Recently, an argument was published in a major U.S. newspaper that argued for science and against religion. The author, a university science professor, proclaimed science to be the source of knowledge, in contrast to religion, which was merely a source of superstition. His wide-ranging arguments represented the perspective of many in the science community, as well as a growing number of individuals in society. But there is reason to question whether the arguments of scientists are actually scientific; oftentimes they are merely arguments of materialist philosophy, or what might be termed scientism. The following is a reissue of that essay, accompanied by a point-by-point critique.
Religion in America is on the defensive.
Atheist books such as “The God Delusion” and “The End of Faith” have, by exposing the dangers of faith and the lack of evidence for the God of Abraham, become best-sellers.
Faith is never in itself dangerous. The danger (or benefit) depends on the object of faith. One might believe, for example, that two rapidly approaching headlights indicate two separate motorcycles and, acting on that belief, stand in the space between their paths. Should the two headlights prove to belong to one car, the false faith is due for a harsh reality adjustment. There are many faiths, certainly, and some of them are patently ridiculous. But berating faith because some are ridiculous is roughly equivalent to cutting off all legs because some legs have been discovered to have gangrene.
These atheist books may well be best-sellers but sales are not evidence of truth; they are evidence of buyer appeal. Fictional best-sellers are as common as bio-engineered corn. If the implication is that the more copies a book sells the greater its reliability, Christian faith is the clear winner. The Bible has been the number one best selling book every year since its canonization, and dramatically more so since the invention of the printing press, nearly 600 years ago.
Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations and replacing them with material ones.
No doubt, science has exposed some errant human conjectures regarding the divine but this only proves that human conjecture is often not divine. It is not possible for material explanations to consume a divine explanation that has included the material from the very beginning. In the Good Book, the material universe appears…well…in book one, chapter one, verse one.
Ongoing scientific discoveries open up new vistas but each vista is like entering a room with ten other means of egress. Each discovery broadens our knowledge of the complexity of the universe. The greater the complexity, the more skeptical a person should become regarding its accidental formation. If you woke up tomorrow morning to find a great cathedral in your back yard, you would be astonished. The astonishment would likely lead to exploration. You would soon encounter grand stairways, carved door frames, stained glass windows, vast meeting halls, and design intentionality everywhere. You would not for a moment entertain the suggestion that the structure was a meteor, fallen to earth in the night. And yet the detailing of the earth for habitation far exceeds the specifications of a cathedral. While many materialists seem to think the mystery of the universe is shrinking, the mystery is clearly expanding.
Evolution took a huge bite a while back…
The idea of evolution has dominated biology for more than 100 years, but not because of its elegance, clarity, and cohesion, but because materialists have no better options.
The theory of evolution is plagued by scientific problems, only some of which are listed here:
The theory hangs on the requirement for positive mutations, but the mutations we know are overwhelmingly, cancer. Mutations that aren’t cancer are still more likely to be harmful than advantageous. The proponents of evolution often seem much like the people who write the X-men stories. (All I need is to fall into a vat of hydrothermicon, which will provide the wondrous mutation and, bam, I’ll be sending out radioactive waves through my fingertips against all my foes.) It’s good comic book material.
Proponents’ examples of evolution are almost exclusively demonstrations of how species with broad gene pools specialize into narrower gene pools in response to environmental pressures. This is sometimes referred to as “microevolution”. This specialization does not demonstrate evolution; it does not represent a permanent change in a species, nor does it serve in any way to prepare a species for favorable mutations. To the contrary, the more specialized a species becomes, the more fragile and more likely to become extinct. Adaptation is not equal to evolution.
The theory argues that the driving force of evolution is organism suitability to environment, i.e., survivability. Rapid reproduction provides the greatest opportunity for organisms to beneficially mutate in response to environmental pressures. Thus, bacteria is far better suited for survival than a complex, slowly reproducing mammal. Evolution is a highly questionable explanation for the existence of complex organisms.
