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.
It is dependent
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.
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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
13 thoughts on “Scientism: the Twisted Religion of Science & Why it’s False”
Nice article, thank you! I’d like to point out that James Hawthorne (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) appears to be onto something very helpful, regarding how to practically solve Hume’s problem with induction. Far as I can tell (and it’s pretty tough to work through!), inductive logic can be justified, so long as we do not impose apodictic certainty as a condition of such justification.
Very nice. It is essential to constantly point out, as you have, that Scientism is irrational.
In this article, under the subheading “It Is Dependent”, there is a grammatical error. The sentence should say, “Those are more fundamental to reality THAN science.” The word “then” is a reference to time, where as the word “than” refers to contrast. Just one of my pet peaves. Great article! 🙂
Thanks! It should be updated now.
I don’t know of too many skeptics who claim that science is the one and only source of truth. What most of us do claim is that science has proven to be the most RELIABLE source of investigating our universe. Compare the accuracy of the truth formulations of science (stated as “theories” ) with the truth formulations (doctrines, dogma) of the word’s religions (including Christianity) and one sees just how much more reliable science is compared to religion. And one great thing about science is that there are no sacred cows. Isaac Newton’s theories stood for centuries only to be drastically revised in the twentieth century by Albert Einstein. Any scientific theory or “law” is open to revision or even abandonment when new and better evidence is discovered. And one scientist’s new evidence is never accepted as “fact” until it has been reviewed and picked apart by other scientists in the field. Scientists LOVE to prove each other’s theories wrong! This may seem harsh but it is what keeps science so up to date, fine tuned, and so remarkably reliable.
Look at what happens in religion when someone presents new evidence that challenges a well-established Christian doctrine or teaching. Established religion did not greet Copernicus’ new astronomical theory with enthusiasm and eagerness to review his evidence but by denunciation. Religion has doctrines (dogmas) which cannot be challenged. Scientific theories are ALWAYS open to challenge. Challenge and scrutiny in science is welcomed and encouraged while in religion it is denounced and even persecuted.
So, science is not the answer to all questions. But believing that science is the best method for evaluating our universe is not anti-God. One can still believe in God and believe that science is the best method of evaluating universal truth claims. No, you can’t use science to determine if your spouse really loves you, if blue is the best color, or if the Patriots are the greatest football team of all time. But those are not universal truths. Those are opinions and preferences.
And what about the claim that science developed out of Christianity? I would say that science developed IN SPITE OF Christianity. It is true that the scientific method was first enunciated by Francis Bacon, a professing Christian, but his insights were founded on Roman and Greek philosophical principles and upon mathematical principles from the Muslim East. So to say that science is a direct result of Christianity is false. Read this article about the true history of the scientific method:
The Dark Ages, circa A.D. 500 to 1100, were characterized by a general erosion of civilization. Knowledge from the ancient Romans survived in only a few monasteries and cathedral and palace schools, while knowledge from ancient Greece almost disappeared completely. From right before the Dark Ages until about a century after, there were almost no important scientific advances. The Catholic Church became very powerful in Europe, and religious dogma governed much of what people thought and believed. Those whose beliefs or practices strayed from the church were “rehabilitated” and brought back into the fold. Resistance often led to persecution.
Then, in what is now known as the Renaissance of the 12th century, came a period of reawakening. As European scholars became exposed to knowledge and cultures cultivated in the Islamic world and other regions beyond their boundaries, they became reacquainted with the works of ancient scholars like Aristotle, Ptolemy and Euclid. This provided a common platform and vocabulary on which to build an extended scientific community that could share ideas and inspire creative problem-solving.
You may want to read Rodney Stark’s works; may help clear up some of the confusion.
Below is a list of books by scholars, Christian apologists, and by former Christians and other skeptics that I have read on the subject of Christianity and in particular, the Resurrection of Jesus. I believe it is important to be familiar with the positions of both Christians and skeptics on these issues:
“The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright
“Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham
“The Death of the Messiah, Volumes I and II” by Raymond Brown
“Making the Case for Christianity” by Maas, Francisco, et al.
” The Resurrection Fact” by Bombaro, Francisco, et al.
“Miracles, Volumes I and II”, by Craig Keener
“The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
“Why are There Differences in the Gospels” by Michael Licona
“The Son Rises” by William Lane Craig
“The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown
“The Resurrection of Jesus” by Gerd Luedemann
“Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory Riley
“John and Thomas—Gospels in Conflict?” by Christopher Skinner
“The Argument for the Holy Sepulchre” (journal article) by scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
“Israel in Egypt” by James Hoffmeier
“The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein and Silberman
“The Resurrection of Jesus in the Light of Jewish Burial Practices” by Craig Evans, (newsletter article) The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, May 4, 2016
“Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?” by Jodi Magness, SBL Forum
“Genre, Sub-genre and Questions of Audience: A Proposed Typology for Greco-Roman biography” (article) by Justin M. Smith, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
“Cold-Case Christianity” by J. Warner Wallace
“The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel
“Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman
“Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman
“How Jesus Became God” by Bart Ehrman
“Jesus Before the Gospels” by Bart Ehrman
“Did Jesus Exist?” by Bart Ehrman
“Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by Asher Norman (endorsed by Talmudic scholars for its accuracy in presenting a Jewish perspective of Jesus and the Christian New Testament)
“The Book of Miracles” by Kenneth L. Woodward
“Why I Believed, Reflections of a Former Missionary” by Kenneth W. Daniels
“Why Evolution is True” by biologist Jerry Coyne
“Masters of the Planet-the Search for our Human Origins” by Ian Tattersall
“A Manual for Creating Atheists” by philosopher Peter Boghossian
“Can We Trust the Gospels?” by Peter Williams
“The Outsider Test for Faith”, by John W. Loftus
“God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion by physicist Victor J. Stenger
“Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be The Only Humans on Earth” by paleoanthropologist Chris Stringer
“Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by evangelical apologists Josh and Sean McDowell
“The Blind Watchmaker” by biologist Richard Dawkins (currently reading)
“The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry” by Michael Alter (currently reading)
Great, keep it up. I think we all have read, and are reading many books.
My point is: Christians seem to believe that if we skeptics would just read one more book we would be convinced that the ghost (spirit) of an executed first century peasant is still alive today, performing works of magic in the lives of millions of believers.
A book is not going to cut it. The only way that we skeptics are going to believe that magic is real is to see a fantastical act of magic with our own eyes. And we all know that isn’t going to happen.
Which is why I’m not an atheist; don’t have enough blind faith for that. Blindly believing that all life on earth came about through random mutations and natural selection? Life arose spontaneously, without an intelligent agent? Intelligent beings coming from inanimate matter via blind, unguided, material processes? I can’t believe such fantastical acts of magic!
I don’t have enough blind faith that the earth revolves around the sun and not the opposite when I can watch the sun move across the sky with my own two eyes. I can’t believe such fantastical acts of magic! —Martin Luther (paraphrase)
Just because science hasn’t yet discovered the answer to all of the remaining mysteries of the universe doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and say, “an ancient Middle Eastern deity did it!”
To Gary: Belief that life originated with no intelligence involved is belief in magic. See this 7 minute video which includes several statements from renowned organic chemist Dr. James Tour. See the examples of the false and misleading claims of atheist scientists. It’s even worse than that for atheists. As an example, see my Sept. 3, 2018 public post on my Facebook page. You seem to think you can use the last decade’s methods to preach atheism.
Richard M. Evans Director, Southwest Dallas Reasonable Faith Chapter