Scientism as the New Fundamentalism

The term ‘fundamentalism’ is today taken as a term of derision. It is used in a pejorative sense. It is now used to refer to those who are bigoted, closed-minded, not open to reason and evidence, and pushing a narrow agenda. Unfortunately, many in the scientific community today can be described as fundamentalists.

Real science is about following the evidence where it leads. It does not have pre-determined agendas, and it does not engage in witch-hunts against those who do not buy the reigning orthodoxy. Scientism, on the other hand, is guilty of such things. Much of what passes for science these days is nothing more than scientism.

Among other things, scientism is about making basic philosophical claims, such as the claim that truth and knowledge are only to be found by means of the scientific method, and what science cannot deal with cannot be really known or shown to be true.

Examples of scientism are easily found. Writing in 1970, Bertrand Russell said this: “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.”

Chemist and science writer Peter Atkins put it this way: “There is no reason to suppose that science cannot deal with every aspect of existence.” The late Carl Sagan made this bold – and unscientific – claim: “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

Or as Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson remarked, “All tangible phenomena, from the birth of the stars to the workings of social institutions, are based on material processes that are ultimately reducible, however long and torturous the sequences, to the laws of physics.”

These are all philosophical claims of course. They cannot be proved by the scientific method, but must be held as faith commitments. Thus we have scientists making claims about issues which science itself cannot properly comment on. They have an a priori commitment to philosophical naturalism, and will not allow any fact or evidence to get in the way of their pre-existing faith in materialism.

Scientism, then, rules out ahead of time anything which is not natural or physical. There is no supernatural or metaphysical reality in its view. Thus there can be no creator of the universe. Evolution must be held to, despite any evidence to the contrary, because belief in God is just not allowed by those who embrace scientism.

Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin is perfectly candid about all this: “We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

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