Here’s a guest post, again by the eagle-eyed Sigmund, who spotted a new series of essays at BioLogos about the dreaded curse of scientism. (As usual, those people can’t limit themselves to a single installment.)
Earlier this week BioLogos began a new series of posts by MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson, “Science and scientism.”
You’ll remember Hutchinson from such BioLogos films as ‘Ian Hutchinson on New Atheists‘—where he took the road of ignoring all the real arguments of the new atheists and instead tried to defeat his chosen foe by applying the label ‘militant’ (presumably the old fashioned tactic of calling us godless communists needed to be updated.)
Well, it appears that ‘militant’ isn’t quite enough. A new, even scarier, label is required and yes, it’s the current apologetic mot de jour, “scientism”. Hutchinson has written a whole book on the subject entitled Monopolizing Knowledge, and this BioLogos post promises to be the first of a series of articles on the subject.
Hutchinson’s website describes ‘Monopolizing Knowledge’ as follows:
A scientist refutes religion-denying, reason-destroying scientism
Can real knowledge be found other than by science? In this unique approach to understanding today’s culture wars, an MIT physicist answers emphatically yes. He shows how scientism — the view that science is all the real knowledge there is — suffocates reason as well as religion. Tracing the history of scientism and its frequent confusion with science, Hutchinson explains what makes modern science so persuasive and powerful, but restricts its scope. Recognizing science’s limitations, and properly identifying what we call nature, liberates both science and non-scientific knowledge.
Hutchinson defines scientism as “the belief that science, modeled on the natural sciences, is the only source of real knowledge”, yet it is soon apparent that the word “knowledge” is being applied in a very loose manner.
Because religious knowledge differs from scientific knowledge, scientism claims (or at least assumes) that it must therefore be inferior. However, there are many other important beliefs, secular as well as religious, which are justified and rational, but not scientific, and therefore marginalized by scientism. And if that is so, then scientism is a ghastly intellectual mistake.
Hutchinson implies that there are other ways to obtain knowledge:
I am not at all interested in limiting the ways of obtaining knowledge to those avenues that we call “scientific”.
Although these alternative avenues aren’t mapped out in the current post, one presumes his next installments will expand on these alternative methods of knowledge acquisition. Unfortunately, after reading the first installment I have to doubt we’ll see anything more than the standard line of “science cannot explain beautiful music, art or poetry”.
I’ve begun to view the use of the term “scientism” as the philosophical analogy of using the “N-word”. Scientism, the “S-word”, might be used as a positive term by a tiny minority of individuals, trying to reclaim the term from those flinging it about as a pejorative, yet the standard use remains that of a slur. The aim seems to be to portray those committed to methodological naturalism as devoid of emotion or feeling—the type of individual who would probably judge the merit of a Beethoven symphony using an oscilloscope.
This is not to say that noting the use of “scientism” is entirely without value.
Like the N-word, hearing the S-word tells us precious little about whom it is aimed but reveals a huge amount about the speaker.
Hutchinson promises more in the upcoming installments that will expand on the reasons why evangelicals should fear “scientism” and its dastardly practitioners. Rest assured that we’ll keep you informed if he manages to, metaphorically, pull a (pre-Cambrian?) rabbit out of the hat.