Scientism is an epistemology that strictly endorses the branches of natural science as the only rational authority, essentially lifting up the systematic scientific method as the only way to knowledge. The scientific method is empirical allowing scientism to be within observational experience that is based on scientific experimentation which produces results that are compared to the natural world. Within a worldview scientism is a very restrictive way to know the full scope of reality yet many evolutionists and atheists (anti-supernatural) tend to endorse scientism to varying degrees. Belief derived from outside of scientific methods, like religious or theological, cannot be verified or justified and is labeled as only subjective and therefore emotive opinion. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and many other contemporary and prominent atheists often maintain a strong position for scientism. Painting caricatures of religion against science or using misinformed definitions of faith against reason and logic to make the claim in public debate and written work that religious faith has no foundation of science and thus no substance for human life at all.
|“||If something does not square with currently well-established scientific beliefs, if it is not within the domain of entities appropriate for scientific investigation, or if it is not amenable to scientific methodology, then it is not true or rational. Everything outside of science is a matter of mere belief and subjective opinion, of which rational assessment is impossible.||”|
Types of Scientism
Scientism because it deals with authoritative knowledge as opposed to naturalism that concerns what reality is means the difference between the two is the difference between epistemology and metaphysics within philosophy. Naturalism contends that physical events have only physical causes, a thesis upon reality rather than a way to know something within that reality. It is these differences that allow Christian philosophers like William Lane Craig to contend that, "scientism does not imply naturalism, nor does naturalism imply scientism."
Scientism as a theory of knowledge is far to narrow not allowing the common sense rational intuition of human beings to become any part without an overarching dictatorial role of the natural sciences. If the language can be measured, according to scientism, than it is worth saying. However if only using the natural sciences than vast stretches of language would have to be abandoned that would otherwise deeply connect relationships with people and even cultural cohesion.
A major criticism of scientism is that natural sciences cannot verify that which cannot be located in physical space-time. There are metaphysical objects, technically called abstract entities, like propositions (meanings of sentences) that present holes in the theory of knowledge of scientism totally, but more obviously within strong scientism. Strong scientism cannot include other academic disciplines, which means concluding no meaning for other types of language. Other types of language would include any other than scientific or natural language. In other words valid language within scientism is only that which can be verified empirically because the proposition implies meaning or content that can be measured. If the meanings of sentences used to describe something cannot be measured by the natural scientific method then the sentence is meaningless containing no cognitive significance. What all this amounts to is that if only relying on strong scientism within a worldview as an epistemology than it is self-refuting. The very propositions used to describe the theory of knowledge itself like, "only that which is measured by natural sciences is true", cannot in of itself be measured by the natural sciences.
Weak scientism differs from strong scientism because it does incorporate disciplines such as religion or theology. However those disciplines are only considered substantive if the natural sciences inform them. There is no primacy for any other knowledge unless the natural sciences are used to inform the conclusions. The commonality between types of scientism is that a dogmatic stance is required in favor of the authority of scientism.
At times when allowing other disciplines and the language used to talk about them, like religion, into the discussion within the realm of scientism, then scientism itself begins to form a type of religious system. David Menton in a 2003 AiG article summarizes how scientism informed a meeting at Massachusetts Institute of Technology by scientists, and theologians of the World Council of Churches in 1981. The tone and conclusions of the conference were not to build a two-way bridge of science to religion and religion to science but for scientism to inform religious faith and never the other way around.
|“||Science, or more accurately “scientism,” has not hesitated to wade into the domain of religion. In 1981, theologians and scientists met at Massachusetts Institute of Technology under the auspices of the World Council of Churches to discuss “Science, Faith and the Future.” The general premise of the conference was that modern science requires us to develop an entirely new religion for the future. One theologian proposed evolutionary theory as an especially rich source for this new religion. Another proposed “ecotheology” as an approach to religion that starts with the premise that the universe is god.||”|
|“|| Dr. Falk and his colleagues at BioLogos believe, and I take them as sincere in their belief, that those of us who oppose evolutionary science are doing the church a great disservice, leading the church into an intellectual disaster, and robbing Christianity of intellectual credibility among scientists.
Those are significant concerns, and they cannot be asserted as if this is all an intellectual tea party. In return, those of us who oppose the BioLogos agenda of embracing evolution do so because we are concerned that their approach means nothing less than the church’s capitulation to scientism and the embrace of a fatal subversion of both biblical authority and the integrity of Christian theology.
- Blinded by Scientism, Part 1 by Edward Feser. March 9, 2010
- J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP Academic 2003), pg. 346-347
- Question 205 Subject: Is Scientism Self-Refuting? Question posed to William Lane Craig
- Creation-Evolution Controversy By David Menton for Answers In Genesis, 2003.
- No Buzzing Little Fly — Why the Creation-Evolution Debate is So Important By Albert Mohler, Wednesday, January 5, 2011
- On Ducking Challenges to Naturalism By Timothy Williamson. September 28, 2011
- Recovering Sight after Scientism, Part 2 by Edward Feser. March 12, 2010