Why Scientism Cannot Explain Morality or Reality - Cairn University (2023)

Every semester in my Christian apologetics class, I challenge students to interview a non-Christian with questions I have prepared. I don't want them to start a debate with the person; I just want you to feel more comfortable asking questions of people who don't share your faith, practice listening, and better understand non-Christian thinking.

This is one of the questions: "Is there anything that convinces you that Christianity is true?" If so, what? If not, why?" My students often hear requests for empirical or sensory evidence. Some describe this as "tangible" evidence, while others speak of the need for "scientific" proof of the existence of God or the possibility of miracles.

In any case, people seem to assume that only what can be scientifically verified is worth calling "evidence". Maybe this is your assumption too and one of the reasons you are deconstructing your beliefs. If so, then I think you're asking for the impossible of science.

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Science is a wonderful vehicle for discovering how the natural world works. But claiming that reality is limited only to what we can perceive with our senses, as the philosopher Alvin Plantinga said, is like a drunk looking for his lost car key under a streetlamp because the light is better there. It is a form of naturalism or materialism, a view that the natural world is all there is. This statement is not scientific in nature, but philosophical in nature. It is not a scientific conclusion, but a head-on ideological commitment to the nature of reality.

the problem of science

The demand that God's existence be subject to scientific scrutiny does not do justice to the kind of being Christianity claims of him. It is about treating God as if he were simply a part of creation and not the one who, according to the Bible, is responsible not only for creating everything that is not himself, but also for sustaining its existence. As the apostle Paul proclaimed to the philosophers of Athens, he is the "Lord of heaven and earth" who "made the world and everything in it" (Acts 17:24). Since all creation owes its original and continuing existence to God, we should not expect it to be recognized simply as nature's magnificent piece of furniture. It goes qualitatively beyond what it has already done; he doesn't belong. To say that one can only believe that the God of the Bible exists when empirical science confirms it essentially means that one will only believe that Christianity is true if it is something other than what it is.

The demand for scientific or empirical evidence not only ignores the limits of science, but also artificially limits the importance of the evidence. I am unwilling to concede the lack of consistent scientific evidence to support a Christian perspective. But, for the sake of argument, the biblical narrative still makes sense of existential phenomena common to humanity, such as our quest for justice, our belief in human rights, our appreciation of beauty, and the inevitability of making moral judgments about ourselves. Human behavior. These values ​​may not be scientific, but they should still be accepted as evidence. they are just differentspeciesof evidence

The belief that science is the only way to know what is true or real is called "scientism". Many, even though they have never heard the word, take scientism for granted. It is so ingrained in some people's minds that they consider anyone who dares to challenge it backward and unscientific. But this is a fusion of science and scientism. One can (and will argue) reject scientism without disparaging science. In addition to evaluating the claims of Christianity, scientism is intellectually and existentially flawed. I just want to look at some problems with scientism that you might not have thought of, including a major difficulty with whether Christianity justifies your faith.

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Perhaps the greatest intellectual deficit of scientism is that it is self-refuting. It is below your own standard. Remember that according to science, science is the only way to know what is true or real. If something has not been verified by science, we have no right to say that we know it to be true or real. we can say that webelievebut we can't rightly claim thatYou knowthat. However, the problem for scientism arises when we ask, "How do I know that science is the only way to know what is true or real?" If this statement is really true, then the only acceptable answer would have to be This question is: "Science says." If we appeal to something other than science to answer the question, we deny its exclusive claim. But while the trial makes a claimoneScience, not a scientific statement. There is no way to establish its veracity based on experiments or sensorial experiences. Because it is not a scientific conclusion but a philosophical commitment to a particular theory about the means and extent of our knowledge.

But self-refutation is not the only problem with scientism. It also has high existential costs. For example, if it really were the case that science and sense experience are the only means of attaining true knowledge, then we would have to admit that we believe we know many things that we really cannot know. For example, even if you're not a historian, you probably think you know something about past events (global, national and local). Is your knowledge of any of these things based on science or empirical confirmation? No, because historical knowledge is not the result of repeated experimentation and observation. Much of our knowledge of the past depends on the testimonies of people who lived at that time. But if scientism were true, then we would have to give up any pretense of historical knowledge, as it would not be the knowledge of science. Claims to knowledge of the recent past, including our own, would also have to be abandoned if science were the only way to know what is true or real. I have no doubt that shortly before writing this paragraph, I had a bowl of chicken burrito for lunch. But my knowledge of this delicious food is not based on science. Of course, someone could give me a stomach pump and confirm that I actually consumed what I intended; that would be scientific knowledge. But this does not mean at all that my confidence in what I ate is not knowledge.

moral knowledge

Moral knowledge is another casualty of scientism. If you insist that truth is limited to scientific verifiability, you must abandon all knowledge claims of right and wrong, right and wrong, and moral obligation. Science is unable to recognize or determine the existence of such entities as objective moral values ​​and duties, since they are not subject to the understanding of the senses. But for that, are you willing to deny that they are real? To be consistent with science, you have to.

