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.
One of the important and counterintuitive insights that C.S. Lewis offered was his observation that far from encouraging skepticism, the mention of "science" can call forth a perilous gullibility, not least from educated, intelligent people who should know better. Healthy skepticism is a cornerstone of the scientific process. Knowledge is advanced and new discoveries are made by challenging scientific results and testing alternative hypotheses. Lewis recognized, though, that science can also promote an uncritical acceptance of views that are said to be backed by science or wrapped in science-y language. In Lewis's time, most scientists supported eugenics, or the belief that the gene pool of humans should be improved, and they argued that their views were supported by science. These views led to policies such as forced sterilization of those deemed to be of less worth, such as criminals and the handicapped. These policies were not only popular in authoritarian regimes like Nazi Germany, but in democracies such as the United States and England. Anyone who opposed what the vast majority of scientists were saying must be "anti-science," it was argued. So what has changed since then? Are we supposed to believe that just a century ago, elite opinion in science and in the culture at large was so terribly fallible and vulnerable to being misled by prejudice -- yet today, it cannot err?
There is no pursuit of knowledge that does not seek to affect the world. Science is made by people with interests, intentions and ambitions; and it's funded by governments and companies with agendas. Scientific development is subject to funding rules, to expectations about outcomes, and to social forces and institutions that shape our research.
As shown in our recent documentary C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism, C.S. Lewis compared science to magic in three ways: (1) Science as Religion, (2) Science as Credulity, and (3) Science as Power. In the film, Discovery Institute's Dr. John West explains that for many people, science (or better, scientism) serves as a quasi-religion. It gives their lives meaning. Evolution in particular provides an overarching, cosmic vision that many find satisfying: a view of something larger than their experience: the birth and ultimate fate of the universe, with mankind struggling against natural odds in its rise to dominance. To further illustrate, here are a few recent cases from science news of evolutionary thinking serving in the role of religious faith.
If you were to come across Mt. Rushmore while hiking through the hills of South Dakota, having no prior knowledge of the structure, which statement is more "scientific" and which one requires a lot of faith? 1. Some intelligent being designed this. 2. Wind and erosion over millions of years created this. If you choose #1 as the statement most "scientific" (with no guessing or conjecture as to who made the design), then you would be labeled as an idiot trying to force your religious beliefs on others by 21st scientists when applying the same scientific reasoning to other things found in nature. If you choose #2, however, starting with the presupposition that #1 cannot be true, you have now created a new belief system from which to develop your theories or origins upon. This new religion, fueled mainly by Darwinism, is Scientism. Scientism is the basis of much of western culture today. It gave us eugenics, for example, and was responsible for the medical tyranny that unfolded in Nazi Germany leading up to World War II. What few people today realize, however, is that the foundations of the religion of Scientism is bringing about medical tyranny in many of the same ways as they unfolded in Nazi Germany, today right here in the United States. If you want to understand #1, however, you need to study Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design (ID) is a branch of science which is constantly under attack today, and labeled as "religion" or something else it is not. ID is quite different from "Creationism." Creationism moves beyond the observation of scientific facts and makes statements as who the Creator is, such as what is written in the Bible (a worthy topic of study in and of itself!) ID does not deal with the "who," but leaves that up to religion. David Klinghoffer of the Discovery Institute writes about the prejudices against ID by those who have never even studied it: "We Don't Have to Listen to the Evidence Because..."
More than a half century ago, famed writer C.S. Lewis warned about how science (a good thing) could be twisted in order to attack religion, undermine ethics, and limit human freedom. Honoring the upcoming 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, November 22, we are pleased to present excerpts from Center for Science & Culture associate director Dr. John West's book The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society. At the end of The Abolition of Man, Lewis issued a call for a "regenerate science" that would seek to understand human beings and other living things as they really are, not try to reduce them to automatons. "When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation." Lewis was not quite sure what he was asking for, and he was even less sure that it could come to pass. Yet in recent decades we have begun to see glimmers. New developments in biology, physics, and cognitive science are raising serious doubts about the most fundamental tenets of scientific materialism. In physics, our understanding of matter itself is becoming increasingly non-material. In biology, scientists are discovering how irreducibly complex biological systems and information encoded in DNA are pointing to the reality of intelligent design in nature. In cognitive science, efforts to reduce mind to the physical processes of the brain continue to fail, and new research is providing evidence that the mind is a non-reducible reality that must be accepted on its own terms. What George Gilder has called "the materialist superstition" is being challenged as never before. Fifty years after C.S. Lewis's death, we are facing the possibility that science can become something more than the magician's twin. Even in the face of surging scientism in the public arena, an opportunity has opened to challenge scientism on the basis of science itself, fulfilling Lewis's own desire that "from science herself the cure might come." Let us hope we find the clarity and courage to make the most of the opportunity.
Scientism is not science. Science is a method of understanding the "how" of the natural world. Scientism is a silly philosophical delusion. Scientism posits that only the empirical methods of science can determine truth. Scientism is self-refuting. Obviously, the methods of science do not establish the truth of scientism, which is, after all, a philosophical assertion, not a scientific theory. The very assertion of scientism refutes scientism. The humanities -- philosophy, theology, history, even music and art and literature -- are the methods of discovering the "why" of reality. While I believe that scientism will die a natural death, as any complex organism without a brain inevitably does, the humanities should take a much more active role in putting it down.
In the world to come, only scientists and other cognoscenti will get to ask science-and-policy questions. The overly curious will be the first to find their backs against the wall.
More than a half century ago, famed writer C.S. Lewis warned about how science (a good thing) could be twisted in order to attack religion, undermine ethics, and limit human freedom. In this documentary “The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism,” leading scholars explore Lewis’s prophetic warnings about the abuse of […]