Do PS Members Believe in Scientism?

@terrellclemmons, who has recently joined our community, commented that she thinks many of us hold to some form of scientism:

What is scientism? Terrell refers to this article summarizing Moreland’s definition: Peripheral Visions by Terrell Clemmons - Salvo Magazine
Basically, scientism is a belief system which privileges scientific knowledge above all other forms:

In Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Crossway, 2018), J. P. Moreland defines scientism as “the view that the hard sciences—like chemistry, biology, physics, astronomy—provide the only genuine knowledge of reality.” Whether expressed in the strong form, which says that science and its methods provide the only valid route to knowledge, or in some weaker form that allows other ways of knowing to have some lesser validity (as long as they bow to science), scientism has become a part of the pseudo-intellectual air we breathe. I say “pseudo” because scientism isn’t intellectual, but is rather, at its very core, intellectually unsound.

Now, based on my interactions with many of you, I am not surprised that several of our non-theistic members have tendencies towards scientism: @Patrick, @John_Harshman, @Rumraket and maybe @John_Dalton and @Timothy_Horton come into mind. (Please correct me if I’m misrepresenting your beliefs!) What I’m more interested is whether Terrell thinks many of the Christians here also hold to scientism, even if many of us deny it.

To start with myself, I certainly do not hold to strong scientism, as I believe that there are many forms of knowledge not based on empirical science, as @AllenWitmerMiller neatly summarizes:

And of course, being a Christian, I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus and many other theological truths, none of which are strictly deducible using the scientific method.

That being said, as a scientist, I admit that I do have a tendency to believe in the strong claims of natural scientists (specifically, particle physicists with a 5 sigma result :wink:) more readily than most other fields of knowledge, especially humanities or social sciences. The fact that science has a clear notion of “progress” and wide consensus on many topics seem to me to count for something. The only fields which compare to science are math, logic, and basic historical or geographical facts (e.g. The capital of the US is Washington DC). Does this count as weak scientism?


@terrellclemmons there needs to be a distinction, in this case, between Christians like @dga471 and myself from many of our atheist colleagues, who are here. On this question, there are a diversity of views but it is insensible to suggest that Dan and I are falling prey to scientism.

The far more interesting and important question is why two confessing scientists, such as us, are accepted in the larger community of science, which can sometimes dip towards scientism. Have you intuited an answer to this yet?


Probably the same reason any minority is accepted - Legal protection + Political protection+ common decency (which is common only if the first two exist in abundance).

I would say that there are many senses of “truth”, not all of them related to actual physical existence in the universe. Of @AllenWitmerMiller’s 6 varieties, I would not call 1, 5, and 6 truths, 4 is truth in a purely abstract and self-contained world, 2 is based on the scientific method if it’s done right (and if its actually a truth), and 3 needs fleshing out before I could think about it. If this be scientism, make the most of it.

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Whether expressed in the strong form, which says that science and its methods provide the only valid route to knowledge, or in some weaker form that allows other ways of knowing to have some lesser validity (as long as they bow to science), scientism has become a part of the pseudo-intellectual air we breathe.

Yikes. The “strong form” versus “weaker form” definitions of scientism raised a lot of red flags for me—but the “as long as they bow to science” and “the pseudo-intellectual air we breathe” backspin pushed the rhetoric right over the top. Way over the top.

Call me extremely skeptical. (Or perhaps I should be called an extremely skeptical pseudo-intellectual.)


I think two important questions are -
What is truth?
And how do we know something is true?.

In the scientific method, there are no “truths”… only facts that can be verified and facts that cannot.

Ultimately, truth is important because we human beings attach “meaning” to it… and things like meaning are beyond the scope of the scientific method.
To me, Scientism seems a denial of meaning to anything… and hence a total denial of the existence of truth.