To illustrate this point, I ask students to imagine this situation: For a willing participant, I place a set of devices to monitor physical activity such as blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, brain activity, etc. Imagine that I am delivering increasing levels of electrical shocks to the same person through electrodes attached to different parts of the body. Throughout the experiment, an assistant monitors the devices that monitor your vital signs. What will the assistant observe? Undoubtedly, we will find that as tension increases, so does the heart, blood pressure, and sweat rates. We would likely hear vocalizations and screams at increasing decibel levels as the experiment progressed.

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What could we legitimately conclude from this experiment? We were able to conclude that increasing electrical voltage applied to a living subject results in increased pain accompanied by a variety of observable elevations in the body systems we are monitoring. What we could not conclude based on what we observed is thatshould notinflict such pain on another. In other words, we cannot correctly say that it is wrong to do so. Moral obligations are simply not something that science can recognize or quantify.

But let me ask you something. YouYou knowIs it wrong to needlessly inflict excruciating pain on another person? Did you know that physically or mentally abusing another person is really wrong? If the science is true, then don't do it and you won't. There is no third way. Give up scientism or its pretense of knowing moral truths; you cannot have both. If moral outrage at perceived injustice, suffering, abuse, and cruelty is to be more than just an expression of personal or group preferences, it must be based on something real, unchanging, and not created by us.

moral objections

Moral disillusionment and disillusionment with Christianity can be reasons to consider abandoning the faith you once professed. Many of the objections to Christianity that I have heard lately are moral in nature. You may have been seriously hurt by the church or someone claiming to be a follower of Jesus. Or perhaps recent revelations about the sins and hypocrisy of highly respected Christian leaders have you wondering if Christianity is true. Or perhaps, with constant reports of the suffering caused by COVID-19, racial strife, political polarization, and various forms of injustice and dehumanization, you've come to the conclusion that the God you claimed to love is probably not going to be there after all. 🇧🇷 You have a certain sense of how things are going.have tobe, but clearly are not. Deep down, there is a nagging feeling that life is broken. You make unavoidable moral judgments based on what you see as genuine moral standards. They have a sense of moral outrage that only makes sense when there really is good and bad, good and bad. If you cling to scientism, you undermine your moral objections to belief.

C. S. Lewis, the Christian apologist who spent many years of his life as an atheist, recounts the effect this realization had on him. His argument against God has long been based on the apparent injustice and cruelty of the universe. But then he asked himself a question that, if you haven't already asked yourself, I hope you will: "How did I get this idea?onlyyUnfair🇧🇷 added:

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A man does not call a line a pie unless he has some idea of ​​a straight line. To what did I compare this universe when I called it unfair? If the whole show was bad and pointless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be a part of the show, find myself reacting so violently to it?

Lewis rightly recognized that if the universe was all there was, all there was tainted with nonsense (because there is no "evil" behind it), then there was nothing that would equal its opposition to the form and form in which they are things. It would be just another part of the meaningless whole. He then made a crucial point about the relationship between his argument against God and the need for an objective standard of justice:

Of course, I could have given up my idea of ​​justice, saying it was just my idea. But when I did that, my argument against God also fell apart, because the argument depended on saying that the world was really unfair, not just that it didn't fit my particular ideas.

I don't like lima beans at all. (Take with me.) I despised them since childhood, when my mother insisted I eat them in portions with mixed vegetables. I found its texture and taste so unpleasant that I did my best to swallow it. Decades later, when my wife serves mixed greens with lima beans, I try to gulp them down as quickly as possible without biting into them or feeling their mushy consistency. What if I made an argument, let's call it "the bean problem," that a good, all-powerful God couldn't exist because there are beans and I don't like them? Would you find this argument convincing? Hope not. The existence of God and my distaste for beans have nothing to do with it. It does not follow that God cannot exist because he has allowed things I do not prefer. I wouldn't even continue if I found a large group of people who hated lima beans. Personal and collective tastes remain subjective. My confident assertion that lima beans are disgusting gives an idea of ​​my preferences, but says nothing about the nature of lima beans.


