Few things earn you more credibility in a conversation than dropping a “scientists have found” or “studies have shown.” This is because our culture places such a high premium on scientific understanding. And, rightly so! Science has given us spectacular insight into our universe and has improved our lives in countless ways.
Do we value science too much?
In 1877, mathematician and philosopher W.K. Clifford published an article titled “The Ethics of Belief.” He stated in the article a principle that has since become more famous than he has:
It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.”
Sparing the historical details (see René Descartes and Auguste Comte), Clifford simply said what philosophers had been thinking for some time. Namely that empirical evidence—that which is observed with the five senses and rationally interpreted—is the only reliable grounds for claiming to know anything.
It is a way of thinking called scientism.
In his book on the subject, Christian philosopher J.P. Moreland defines scientism as “the view that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality.”
Moreland explains that scientism can be found in two forms, strong and weak. Strong scientism holds that science is the only way to know truth while all other claims to knowledge are simply irrelevant. Weak scientism holds that science is the best way to know truth while all other claims to knowledge merely opinion.
Economist E.F. Schumacher explained the concept this way:
The architects of the modern worldview…assumed that those things that could be weighed, measured, and counted were more true than those that could not be quantified. If it couldn’t be counted, in other words, it didn’t count.
So, what is the problem? After all, science is definitively observable, measurable, and repeatable. The facts discovered by the scientific method are just that—facts. What else could be more reliable? What else could we need?
Here’s the thing…
Science is an unspeakably important means of discovery knowledge, but it is not the only one. It tells us a lot, but it doesn’t tell us everything.
Continue reading “The Problems of Scientism”