The fossil record is full of gaps. While the general report is that the gaps are closing, the opposite is true. The number of found fossils grows, but the results are tending to repeat past findings, and the fossil gaps are becoming more defined. The “great gap” is not the one between apes and humans; it is the ubiquity of sharply defined gaps.
Irreducible Complexity. There are mechanisms in organisms that function via interdependent parts. Scientists have inadequately explained how rare beneficial mutations have resulted in mechanisms of interdependent parts.
The complex sequence specificity of DNA is unexplained by undirected chemical evolution. At this point, the existence of DNA is statistically beyond the explanation of chance.
While evolutionary theory presents no particular problem to the Christian faith (who are we to quibble over God’s creation methodology?), it is science that continues to reveal the serious problems with evolutionary theory.
…and recent work on the brain has shown no evidence of souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head.
The failure to discover something is not a demonstration that it does not exist. Every discovery ever made was preceded by human history’s failure to make that discovery. Even more puzzling is the suggestion that a materialistic investigation might reveal something non-material. This is a bit like digging through a jar of peanut butter for the Sunday paper and then complaining that the paperboy is late again. (Wouldn’t the materialist be the last person on earth to discover a soul or a spirit?)
We now know that the universe did not require a creator.
We know nothing of the sort. The predominant current theory is that the universe was formed via a massive explosion (the Big Bang). The odds of such a spontaneous phenomenon resulting in our present condition is, according to the best statisticians, zero. Some scientists have resolved this statistical conundrum by proclaiming the necessity of multiple universes. This “solution”, devoid of evidence, is a fine example of a faith based on wishful thinking.
Science is even studying the origins of morality…
…which only seems to confirm that many in science tend toward scientism. Physicist Stephen Weinberg stated, “Science doesn’t make it impossible to believe in God…but it makes it possible not to believe in God.” It’s important to be aware of the not-so-hidden agenda that underlies scientism. Much of what is currently driving science has nothing to do with science and much to do with the human quest for autonomy.
So religious claims retreat into the ever-shrinking gaps not yet filled by science. And, although to be an atheist in America is still to be an outcast, America’s fastest-growing brand of belief is non-belief.
True enough: non-belief is a belief. Blind faith is required to claim there is no spiritual world. And while scientism may insist there is no spiritual world, science, by its own definition, is incapable of demonstrating it. Playing both sides of this fence is a hallmark of scientism. And it is an odd claim from a scientist that the number of people who believe one view or another somehow gives credence to the truth of the matter. If we want to know the truth, let’s just vote on it.
But faith will not go gentle. For each book by a “New Atheist,” there are many others attacking the “movement” and demonizing atheists as arrogant, theologically ignorant, and strident. The biggest area of religious push-back involves science. Rather than being enemies, or even competitors, the argument goes, science and religion are completely compatible friends, each devoted to finding its own species of truth while yearning for a mutually improving dialogue.
There is only one truth and where either science or religion diverge from it, they are false.
As a scientist and a former believer, I see this as bunk.
There is no guarantee that growing older means growing wiser.
Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible.
This is clear logic failure. Irrationality is the opposite of rationality by language convention, but calling science the opposite of faith is like calling turnips the opposite of table saws.
Science is a methodology based on its own faith system. Science was developed out of Judeo-Christian thought that recognized a steadfast, reliable God who would likely form a stable, consistent universe. Abandoning faith in this God still leaves science in a faith-dependent position, for it must assume that present material anomalies are error, it must assume material immutability in the pre-historic past, and it must assume material immutability in the future. Christian faith, on the other hand, is based on insights from a number of sources, including all the information genuine science is able to provide.
They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth.
Science is equipped to gather material factoids. Once a person begins to impose value on those factoids, e.g., patterns that imply meaning or purpose, he enters the world of religion.
And while they may have a dialog, it’s not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science.