This is what Lewis meant when he said that if your idea of ​​justice were simply a "private idea of ​​mine", your argument against God would fail. To say that his life is unfair would be to say, "Lima beans are bad," a mere articulation of his personal tastes, which really says nothing about the world outside him. For your assessment that the universe was unfair to carry any weight, there must be some real and absolute standard of goodness and justice on which to base your assessment of it. This led him to the conclusion:

Therefore, even trying to prove that God does not exist, i.e. that all of reality is nonsense, I had to assume that part of reality, i.e. my idea of ​​​​justice, was full of nonsense and meaning. If the whole universe was meaningless, we would never have discovered that it was meaningless: just as we would never have known that it was dark if there were no light in the universe, and therefore no creatures with eyes. Darkness wouldn't make sense.

Before concluding that there is no evidence for Christianity, consider that your moral intuition bears witness to the God of the Bible. Christianity makes sense of the inevitability of making moral judgments about others and ourselves. We may try with all our might to deny it, but we cannot stop thinking on any level that there is a moral straight line.noDeviating from it is bad. I've emphasized the word "anyone" because we tend to reserve the word "evil" for what we consider to be the greatest atrocities (usually ones we don't commit). But just as any deviation from a perfectly straight line represents curvature, any deviation from pure goodness is bad. And this is a problem for each one of us, for which only the Christian faith is the solution.


What are the 2 main arguments against scientism? ›

Two central arguments against scientism, the (false) dilemma and self-referential incoherence, are analysed.

Is scientism a fallacy? ›

Because the charge of scientism is frequently levied, it is important to be clear about what exactly is being claimed in its name. I argue that scientism can best be understood as a fallacy, specifically as a kind of category mistake.

Who was the philosopher who was okay with science but against with scientism? ›

Wittgenstein, anti-scientism and philosophy of science. Wittgenstein's anti-scientism conditions those that embrace his work in philosophy of science.

What is scientism and how does it differ from science? ›

In short, Scientism is the belief that scientific knowledge is the only form of true knowledge. [4] It holds that reality only consists of those things that can be identified by science and supported by evidence drawn from systematic observation and experiments.

What is scientism and why is it wrong? ›

The belief that science is the only way of knowing what's true or real is called “scientism.” Many, even if they've never heard the word, take scientism for granted as if it's self-evident. It's so deeply ingrained in some people's minds that they regard anyone who would dare contest it as backward and anti-scientific.

What is scientism and why is it a mistake? ›

Scientism is the view that science is the only objective means by which to determine what is true or is an unwarranted application of science in situations that are not amenable to scientific inquiry.

What is the opposite of scientism? ›


Why is scientism not a science? ›

Because scientism has no jurisdiction over human freedom, only over matter and technology, its response to human existence is formulaic. Scientism operates outside the realm of objective science.

What is it called when you believe in science instead of God? ›

Scientism is the opinion that science and the scientific method are the best or only way to render truth about the world and reality.

Which scientist did not believe in God? ›

British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking schmoozed with popes during his lifetime, even though he was an avowed atheist. The famous scientist, who died Wednesday in England at 76, was often asked to explain his views on faith and God. During interviews, he explained his belief that there was no need for a creator.

When did science break from philosophy? ›

They began to separate in the 19th century, when the term science was coined, and over the course of the 19th century, it replaced “natural philosopher.” The two had begun to branch out earlier than that with the development of the hypothetico-deductive model, which locks science into a particular epistemology, ...

What is the theory of scientism? ›

Scientism is the idea that all forms of intellectual inquiry must conform to the model(s) of science in order to be rational. [1] However, the name 'scientism' is a pejorative: no one who holds the view in question will refer to it as scientism.

What is scientism in simple words? ›

: an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities)

What does scientism mean in ethics? ›

Historian Richard G. Olson defines scientism as “efforts to extend scientific ideas, methods, practices, and attitudes to matters of human social and political concern.” (1) But this formulation is so broad as to render it virtually useless.

What are some implications of scientism? ›

Ultimately, the implications of scientism for statements of value undermine value-judgements essential for science itself to have a sound basis. Scientism has implications, therefore, for ontology, epistemology and also for which claims we can assert as objective truths about the world.

Can science explain right and wrong? ›

The domain of science is to describe nature, and then to explain its descriptions in terms of deeper patterns or laws. Science cannot tell us how to live. It cannot tell us right and wrong. If a system of thought claims to be doing those things, it cannot be science.

How does scientism affect society? ›

Science contributes significantly to the production of knowledge and thus contributes to the functioning of democracies, drives innovation and helps countries to be competitive in the global economy.

What is scientism in human behavior? ›

Scientism is the adherence to a materialist version of reality that confines investigation to those sorts of things that are permitted by materialism." The Case of Reber and Alcock. One of the characteristics of dogmatic belief systems is that their adherents accept assumptions as proven facts.

What is the purpose of scientism? ›

Scientism sees it necessary to do away with most, if not all, metaphysical, philosophical, and religious claims, as the truths they proclaim cannot be apprehended by the scientific method. In essence, scientism sees science as the absolute and only justifiable access to the truth.

Why was Lewis very much a skeptic and critic of scientism was he against science? ›

Was he against science? C.S. Lewis was very much skeptic and critic of scientism because he understood that there can be an abuse of the power of a scientist. He understood that scientism creates trade-offs because not everything in life is explained solely by science.

What is the importance of scientism? ›

Science isn't limited to the study of the natural world, disease, or human lifespans. Without science, we wouldn't have technologies like computers, the Internet, cars, and so on. These inventions transformed how humans live in the world, including how we travel, how we communicate, and how we learn.

What do you call people who believe in scientism? ›

Someone who is alleged to believe in scientism is, unfortunatly, said to be a scientismist, which is a terribly inelegant word. You might consider whether empiricist or logical positivist work in your context.

Is scientism an ideology? ›

Science as Ideology: Scientism. Finally, it is worth noting a sense in which science itself can form a basis of an ideology. When science is credited as the one and only way we have to describe reality, or to state truth, such restrictive epistemology might graduate into scientism.

What are people who are against science called? ›

Antiscience is a set of attitudes that involve a rejection of science and the scientific method. People holding antiscientific views do not accept science as an objective method that can generate universal knowledge.

What are 3 things that science is not? ›

  • 1.) Science is not biased by who funds it. ...
  • 2.) Science is not influenced by public opinion. ...
  • 3.) Science is not “just the facts” that are uncovered through scientific investigation. ...
  • 4.) Science is not immune from legitimate challenges.
Jan 21, 2021

Why science does not disprove God? ›

Science doesn't have the processes to prove or disprove the existence of God. Science studies and attempts to explain only the natural world while God, in most religions, is supernatural.

What percentage of philosophers believe in God? ›

8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.

What is it called when you believe in spirituality but not God? ›

"Spiritual but not religious" (SBNR), also known as "spiritual but not affiliated" (SBNA), or less commonly "more spiritual than religious" is a popular phrase and initialism used to self-identify a life stance of spirituality that does not regard organized religion as the sole or most valuable means of furthering ...

Which religion is not based on God? ›

Nontheism has been applied and plays significant roles in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. While many approaches to religion exclude nontheism by definition, some inclusive definitions of religion show how religious practice and belief do not depend on the presence of a god or gods.

What is the most scientific religion in the world? ›

A commonly held modern view is that Buddhism is exceptionally compatible with science and reason, or even that it is a kind of science (perhaps a "science of the mind" or a "scientific religion").

What is it called when you believe in a creator but not religion? ›

The religiously unaffiliated now make up just over one quarter of the U.S. population. While the Nones include agnostics and atheists, most people in this category retain a belief in God or some higher power. Many describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” or “SBNR,” as researchers refer to them.

Where does science end spirituality begin? ›

Spirituality begins where science ends. Spirituality explains what scientists have no ways of measuring or explaining. When science can t explain a phenomenon it s labelled as an anomaly. Others call it a miracle.

Does science defy logic? ›

Time and time again, science has demonstrated that nature often defies logic, as its rules are more arcane than we'd ever intuit without performing the experiments ourselves. Here are three examples that illustrate how logic and reasoning are simply not enough when it comes to science.

Can science and philosophy coexist? ›

As a whole, philosophy and the sciences are equal partners assisting creative thought in its explorations to attain generalising truth.

What is an example of scientism in philosophy? ›

Ontological scientism is the inappropriate rejection of certain entities that can't be proven to exist through science. One potential example is that some people think moral facts don't exist because they don't think there can be good scientific evidence of them.

