Have you ever heard someone say, “you have to prove that scientifically.” Or even in news reports that “studies have shown . . . ” Or maybe you have heard that science is the final or ultimate source of knowledge. Behind these sentiments may lie a belief called “scientism.” This mentality has even been put as simply as “If I can’t see it, hear it, or feel it, it doesn’t exist.”
This attitude towards that elevates science to a place of religious devotion is known as “scientism.”
Scientism is the belief that we should believe only what can be proven scientifically. That is, science is the sole source of knowledge and truth.
No doubt, science is a wonderful means of finding out truths about the world and a means of knowledge about the natural world, but science is not the final arbiter of truth. Nevertheless, there are some who claim (or even act as if) science is the only means of knowledge and truth. Here are some examples of people asserting scientism:
- “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” – (Bertrand Russell Religion and Science, 243)
- “Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” – (Stephen Hawking The Grand Design, 13)
- “Science, as the only begetter of truth.” – (Richard Lewontin, The New York Review of Books 1/9/97)
- “We trust science as the only way to acquire knowledge. That is why we are so confident about atheism.” -(Alex Rosenberg The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, 20)
There are several problems with scientism:
- Scientism is to restrictive – If science was the only source and final arbitrator of knowledge and truth, then massive fields of knowledge and truth would have to abandoned which most of us take to be legitimate truths and knowledge claims. For example, if science in the only source for truth then we would have to abandon: mathematical truths, historical knowledge, logical truth, moral truth, and aesthetic truths amongst others. Any theory of knowledge (such as scientism) that excludes these obvious avenues of truth needs to be abandoned itself, before you abandon these truths.
- Scientism is self-refuting – If the only source of knowledge and truth is science, then the claim that “the only source of knowledge and truth is science” is not true or knowable. Why? Because the claim is not true because of science of known through science, and science it is not known by science, you shouldn’t believe that only science leads to truth and knowledge.
Science is a great and noble discipline. We gain much knowledge and truth through it and will continue to gain knowledge and truth through science. But, let’s not come with the mistaken belief that science is the best or only means of truth and knowledge. The attitude that only science can lead to knowledge and truth is unwarranted, misleading, and self-contradictory.
J. P. Moreland, in his excellent work Love Your God With All Your Mind shares why we should reject scientism: “What I do reject is the idea that science and science alone can claim to give us knowledge. This assertion – known as scientism – is patently false and, in fact, not even a claim of science, but rather, a philosophical view about science.”
J. P. Moreland, the author of Scientism and Secularism, discusses this issue of scientism in this video:
Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology by J. P. Moreland (Crossway: 2018)
“The Dangers of ‘Scientism’ and an Over-Reliance on Science” by J. Warner Wallace | Cold-Case Christianity, Feb 11, 2015
“Is Scientism Self-Refuting?” by William Lane Craig | Reasonable Faith, Mar 21, 2011
“Blinded by Scientism” by Edward Feser | Public Discourse Mar 9, 2010
Post about other issues concerning science from this blog include: