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The Corrupting Influence of Scientism


Perhaps the greatest leap of blind, uncritical and unquestioning faith that I see among well-educated people today is something called scientism. Scientism is the belief that science is the best and only trustworthy method to discover truth. Supernatural explanations are a priori ruled out. The result is atheism dressed up as science.

There are two major problems.

First, a distinguished philosopher of science, Philip Kitcher, argues that the notion of a scientific "theory of everything" is an "absurd fantasy." The claim that science is the best and only trustworthy way to discover truth is, itself, not a scientific claim but a philosophical one. Thus, scientism is self-refuting from the outset, as the Skeptic's Dictionary and many others have pointed out.

A much more serious consequence of scientism is that it has had a significant corrupting influence on 21st-century science.

Example one: Good science reveals that nature, composed of space, time, matter, and energy, had a beginning. Scientism requires a natural explanation for the origin of nature, a logical impossibility. One cannot provide a natural explanation for the origin of nature without assuming the existence of nature in that "natural" explanation -- a circular fallacy. The result is a variety of arcane string, multiverse, and other theories that have been conflated with science but are now being exposed as fantasyand a threat to the integrity of physics.

Example two: A few years ago I was visiting with a razor-minded, atheist professor of biology at one of Canada's top-ranked universities. In the course of our conversation, he expressed great frustration over how rampant creative storytelling has become in the field of evolutionary biology, to fill in for what he believes is the colossal failure of neo-Darwinian theory to explain the large-scale diversity of life. Nevertheless, motivated by scientism/atheism, Darwinism is the only game in town. Thus the lack of empirical data and an increasing number of serious problems with the Darwinian account are compensated for by creative storytelling and a profound lack of critical thinking, as Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini point out.

To avoid the circular fallacy, logic dictates that the cause of nature must be beyond nature. That, right there, falsifies scientism but it also establishes the requirement that the supernatural must be taken into account in humanity's pursuit of answers -- not just with respect to the origin of the cosmos and of life, but in discussions of justice, beauty, morality, love, and honor.

Knowledge is an interconnected latticework of information and understanding, each facet of which influences and sheds light on other aspects. Scientism lobotomizes the quest for knowledge by turning a blind eye to God and the supernatural. It corrupts science with fantasy, countless just-so stories and promissory notes as to what we "may" discover in the future, all to make up for the absence of real data.

Unfortunately, most people fail to distinguish between good science, bad science, science fiction, and scientism. In their minds it is all rolled into "science," the result of which is the increasing corruption of 21st-century science.

Photo credit: Josh Durston.

Cross-posted at SQyBLu/Contemplations.