Science is incapable of proving anything—it cannot speak about the spiritual and it cannot prove anything about the physical world, either. Since science is always on a mission of discovery, one thing is abundantly clear: what is known through science today will be amended tomorrow. Even when scientific “knowledge” truly is knowledge, no one can know it.
“But surely,” you might argue, “science and religion must be compatible. After all, some scientists are religious.” One is Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health and an evangelical Christian. But the existence of religious scientists, or religious people who accept science, doesn’t prove that the two areas are compatible. It shows only that people can hold two conflicting notions in the head at the same time. If that meant compatibility, we could make a good case, based on the commonness of marital infidelity, that monogamy and adultery are perfectly compatible. No, the incompatibility between science and faith is more fundamental: their ways of understanding the universe are irreconcilable.
The example of people proclaiming one belief and practicing another illustrates that people are capable of hypocrisy. However, the example hardly illustrates that believing in a transcendent God is incompatible with believing in a physical universe. A parallel to your argument would go like this: Some people say that 1+1=3; therefore, chocolate chips cannot be mixed into the cookie dough. There is no debate about whether there is a physical universe. The only question is: was the universe created or did it assemble itself?
Science operates by using evidence and reason. Doubt is prized, authority rejected. No finding is deemed “true” – a notion that’s always provisional—unless it’s repeated and verified by others.
The claim that science rejects authority is reckless hyperbole. If this were true, science would wake up each morning, setting out to reinvent the wheel.
And, unfortunately, repetition and verification do not establish truth. Errors can be repeated; hypotheses that work often do so coincidentally and later must be replaced. And while most of us agree that repeated tests with consistent results lend confidence to those results, the nagging questions remain: Will the result be the same next time? Has my test been a fair sample? Has digging under 100 trees without finding treasure really proved there is no buried treasure in the earth?
We scientists are always asking ourselves, “How can I find out whether I’m wrong?” I can think of dozens of potential observations, for instance—one is a billion-year-old ape fossil—that would convince me that evolution didn’t happen.
Of course, since any measuring beyond the reach of carbon dating is subject to considerable debate, proving anything is a billion years old is impossible. Yours is a pretty safe example. It is also naïve to assume that other disciplines do not ask the same question. The best religious minds recognize not only the inherent limitations of human thought, but also the corruption of human thought. As such, among religious thinkers it is clear that, while God’s truth is absolute, the human quest for understanding is a perpetual work.
Physicist Richard Feynman observed that the methods of science help us distinguish real truth from what we only want to be true: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”
If the easiest person in the world to fool is one’s self, this only serves to support the notion that all humans are delusional. The awareness that you are the easiest person to fool does not mean you have stopped doing it. You’ve fooled yourself about that, too. And if it is true of every individual, it is true of every collective. Can an individual be sure his fellow scientists are not standing on the curb with him, exclaiming the glories of the emperor’s new clothes? Those who believe in a benevolent higher power have reason to hope for deliverance from self-delusion. For the materialist, there is no solution to the problem.
Science can, of course, be wrong. Continental drift, for example, was laughed off for years. But in the end the method is justified by its success.
Wait. Have we reached the end?
Without science, we’d all live short, miserable and disease-ridden lives, without the amenities of medicine or technology.
With science, we all live short, miserable and disease-ridden lives, with the insufficient amenities of medicine and technology. While we all can be deeply grateful for the medical contributions of science, the problems of pain, disease, degeneration, and death remain, harming and haunting us while we live.
But perhaps we should stop talking about science as if it were the enterprise of an exalted elite. As long as there have been humans there has been science. As long as people have climbed out of bed in the morning, they have assessed the physical universe in order to function in it. “Look before you leap,” may have been the first aphorism. The fact that the human race has kept track of its discoveries in a growing catalog is no surprise (though it is a stunning difference that separates humans from animals).
As Stephen Hawking proclaimed, science wins because it works.
