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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Beware of Scientism and the Technocrats

At the beginning of the movie “Van Helsing,” Dracula, sounding much like a faithful member of today’s left, joyfully exclaims to Dr. Frankenstein that his monster, just brought to life, is a “victory of science over God.” Writing in the UK’s Guardian, Julian Baggini declared that any religion “that seeks to explain the hows of the universe…is competing with science. In such contests science always wins, hands down, and the only way out is to claim a priority for faith over evidence, or the Bible over the lab.”

Scientist and former White House senior policy advisor Jeff Schweitzer recently declared that “Religion and science are incompatible at every level. The two seek different answers to separate questions using fundamentally and inherently incompatible methods. Nothing can truly bring the two together without sacrificing intellectual honesty.”

Renowned Darwinist Jerry Coyne, who also believes that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible, recently made the asinine and ignorant conclusion that “all the achievements of both ancient and modern science have been made by explicitly rejecting the theistic view that God has a hand in the universe, and that religion, if it ever did inspire scientific research, doesn’t do so any longer.”

The word “science” is derived from the Latin word “scientia,” meaning “knowledge.” All knowledge is derived from certain governing presuppositions. In other words, each side of every issue that human beings debate ultimately has certain un-provable assumptions upon which they must eventually rely. As the late philosopher, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, put it, “At the most fundamental level of everyone's thinking and beliefs there are primary convictions about reality, man, the world, knowledge, truth, behavior, and such things. Convictions about which all other experience is organized, interpreted, and applied.”

Likewise, theologian, author, and pastor, R.C. Sproul, recently discussed the “lasting impression” that the book, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, which he read over 50 years ago, had made upon him. He noted that the book was so influential to him because it “clearly set forth the importance of understanding that all scientific theories presuppose certain philosophical premises.”

The concept of “primary convictions” or presupposed “philosophical premises” is important when it comes to the nonsense that is religion vs. science. Religion and science are not mutually exclusive arenas where we must leave one completely behind as we cross over into the other.

Anyone can practice good science while operating from a biblical worldview (such as Pasteur, Pascal, Newton, Kepler, et al). If this is not the case, then how did Newton, considered by many the greatest scientist of all time, ever invent calculus and develop his laws of motion and universal gravitation while operating from a strict biblical worldview? Newton also calculated the age of the earth to be only a few thousand years old and declared, “For an educated man…any suggestion that the human past extended back further than 6,000 years was a vain and foolish speculation.”

If science and religion are “fundamentally incompatible,” how did Pasteur, the father of modern medicine and a firm believer in God and His Word, ever discover the principles of vaccination, fermentation, and pasteurization? If, as Coyne declares, Darwinian evolution is “biology’s greatest theory,” then why did Pasteur directly oppose Darwin and his theory, all the while conducting experiments to enhance the Law of Biogenesis?

Just as there were centuries ago, today there are scientists with a biblical worldview in every field of science. They go to school, study, graduate; they go to church, worship, pray, read (and believe) Scripture; and they go to work, conduct research, develop products, heal the sick; all the while operating completely unfettered (except by the opposition they endure from the enemies of faith) in their fields.

Likewise, some things involving matters of faith can be tested (observed, measured, and repeated). There is bountiful evidence (the field of archaeology has been a great friend to Christianity) for everything I believe about God and His creation. In other words, there is no battle between science and religion. The only competition that exists when it comes to our pursuit of knowledge and truth lies in our worldviews, or one might say, our presupposed “philosophical premises.”

Nevertheless, the idea that there is some battle between science and religion—especially Christianity—simply won’t go away. According to today's left, politicians, judges, military officers, policemen, teachers, and so forth are never to be guided by religion, but always by “science.” Thus, with their common liberal worldview (that is extremely hostile to religion—especially Christianity), we now have a disastrous marriage between the liberals who dominate “modern science” and those who dominate Big Government.

I wonder if “geniuses” such as Baggini, Schweitzer, and Coyne applied their massive intellectual powers to the merits of the disaster that is now Obamacare, or to the debate over when human life begins, or to the many dangers of homosexual behavior, or to the myth of anthropogenic global warming. Wouldn’t you want to wager that, in spite of what many see as clear moral and scientific evidence to the contrary, such “scientists” abandon almost all reason and tow the liberal line when it comes to issues such as health-care, abortion, homosexuality, marriage, guns, and “climate change”?

Writing about the “great issues” of his day, C.S. Lewis wrote in 1940, “Lord! How I loathe great issues…Could one start a Stagnation Party— which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place?” Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, John G. West writes that “According to stepson David Gresham, Lewis was skeptical of politicians and not really interested in current events. His concern was not policy but principle; political problems of the day were interesting to him only insofar as they involved matters that endured.”

Nevertheless, West adds that Lewis did indeed have a “great deal” to say about politics, writing about such things as crime, obscenity, capital punishment, communism, fascism, socialism, war, the welfare state, and so on. West noted that, “It is precisely because Lewis was so uninterested in ordinary political affairs that he has so much to tell us about politics in the broad sense of the term. By avoiding the partisan strife of his own time, he was able to articulate enduring political standards for all time.”

Nowhere is this clearer, West states, than in Lewis’ writings on tyranny and morality. According to West, Lewis was particularly concerned with the tyranny that could result from the union of modern science and the modern state.

Lewis disputed the notion that we must rely on the counsel of scientists because only they have the answers to today's complicated problems. He did not dispute their knowledge, but concluded that most of it was irrelevant. In West’s words, “Political problems are preeminently moral problems, and scientists are not equipped to function as moralists.” Lewis added that, “I dread specialists in power [such as our now numerous political “czars”] because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man's opinion no added value.”