What is scientism examples in everyday life? ›

Examples of the use of science in everyday life are as follows:
  • We use cars, bikes, or bicycles to go from one place to another; these all are inventions of science.
  • We use soaps; these are also given by science.
  • We use LPG gas and stove etc., for cooking; these are all given by science.

What 2 assumptions is science based on? ›

Assumptions of Science

All scientists make two fundamental assumptions. One is determinism—the assumption that all events in the universe, including behavior, are lawful or orderly. The second assumption is that this lawfulness is discoverable.

What is the most controversial topic in science? ›

The theory of evolution is one of the biggest controversies to cover in science class, mostly because it directly conflicts with long-held religious beliefs that many people still share today. However, religion isn't the only thorn in evolution's side.

What is scientism in the movie The Magician's Twin? ›

Lewis commends science, but refutes scientism, the belief or ideology that science is the best or only test for truth of any kind. As such, scientism leads to an exaggerated trust and almost blind faith in the ability of “science,” especially science divorced from God, to answer any question and solve any problem.

What are 2 ways science seeks to avoid bias in scientific studies? ›

Five tips to prevent confirmation bias

Encourage and carefully consider critical views on the working hypothesis. Ensure that all stakeholders examine the primary data. Do not rely on analysis and summary from a single individual. Design experiments to actually test the hypothesis.

What are two ethical rules in science? ›

Here are some of the ethical rules that scientists must follow: Scientific research must be reported honestly. It is wrong and misleading to make up or change research results. Scientific researchers must try to see things as they really are.

What are the 4 assumptions of science? ›

These six assumptions are common to all the disciplines, to all scientists:
  • Nature is orderly, and the laws of nature describe that order. ...
  • We can know nature. ...
  • All phenomena have natural causes. ...
  • Nothing is self evident. ...
  • Knowledge is derived from acquisition of experience. ...
  • Knowledge is superior to ignorance.
Jun 27, 2014

What is the most debated topic in the world? ›

Most Controversial Topics List
  • Gun Control.
  • Abortion.
  • Religious Freedom.
  • Animal Rights.
  • Vaccines.
  • Privacy Rights.
  • Free-Market Capitalism.
  • Global Climate Change.
Sep 20, 2022

What topics do scientists disagree on? ›

A survey shows that scientists have different opinions on things like climate change, vaccinations, and genetically-modified foods. Scientists and Joe Public tend to have a very different view on topics like genetically modified food, animal research, and climate change.

What are some rejected scientific ideas? ›

10 Most Famous Scientific Theories That Were Later Debunked
  • 1- Fleischmann–Pons's Nuclear Fusion. ...
  • 2- Phrenology. ...
  • 3- The Blank Slate. ...
  • 4- Luminiferous Aether. ...
  • 5- Einstein's Static (or Stationary) Universe. ...
  • 6- Martian Canals. ...
  • 7- Phlogiston Theory. ...
  • 8- The Expanding or Growing Earth.

What is the idea of scientism? ›

Scientism is the idea that all forms of intellectual inquiry must conform to the model(s) of science in order to be rational. [1] However, the name 'scientism' is a pejorative: no one who holds the view in question will refer to it as scientism.

Is scientism unscientific? ›

Once you accept that science is the only source of human knowledge, you have adopted a philosophical position (scientism) that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It is, in a word, unscientific.

What is an example of scientism? ›

A tendency to pathologize anyone who is perceived to be critical of science or technology. For example, a quickness to label anyone who points out risks related to technology as a luddite.

What is the moral of The Magician's Nephew? ›

Uncle Andrew, the absurd magician of the story's title, also illustrates a lesson that you can take either in a religious context or as a practical moral: “Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.”

What is the presented essence of modernity and its consequence in the magician's twin? ›

Based on what you have learned in the documentary film, what is the presented principle of modernity and its values in the magician's twin? Answer: The core of modernity is that “nothing is sacrosanct,” and the human person is one of its consequences.


1. "Archaeological Science: looking to the future" by Dr Lisa Brown
(Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
2. Medieval Philosophy - Bryan Magee & Anthony Kenny (1987)
(Philosophy Overdose)
3. Inspiring Science 2013: Ideas in the Bath
(The British Library)
4. "The urge to build" by Dr John Barber
(Society of Antiquaries of Scotland)
5. The Symbolism of Freemasonry - Albert G Mackey - Full Audiobook
(Athene Noctua Audiobooks)
6. Pathfinder Regional Deep Dive: Ustalav
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