With apologies to the undeniably brilliant Stephen Hawking, science cannot win. It cannot win because winning is a value judgment. There is nothing in an atheistic, materialistic world that provides value. In such a world, things happen. That is all. They are neither good nor bad. We may survive longer and more pleasantly, or we may survive for shorter durations and more painfully, but materialism cannot proclaim one better than the other. Even “working” is a value judgment. There must be something outside the physical universe that enables us to identify any particular action as one that works, that what we’re seeing is function, that the phenomenon has benefit.
The very passion of scientism is baffling. Why would a materialist be angry with a religionist or feel the need to berate his ideas? True observations about a meaningless universe are of no greater value than false observations. If the material world is all, the material world will have its way with or without our opinion. If the materialist is saving us from the religionist, what is the materialist saving us from? What is he saving us for?
Does religion work? It brings some of us solace, impels some to do good (and others to fly planes into buildings), and buttresses the same moral truths embraced by atheists, but does it help us better understand our world or our universe? Hardly. Note that almost all religions make specific claims about the world involving matters such as the existence of miracles, answered prayers, wonder-working saints and divine cures, virgin births, annunciations, and resurrections. These factual claims, whose truth is a bedrock of belief, bring religion within the realm of scientific study. But rather than relying on reason and evidence to support them, faith relies on revelation, dogma and authority.
Atheists who embrace moral truths, whatever they may imagine these truths to be, simply have not faced the implications of their own beliefs. An honest atheistic philosophy does not prefer order over chaos. However, in practice, atheists have tended toward two basic moral viewpoints. The first is a simple pragmatism that recognizes that when people function cooperatively, everyone benefits. But for every atheist singing along to, “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” there’s another one of the second viewpoint whispering, “It is good for me to have my portion and yours.” And the hard truth is that the one singing out and the one whispering is the same person. This is the bondage of human nature and it makes us all liars.
Hebrews 11.1 states, with complete accuracy, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
This true statement from Hebrews is not a full definition of faith. Faith is not wishful thinking: “If I scrunch my eyes, if I concentrate really hard, if I click my heels three times and call out, ‘There’s no place like home’, the power of my desire will whisk me to Kansas”. Desiring something immeasurably is, generally speaking, dangerous obsession, not virtue. Furthermore, hope and conviction in a wrong idea or person is otherwise known as stupidity.
Appropriate faith is exercised by the child who cannot swim but still jumps into the pool when his father beckons. The pool by itself is a terror for the child. But fear of the water becomes secondary when the child considers his father’s abilities, his encouragement, and the history of his good will. He knows his father can be trusted. Faith often calls us into the unknown but, armed with reliable information and experience, faith is not stupidity; it is justified confidence.
Indeed, a doubting-Thomas demand for evidence is often considered rude.
The concern regarding Thomas’ behavior is not a matter of manners. Thomas takes some abuse for insisting on proof for something he should have already known. Nonetheless, the One who demanded faith did not hesitate to provide the evidence requested. One can infer from this and the incarnation itself that God considers scientific questions worthy of being addressed.
And this leads to the biggest problem with religious “truth”. There is no way of knowing whether it’s true. I’ve never met a Christian, for instance, who has been able to tell me what observations about the universe would make him abandon his beliefs in God and Jesus.
I, on the other hand, have never met a person who could provide me with any sort of truth by observing the universe. One might make observations about the universe that are true, or one may point to characteristics of the universe that support or challenge certain truths, but the universe itself has no voice, at least, not one we are perceptive enough to understand.
Knowing when something is true is an inescapable problem of the human condition. How do unreliable, unstable, developing individuals ever know anything? We don’t. In the end we depend on faith. This only begs the next question: where do we place our faith? Putting one’s faith in science alone or scientists alone, or scientism…well, these are simply insufficient. Clearly we must look beyond our unreliable selves, and we must look beyond the physical, rather passive universe.
(I would have thought that the Holocaust could do it, but apparently not.)