What such “specialists in power” do is give a Big Government, which is already too willing to encroach on our lives, even more of a reason for doing so. This is especially true in times of crisis. (“Never let a crisis go to waste,” right?) In such times many of us are far too eager to become what Lewis called in 1958 “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.”

Typically, in order for any oligarchy effectively to rise and rule, it needs some “extreme peril,” something to cure, some desperate need that the rulers promise to fulfill. As Lewis asked, is this not “the ideal opportunity for enslavement?”

When a generation lives in fear or dread of some looming crisis or when a society is made to believe that someone else can provide the things that it cannot live without, is this not the opportunity for those who seek to rule over us to be seen as liberators rather than the tyrants that they are? Were not Stalin and Hitler first seen as saviors and deliverers? 

Following two world wars and in the midst of a cold war, Lewis wrote that “The increasing complexity and precariousness of our economic life have forced Government to take over many spheres of activity once left to choice or chance…The modern State exists not to protect our rights but to do us good or make us good…Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?”

To “fix” our problems (whether real or perceived) and to exert the power and influence necessary, the new ruling class must more and more rely on the “experts.” This means that the politicians must increasingly rely on the knowledge and advice of scientists, until, in the end, the politicians become “merely the scientists’ puppets.”

Thus, we get the motto of the technocrats: “only science can save us now.” Whether it is global warming, stem-cell research, the beginning of life, healthcare, crime, homosexuality and marriage, or even gun control or economic policies, the technocrats have the answers. After all, as Lewis also noted, “If we are to be mothered, mother must know best.”

In other words, many of our politicians (and scientists alike) are surrendering themselves to scientism. Scientism is not science. It is an ideology that is often confused with science. It is, rather, an abuse of the scientific method and scientific authority.

Scientism can also be classified as a religion. It is a religion with many denominations: Darwinism, environmentalism, feminism, hedonism, humanism, Marxism, socialism, and so on. How many Americans now find their fulfillment and purpose in these movements? They celebrate Earth Day and Darwin Day. They boldly assert, “Science is my Savior.”

Also, scientism arrogantly attempts to lift itself above all other beliefs and disciplines—philosophy and theology included. “Philosophy is dead,” declared Stephen Hawking in his 2010 book The Grand Design. It is dead because, “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.”

Thus, as we see, scientism seeks to elevate the methods of natural science to a level where it is the bar by which every other intellectual discipline is held. Scientism ridicules faith and religion and tells us that “God is dead.” Scientism tells us that the “debate is over,” so shut up and get in line.

And, of course, scientism leads us to technocracy. “I dread government in the name of science,” said Lewis. “That is how tyrannies come in.” What a profound conclusion! How many of us have been duped in the name of “science”? How many of us cower and yield, because, well, if the “scientists” (and then the politicians) tell us so, then it must be so?

We can see the results: generations are taught that life began without God; that the use of fossil fuels is warming the earth; that homosexuality is genetic and unchangeable; that abortion is not really the taking of a life; that marriage is whatever we want it to be; that confiscating the wealth of some to give to others is “fair;” that guns are evil; and so on. Of course, we then get laws and official government policy based on such conclusions.

Sadly, too many of us then grow accustomed to our chains. We become children, or pupils of the State (like “Julia”). We continue to elect leaders who perpetuate the cycle of the “Welfare State” based significantly on the lies of scientism. It’s time for Americans to wake up to this perversion of science and return science, faith, philosophy, and by all means, common sense, to their proper place.

(A version of this appeared in American Thinker in 2012.)

Copyright 2013, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World


  1. Wow, this sounds like discussions we have over the dinner table. I have a Political Science BS, but I started out as an Engineering student; My supposition has long been that science is a study of creation and has only strengthened my faith. It seems that it requires more faith to believe the "scientist" who tells you a conclusion that pushes a political agenda, and awards said scientist more funding, in educated, incomprehensible scientific language that is not accessible to the general public.

  2. Yes Dennis, no matter your worldview, at some point "faith" must enter into your thinking. This was Bahnsen's point. As we examine creation from an unbiased position, then certainly we will "see God." (See Rom. 1:19-20) And yes, many "scientists" reach their "conclusions" based on a political (or other dubious) agenda, and often it is in the name of money (or to justify immorality).

  3. What a fantastic article and a new term for me: "Scientism". Having been raised around many actual real-life scientists over my years (a chemical engineer, a hydrologist, a marine biologist, and several others) I often find myself bemoaning people who stand atop a loosely defined concept of "science" as the basis for all of their beliefs. You hear things like "studies have shown" and "it's science!" and "the consensus among the scientific community is X" - but the truth behind these statements is that what's being communicated is almost invariably a *belief*, and the attempts to cobble together something that passes for "scientific evidence" are often an afterthought. In today's world of "modern science", everybody knows you have to package your beliefs and ideas as reasoned and scientific even though they may not be. Sadly, many of these folks are clueless as to where a great many of their beliefs really came from. Boy would they be surprised to learn.

    As you say, the prevalence of Scientism and its presumed absolute infallibility in our culture and media is not accidental ("Big Bang Theory", anyone?) and is clearly devised to establish unquestioned authority and decision making power. What a desirable position to be in, right? Hiding behind the ultimate shield of credibility - ill-defined SCIENCE! Science, indeed. Doesn't sound like it to me.

    I've been privy to the rigors of true science for a long time, and the truth is that real scientists are more interested in coming up with the right questions and experiments than they are loudly broadcasting 4 parts results + 96 parts interpretation. "Scientists are not equipped to function as moralists” rings very true to me, and the best ones know this and do not mix the two. They say that religion and science are incompatible - I say politics and science are incompatible.

    1. Thanks Joel. It's amazing what sometimes passes for science these days. Of course, we should not be surprised. Almost anything goes when one stands against God and His Word.