A while back reader Sigmund wrote a guest post about a BioLogos series by MIT physicist Ian Hutchinson, who was going on about the dangers of “scientism.” Hutchinson is of course a Christian: you won’t find many atheist physicists getting their knickers in a twist about scientism.
According to alert reader Michael, Hutchinson delivered a related 70-minute public lecture four days ago at (surprise!) The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. His topic: “Scientism: how much faith should we put in science?” (The Faraday Institute is an embarrassment to an otherwise estimable university; I’m surprised Cambridge tolerates it.)
You can watch the whole lecture here (click at upper right) if you have the stomach. I need to do that, but I put it on hold after 15 minutes due to temporal and gastric constraints. But below is a short (7-minute) interview with Hutchinson made right before he gave the longer talk. He’s apparently written a book about scientism that, sadly, I now need to read: Monopolizing Knowledge.
Hutchinson begins by defining scientism as “the belief that science is all the real knowledge there is.” He considers this something that “pollutes the discussion between science and religious faith.”
He claims that “there is real knowledge is history, philosophy, economics, and jurisprudence,” and that knowledge is acquired by methods different from those used by the natural sciences. He’s wrong: the knowledge is acquired by empirical observation and testing, unless he’s claiming that moral dicta or legal principles are ‘knowledge’, in which case he’s not talking about knowledge but opinions. (Note that here he leaves out religion—he’s softening up the viewer so he can drag Jesus in later.)
The touting of religious “knowledge” begins at about 4:30, and includes this statement:
“The ways that it [scientism] often arises, particularly in talking about religious questions, are in statements such as those which are commonplace in some of the anti-theistic writings of this century, where people talk about the question of God being a scientific question. That kind of assertion is very widespread in anti-theistic writing. And really, in a sense it’s a remarkable idea—that the idea of the existence of God would be a scientific question, in the sense of a natural-sciences question, because if one can think of almost any question, of all the questions we could ask ourselves that might not be a scientific question, it seems to me that a metaphysical question about the existence of God is a prime example of a question that is not a scientific question. So to insist that it is a scientific question, can make sense or can go by, can be accommodated, can be allowed, only in an intellectual environment that is saturated with the most implicit [word obscure] that science is all the real knowledge there is.”
Well, if the existence of God is not a scientific question, at least in the broad sense of “science” as “seeing if something really exists using the methodology of repeatable observation and verified prediction,” then it’s not a question that can be answered one way or another. How does Hutchinson, a Christian, know that Jesus existed, was the son of God, and was resurrected—as opposed to the hundreds of other conflicting religious myths that beset the world? Scientists agree that a water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, and that chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, but you won’t find near that kind of agreement on which religion is “true.”
Hutchinson has no convincing way of deciding either whether a supernatural God exists, or, if it does, which kind of God it is. So he has no knowledge—only revelation, which reader Raven characterized on this site as just one of many voices in peoples’ heads.
Revelation, dogma, or personal feelings do not constitute knowledge, at least not knowledge about what really exists in the universe apart from our thoughts and wishes.
I suspect that Hutchinson is bucking for a Templeton Prize. As one might expect, he’s already on the Templeton Gravy Train, participating in the Faraday’s odious “Test of Faith” project. which is funded by a $2,000,000 grant from Templeton. Once you’re on the Templeton Gravy Train, you tend to ride forever, like Charlie on the MTA.