I can see how the Holocaust might stand as a strong argument against atheism, since that atrocity was promulgated by atheistic ideologues. Perhaps your meaning is to ask how a loving god could permit such atrocities…but your question is too easy. The real question is: how can a loving god design a world in which all people suffer and die? The short answer is: the good Christian God does not pretend that suffering and death are not problems; he insists they are horrors that must be overcome. And he provides the means to do so.
There is no horror, no amount of evil in the world that a true believer can’t rationalize as consistent with a loving God. It’s the ultimate way of fooling yourself.
This is an ironic complaint. If atheism is true, right and wrong are delusional constructs. The rational atheist must meet all horror with apathy. If there truly is a right and a wrong, atheism cannot be possible. If atheism is false, then God must exist, and all that is left to consider is his character. If God is evil, there is no point complaining about evil; you’re only entertaining him. If God is good but limited, there is, again, no point in complaining; he’s doing the best he can. But if God is good and all-powerful, as the God of the Bible presents himself, it should not be difficult to see how he accomplishes good even through evil events. What we call great human accomplishments proverbially are reached through the spilling of blood, sweat, and tears. God describes the human maturation process as the hot work of a refiner refining precious metal. The murder of Christ was used by God to become the very means of salvation. This “rationalization” is at the very core of Christian belief. It is not easy or pleasant but it is certainly rational.
But how can you be sure you’re right if you can’t tell whether you’re wrong?
Honesty is the difficult part, not the absence of certainty. Are we willing to trust the trustworthy? Are we willing to accept correction? The difficulty is not knowing right from wrong or true from false; the difficulty is embracing the right and the true when doing so threatens our treasured possessions and our commitment to self interest.
The religious approach to understanding inevitably results in different faiths holding incompatible “truths” about the world. Many Christians believe that if you don’t accept Jesus as savior, you’ll burn in hell for eternity. Muslims hold the exact opposite: those who see Jesus as God’s son are the ones who will roast. Jews see Jesus as a prophet, but not the messiah. Which belief, if any, is right? Because there’s no way to decide, religions have duked it out for centuries, spawning humanity’s miserable history of religious warfare and persecution.
You can add materialism to the pool of ideas individuals disagree over. The materialist idea that all our deepest longings, loves, creations, hypotheses, and sacrifices are the products of a mechanistic, impersonal universe is a bit much. It requires an enormous amount of faith to insist on it. It is also odd that materialists would ever complain about the beliefs others hold. After all, if the material world is all, all of our actions and thoughts are by-products of what came before. A true materialist must admit that no one can help but believe what they believe (so there can be no blame for believing)
But as for what is true, well, there are many criteria one ought to consider: historical records; testimonies of trustworthy people; logical cohesion; quiet reflection; direct experience; physical data, and the cross-referencing of all these. The fact that people have clung to different ideas and fought over them is hardly evidence that all the ideas are wrong. I must add here, however, that religion has been a minor player in the wars of human history, and only occasionally the primary culprit. All the religious wars of history added together are mere border skirmishes compared to the work of each of the great atheists Hitler, Stalin and Mao.
In contrast, scientists don’t kill each other over matters such as continental drift. We have better ways to settle our differences. There is no Catholic science, no Hindu science, no Muslim science—just science, a multicultural search for truth.
Are scientists such innocents? Throughout history, wars have generally been won by the side with the most advanced technology. Some of the weaponry science has provided has lead to such horrors that nations have been compelled to covenant together to ban their use. We desperately hope no one will use atomic bombs, chemical and biological poisons, and land mines, etc. Assassination by drone is already becoming a common practice. How long will it be before electronic viruses bring civilization to short term or long term “dark ages”? Scientists have well earned the dunce-hat of guilt and can sit in the corner with the rest of humanity.
It should also be noted that the science fraternity is well known for ostracizing those in its field who voice opinions contrary to the prevailing views. One has to wonder whether open-minded research is possible in the hallowed laboratories anymore.