I think my view is actually pretty close to yours @dga471 . Science has shown itself to be very effective at determining facts about our physical reality. Scientists vet each other, make corrections when necessary, etc. They’ve shown themselves in general to be worthy of confidence within their respective fields. Even in areas where I may not be able to understand exactly what they’re talking about, I respect the process. They tell me for example that air is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, co2 and some other gases. I’m not immediately able to verify that myself, but it looks solid enough to me. I even understand it pretty much. Does all this mean science is the only way of gaining knowledge? No. I’m open to anything, but depending on the knowledge and the way it was derived, I feel justified in taking varying degrees of care in evaluating it myself and determining for myself what if any claim it has to the title “truth”.


“Scientism” is just a pejorative term thrown at people who know how to think correctly.


So there is a correct way to think…

How do you know this way to think is correct?

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Here’s the bait and switch that occurs in these “debates” over so-called scientism:

“Science is the only means we have of knowing truth”. (I don’t know of anyone who actually holds this position, but for the sake of argument…)

“What about mathematical truths?”

“Oh, good point. You are correct, there are means by which we can determine things to be true other than science.”

“Good. So now you must agree that that a person actually walked on water because it says so in a book, since science is not the only way we can determine whether things are true.”

“Sorry, whut?”


Science is succesful in answering some questions and totally incapable of answering other questions.
So based on results ,we can trust science to calculate @ what temperature water will boil given a certain pressure. However Science is useless to answer questions on ethics/God etc.


It certainly can be a pejorative term when hurled indiscriminately. (So I definitely hear what you are saying. It is an easily abused term.) Nevertheless, scientism is a meaningful term when appropriately applied to the position that science is the only means of making sense of reality and pursuing truth.

All too often, the term scientism is misused by those who don’t have a good understanding of the differences between science, philosophy, and theology. (Admittedly, there are many on the other extreme of the spectrum who don’t understand the importance of philosophy as an academic discipline and who don’t understand how modern science is the product of centuries of progress in philosophy.)


It is probably relevant to note here that J. P. Moreland, in his recent book Scientism and Secularism, explicitly associated theistic evolution and BioLogos with, at least, weak scientism. He cites a quote from Karl Giberson (p 71 of the paperback).

In several other places in the book (e.g. p 28, discussing a note in a textbook on how to deal with religious objections to macroevolution; pp 66-67, discussing the reliability of evolved cognitive faculties; pp 72-73, discussing Biblical interpretation and science), evolutionary biology is correlated with scientism. Sometimes it is called evolutionary naturalism or naturalistic evolution or completely naturalistic evolution, but it is not ever clear what distinctions are being made between science, philosophy and theology.

For example, “completely naturalistic evolution” might seem like an effort to distinguish from “theistic evolution” but on p 73 the phrase “completely naturalistic story of evolution” is used in discussing Biblical interpretation, implying this is the same as “theistic evolution.” Thus I think it is reasonable for the reader to conclude that Moreland sees any association with evolutionary biology as evidence by itself of some form of scientism. Or, to turn it around, scientism (at minimum weak scientism) is the only explanation for rejecting Intelligent Design.


Please give examples of some of the answers to those questions that have been determined, to the extent that the boiling point of water has been determined at various pressures. By what means were those answers, if any, determined?


What are some of the means that are alternatives to science? Can you give specific examples of people who deny those means?

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Let’s go step by step.
Do you agree Science cannot give results for subjects like Ethics, God etc?

I think it’s also reasonable to conclude from his other writings that he might not really up to speed on evolutionary biology.

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I would be interested in hearing, especially from the non-theists here, whether they agree with Moreland that these epistemological underpinnings are necessary before one can even do science? And if not, why not?

Moreland identifies six presuppositions that underpin the empirical sciences. Here are the first four:

  1. A natural world exists independent of any mind, language, or theory. In other words, reality consists of real entities and objects outside of observers. (We’re not in the Matrix.)
  2. There is a rational order to the structure of that world.
  3. Objective truth about that world exists.
  4. Human sensory and cognitive faculties are capable of discovering and grasping truth about that world.


For instance, if someone believes in a God who created the earth and all the life forms on it in their present forms 6000 years ago, science can demonstrate that is wrong. The same goes for someone who claims it is ethical to discriminate against homosexual people because their sexual orientation is a “choice.”

Are you going to answer my questions, or just continue your efforts to avoid them?