientifically more aesthetically pleasing than a two year olds crayon art? It just doesn’t make sense.
It has another limitation too, science can only measure and explain parts of the physical world. While causes in the physical world can be from non-physical sources, such as minds, the effects can only be measured if they are physical. That also does not mean that the natural world is not coupled with the non-physical things, such as mathematics, information and purpose.
It is not alone
In addition to the above, science can’t explain things like logic, reason, language, mathematics, theology, philosophy, technology and information. Thus, scientism is intrinsically false. Those who would think that science is the best way to find truth have a very narrow view of the world.
Along with the above two points, I want to add that science is actually dependent upon logic, reason, language, mathematics, theology, philosophy, technology and information. Those are more fundamental to reality than science! Simply put, not only is science interconnected with them, most of the time the scientific enterprise is dependent upon them!
Induction grounds science
We all have been befuddled when we find out that yesterday’s scientific fact is today’s fiction and today’s fact is tomorrow’s fiction. Scientific conclusions can change. Thus, every pontificating proud scientist ought to be humbled by this. No wonder, we don’t know everything about the world. We can’t be in all places at all times.
It gets even worse, there is a problem in science called “Hume’s problem of induction.” Opposite of the claims of popular level science, scientific theories (not the same as “theory” in the general sense) can never be PROVEN to be true. One actually needs a measure of blind faith to assume that the future will be like the past. We assume uniformity and regularity in nature; however, how do we know? If we say because it has always been that way, our foundation becomes a circle argument!
Of course, we can ground it upon statistics to help us be more confident in our assumptions, the finds of the scientific enterprise seem to be reasonably solid and stable. In other words, it seems that this assumption has been demonstrated to be reliable. Even so, there is still no guarantee. I think the only way to really ground our assumption of uniformity and regularity in nature is the same way that the fathers of science did; they assumed a theistic universe. They assumed it was ordered by God, in other words, the God of order grounds this assumption!
It is self-refuting
Unexpectedly, the idea that science is the only way to find truth is also self-refuting. Scientism actually is a non-scientific assumption, you can’t demonstrate it scientifically! In addition, even the scientific method and other philosophical assumptions, were not and could never have been discovered using the science. One has to assume them before one can even do science in the first place!
It was never intended to be such
The often overlooked fact of our day and age is that Christians made the scientific enterprise, and built it upon biblical principles and presuppositions. It grew out of philosophy and Christian theology.
The medieval fathers of science assumed an orderly God made an orderly universe. They assumed a rational God made rational humans capable of understanding his creation. They assumed the study of nature was a valuable enterprise because it was God’s creation. They didn’t think it was taboo to study nature since God was separate from nature. They assumed we needed more than imagination; rather, facts were needed too. Since God’s ways are above ours, our imagination would need to be grounded in experimentation to see what God actually created. One great source for this whole topic is Rodney Stark.
Since the fathers of science thought Christian theology was supreme, they also never meant it to replace all fields of study. Nor was it ever meant to become a field of reverence, it was meant to be subservient to an understanding of God. They wanted to learn more about the works of God in his world. We must not forget the events of science as we moved into the Enlightenment. It was during the seventeenth and eighteenth century when many natural philosophers used the findings of science to argue for the existence of God. The famous work of William Paley, and many others, promoted natural theology.
Science, Not Scientism is the Way Forward
While it is very good to have a proper respect for the amazing tool called science, it is also very foolish to put excessive faith in it. I’m obviously not trash talking science, rather I’m just acknowledging its limits. I’m also recognizing other valuable areas of study too.
Science, just like any good thing, can be perverted. As humans, we have a drive to worship God. Many worship idols of human hands or human imagination instead of the Creator. Others worship creation instead of the Creator. However, worshiping anything other than the Creator himself will take us on a wide but twisted path of destruction. Scientism is one such idol, being a false and irrational view of the world. When one follows the Creator rather an idol, one can actually see the world accurately and not in a twisted manner.
I have a passion to have answers for Christianity as Peter taught us to do. I would love for you to come along with me and not miss a post! In the future, I plan on giving more resources and answers you can share with both believers and unbelievers. Plus, I want to send you a Free Quick Guide why I think science points to God. I would love for you to have this Free Quick Guide and the latest posts straight to your inbox.
If you like what you read, feel free to come along side and partner with iApologia. Thank you to those whohelp keep iApologia going!
So, what did you think? Feel free to share your thoughts below!
Some great sources for more research:
- Salviander, Sarah. How the Christian view of time led to modern science. https://sixdayscience.com/2014/05/30/time/
- Okasha, Samir. 2002. Philosophy of science: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Stark, Rodney. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.
- Stark, Rodney. The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success. Random House, 2007
- Haarsma, Loren. Christianity as a Foundation for Science. http://www.calvin.edu/~lhaarsma/ChrsFoundationScieCEAIConf2003.pdf
- Dozier, Larry. The Foundation of Modern Science & the Bible. http://m.blogs.christianpost.com/biblical-spirituality/the-foundation-of-modern-science-the-bible-17374/
- Pearcey, Nancy, and Charles B. Thaxton. 1994. The soul of science: Christian faith and natural philosophy. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books.
- Gosselin, Paul. The Judeo-Christian Cosmology and the Origins of Science. http://www.samizdat.qc.ca/cosmos/sc_soc/cosmoeng.html
- List of scientists who were Christian and who help start scientific fields. http://www.icr.org/article/bible-believing-scientists-past/
- Galileo and the Church by Dr. Cory Hayes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6T-W8kN1nk