The difference between science and faith, then, can be summed simply: in religion faith is a virtue; in science it’s a vice.
In religion, appropriate faith is a virtue. Science is a faith in the immutability of the physical universe. It is a faith that thinks small.
But don’t just take my word for the incompatibility of science and faith—it’s amply demonstrated by the high rate of atheism among scientists. While only 6% of Americans are atheists or agnostics, the figure for American scientists is 64%, according to Rice professor Elaine Howard Ecklund’s book, Science vs. Religion.
Eklund’s high figures are not corroborated elsewhere. However, it is no surprise to find more atheists in a field flooded with propagandists proclaiming that all truth is empirical. It is not surprising that individuals who spend all their time focused on empirical data would be tempted to forget other means of learning. Perhaps scientists are susceptible to peer pressure; perhaps scientists are fearful for their jobs; perhaps scientists are unusually insulated from other perspectives; perhaps scientists as a group have been grossly underexposed to the demands of logic.
Further proof: among countries of the world, there is a strong negative relationship between their religiosity and their acceptance of evolution. Countries like Denmark and Sweden, with low belief in God, have high acceptance of evolution, while religious countries are evolution-intolerant. Out of 34 countries surveyed in a study published in Science magazine, the U.S. among the most religious, is at the bottom in accepting Darwinism: we’re no. 33, with only Turkey below us.
As long as there are scientists implying that evolution disproves the existence of God, people who believe in God will be put off by evolution. Whether evolution is good science is a question that needs greater exposure. Evolution, as a concept, has no impact on God or his character, however.
Finally, in a 2006 Time poll a staggering 64% of Americans declared that if science disproved one of their religious beliefs, they’d reject that science in favor of their faith.
There are no significant religious beliefs that science is capable of disproving; I suspect this is the sentiment actually expressed in the Time poll. It’s the problem with polls: they are usually framed by persons with agendas and/or by individuals clueless about the nuances of the subject being researched, or that careful answers are dependent on nuance.
In the end, science is no more compatible with religion than with other superstitions, such as leprechauns. Yet we don’t talk about reconciling science with leprechauns.
But should a leprechaun happen to knock on Richard Dawkins’ front door, one can only hope Mr. Dawkins would invite him in for tea. After all, how can a scientist ever learn anything unless he’s willing to entertain the unexpected?
We worry about religion simply because it’s the most venerable superstition—and the most politically and financially powerful.
Here is another ironic claim. How many scientists are making their livings at the public trough? It is the scientific community that uses political connections to force the public to support its pursuits. Faith organizations, in contrast, are supported through volunteerism and donations.
Why does this matter? Because pretending that faith and science are equally valid ways of finding truth not only weakens our concept of truth, it also gives religion an underserved authority that does the world no good.
Science, if science is limited to the material world, sees only the footprint of truth but can never directly encounter it. This jealousy of religion is why so many in the science community have drifted into scientism, seemingly unaware.
For it is faith’s certainty that it has a grasp on truth, combined with its inability to actually find it, that produces things such as the oppression of women and gays, opposition to stem cell research and euthanasia, attacks on science, denial of contraception for birth control and AIDS prevention, sexual repression, and of course all those wars, suicide bombings and religious persecutions.
Each of these subjects deserves lengthy review, not reasonably possible here. Suffice it to say that blaming all these problems on faith demonstrates term confusion, displays ignorance of history, displays shallow reflection, and attributes to all faiths views held by some.
Let us look for a moment at one implication of Scientism hinted at by two of the categories listed here. Scientism has latched on to a kind of utilitarianism, i.e., the doctrine that good means the reduction of pain and the increase of pleasure for all people, as much as possible.
