A scientist refutes religion-denying, reason-destroying scientism
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1 Science and scientism
1.2 Science, what do we mean by it?
1.3 The Scientific Revolution
1.4 Characteristics of science
2.1 The meaning of experiment
2.2 Is reproducibility essential?
2.3 Inherent limitations of reproducibility
3.2 Beyond Clarity
3.3 Reductionism and abstraction
4.1 The HPS discipline
4.2 Scientism, sociology and socialism
4.3 Scientific method and demarcation
4.4 Demarcation disputes
4.5 A more modest characterization
5 Evolutionary explanation
5.1 Explanation in physical science
5.2 Evolutionary fact
5.3 Natural Law and Natural History
5.4 Evolution as world-view
5.5 Natural prehistory
5.6 The clash of world-views
5.7 Social consequences
6 The case for scientism
6.1 Explicit scientism and its warrant
6.2 Critical evaluation
7 Denying science
7.1 Outgrowing the Enlightenment
7.2 Shattering The Mirror of Nature
7.3 Freeing the oppressed
7.4 Gathering the threads
8 The Technological Fix
8.1 Science and technology
8.2 Technological critiques
8.3 Energy and environment
9 Scientism and religion
9.1 Militant atheism
9.2 Rocks of Ages: A niche for religion
9.3 Behind the mythology
9.4 Mutual support
9.5 True contradiction
10 Integrating knowledge
10.1 The Christian and science
10.2 Levels and perspectives
10.3 The place of faith
In a sense this is a book about science and religion, but that may not be obvious at first glance. In my intellectual journey as a follower of Jesus Christ and as a professional scientist, I came to believe a long time ago that the much-discussed tensions between science and Christianity are part of a wider disagreement between an improper extrapolation of science and – well – everything else. The improper extrapolation of science is approximately the belief that science, modelled on the natural sciences, is the only source of real knowledge. I call that belief scientism. It is an awkward, ugly word and that’s fine with me, because I think it’s an awkward, ugly, and erroneous world-view. I choose this word because it points directly at the world-view’s foundational character and because the traditional alternatives capture only a fraction of the scope to which I think scientism’s influence extends.
To call my approach here to science and religion indirect may well seem an absurd understatement. That is because, to explain my way of understanding the relationship between science and religion, I need to show how the “everything else” comes in. The first three quarters of what I have to say will give the impression of wandering through regions that to many scientists and Christians are foreign, and inhospitable. We will spend time to understand science. We will meet some of its most famous practitioners, discover some of its history: both what it is and what people have thought and said it is. We’ll identify its most important characteristics, which is as much philosophy as science. We’ll talk about what those characteristics imply about its scope of competence. We’ll spend a couple of nights with the History and Philosophy of science crowd to get a feel for their concerns and how they bear on our issues. We’ll talk about the arguments for and against scientism. We’ll be hosted by some hard-core postmodern philosophers and spar with some hard-core atheists. And on the way we’ll dip liberally into ideas concerning music, art, language, sociology, politics, law, and technology as well as science and religion.
As a guide to all the intellectually foreign regions, I cannot claim the qualification of being a resident or expert. But I do claim the qualification of understanding the fundamental commitments and concerns, and speaking the language, of both scientists and Christians. And I hope to offer a tolerably well-informed tour through the unfamiliar territory. On the way, I shall also offer commentary that the residents – those who routinely live and work in the different regions of this intellectual country – might consider impertinent. They might say, Who does this scientist think he is to editorialize about what we do for a living? That’s the sort of question it is best to acknowledge, but not to answer. The content of the commentary is the only real justification it can have. But I do want to indicate my intention, which is to discuss those features of the intellectual landscape that are relevant to my topic at the level of a tourist. In other words, I am trying to write in a way that is tolerably accessible to an intelligent non-expert – to act in the way a tour guide should: as an interpreter. This intention requires simplification, summarization, and glossing over nuances in a way that might scandalize the local residents. I hope that any residents who choose to tag along with the tour will, nevertheless, be able to recognize some truth in what I say, and perhaps on occasions will gain new insights from the different perspective that I offer, even of their own localities.
Why do I take my readers on this round-about route? In the first place it is because scientism is busily, but largely surreptitiously, at work throughout practically the entire intellectual and cultural landscape. Making sense of its influence in the regions that most interest me is very hard unless one has a feel for the wider picture. Secondly, it is because if one just jumps straight into talking about science and religion, it is easy to give the impression that there are just those two disjoint areas of human knowledge. That impression can lead into unsatisfying and unsatisfactory attempts to reconcile just those areas without realizing that all disciplines are struggling with the question of scientism. Third, it is because both scientists and Christians are frequently misled, in ways that I will explain, into adopting scientistic positions. If one pays attention to the bigger picture, it helps to avoid that mistake. Finally, it is because the case that scientism is a mistake depends upon a fairly deep understanding – an understanding which is subject to controversy – of what science is and how it relates to the rest of knowledge. Obviously, I’m trying to make all this interesting, but I’m also trying to make the reader think; so don’t be surprised if there are parts that have you puzzled, and maybe feeling a bit lost at first.
Acknowledgements. This book has been half a lifetime in gestation. I owe an enormous debt for what I have learned from authors, friends, colleagues, teachers, and acquaintances, all too numerous for me to be able to recall. Most of the ideas here, even those that I can’t remember learning from someone else, I probably owe in part to others. I have always thought it is the greatest triumph for an educator when the ideas they are seeking to inculcate become such an integral part of the student’s thinking that the student doesn’t remember where they came from. If so, then my own teachers, formal and informal, are triumphant. I am especially grateful, though, to friends and colleagues who have read parts of this work in draft and given me helpful criticisms, soundings, and encouragement on the way: Jesse Rainbow, Roger White, Garry Haake, John Durant. And as ever, my wife Fran has been a constant enabler and encourager beyond my deserving.