Science has powerfully demonstrated that life begins at conception. While Christians have been greatly moved by this scientific demonstration, scientism has turned its back to the science. Why is this? Because utilitarianism insists that the quality of life is more important than life itself. When the quality of life is more important than life, the unborn are expendable. This same reasoning was employed by Hitler as he and his minions eliminated the handicapped and mentally challenged in Europe. Subsequent to this “success” they continued to “cleanse” society of all its “low-quality lives”, such as the gypsies, the Slavs and, of course, the Jews. The current pervasive use of abortion has brought about far more deaths than all the work of the Nazi concentration camps. Thus, utilitarian doctrine has led us all into a guilt unparalleled in human history.
And any progress—not just scientific progress—is easier when we’re not yoked to religious dogma.
“Because we can, we should.” This is one of the most frightening aspects of scientism, this idea that all exploration, all experimentation, all construction, all manufacture is good and that any sort of governor is bad. It may offend human pride, slow us in our tracks, and thin out our pocketbooks, but it is important we all face the fact that knowledge gained typically brings problems along with its benefits. If we fail to apply ethical reviews to public policies and commercial actions, we perpetually find ourselves cleaning up collateral damage.
Of course, using reason and evidence won’t magically make us all agree, but how much clearer our spectacles would be without the fog of superstition!
Fog or lack of fog will not resolve the problem of unclear spectacles. Those must be replaced.
Scientific method does require reason. Hypotheses need to be appropriate; experiments need to test the stated hypotheses; relevant data needs to be collected; conclusions need to be drawn from the collected data, not from the hopes and biases of the researchers; and, most of all, conclusions that result in well-supported theories must not be proclaimed as indisputable fact. But writings such as this one strongly suggest a poverty of reasoning in the scientific community. Is there a broad-based inability to separate science from Scientism? Is the scientific community losing its ability to do science?
I am puzzled by the passion of scientism, particularly since a hard look at atheism reveals it to be a worldview without meaning and hope. And, yet, there is passion. Why? Perhaps someone else has better explanations but, for now, this is how it appears:
Scientism shows a genuine interest in delivering the world from superstition and pointless human conflict. While this is a noble goal, scientism fails to provide a solution. Trust in the material world requires greater allegiance in the face of contradictory evidence than most faiths and it leaves a person clutching a moral compass with no needle. History has clearly shown atheism to be the most dangerous of all religions.
Scientism reveals a strong desire for personal independence. This is the American impulse: freedom from restraint. And it’s the humanist theme song: we should have the right to do whatever we want, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. But it is a sophomoric vision. It is not possible to harm ourselves without harming others. Even taking care of ourselves, while living selfishly, results in neglect of others. While the vision of freedom pretends to be an escape from religion, it really is the multiplication of religions. It is the establishment of every individual as a god and of every individual as a lawmaker. The result is not the end of superstition; it is the multiplication of superstition. And if belief has become an individual thing, it is no longer fit for society. Sacred spaces are no longer shared; they have become taboo. And a growing number of people, to the extent they do hold deep beliefs or personal ideas, keep them in isolation. They are learning that acceptable human interaction must be limited to the superficial. The result of all this is an insidious dehumanization. This freedom is solipsism.
And, last of all, scientism reveals a selfish longing to live among the privileged elite. If I am a scientist and science is the only source of truth, the result is that I become indispensable to society. I will be rewarded with interesting work and princely remuneration. I’ll be granted my own parking spot at the University. People will come to my lectures and buy my books. It is the mindset of the snake oil salesman and, fundamentally, a con job.
It is clear that a scientist can work diligently, collect information faithfully, and still distort the information through the filter of scientism. If science is a faith, it is a pathetic and insufficient one. On the other hand, science as a means of discovery is a vocation worthy of all honor and respect. There is truth in the universe and it seems that this alone would be fine motivation for anyone wishing to pursue lifelong labor as a scientist. Applied science clearly has the ability to provide wonderful service to humanity. If science will understand its part, if it will admit its limitations, then it will be freed to bring its fruits to the table of human endeavor.