In a New Book, Philosopher J.P. Moreland Exposes Bankrupt Scientism

I thought that this was interesting for discussion at Peaceful Science:

Moreland thinks theism should be preferred over Scientism? Is he equating atheism with Scientism? Well the overwhelming majority of atheist philosophers think scientism is false and self refuting as well.


Based on this specific book, I do not think this is the case. I think it is fair to say that he would consider scientism one way to be an atheist, but not that all atheism is scientism. He quotes Thomas Nagel regularly as a critic of scientism or aspects of scientism, for example.

Coming from the other direction, he is also concerned that theistic evolutionists are straying too close to scientism. I don’t think he would put them (us?) fully in the scientism camp, but certainly scientism adjacent.

This is not news, problems with scientism have been well known for ages. From the article it does not seem that Moreland added anything to the debate. Further, who in this day and age actually subscribes to scientism?

I don’t know anyone (except maybe Sam Harris), who actually subscribes to scientism. It is well known (at least amongst scientists) that science itself is motivated through unscientific, logically unmotivated axioms.

Further, I don’t know any atheists who subscribes to scientism. Even my most anti-theist friend agrees that morality, may it be utilitarianism, deontological ethics, or whatever are the favored moral axioms of their particular brand of secular humanism relies on unscientific, logically unmotivated axioms.


Ironically, I think some ID folks flirt with it. This may give me a reason to write it up. But a Quote by Stephen Meyer seemed to flirt with it. Gonna get started typing that up and I’ll post it here

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From Meyer:

“If there is no evidence of design, and materialistic processes can account for everything we see? then the simplest metaphysical explanation of the reality around us, the scientific reality, is the materialistic worldview: Matter and energy are eternal, self-existent, self-creating, and perfectly capable of producing everything we see around us.
If, instead, we see evidence of a designing mind, then I think that evidence has faith-affirming implications because the most logical candidate for the designing mind is obviously God.” (link)

First things first, notice the totally unwarranted assumption that Theism entails God’s action should be detectable by the sciences. It entails no such thing. I also don’t know how being able to explain events by natural means means the universe is eternal or how an eternal universe helps naturalism.

Now, he says if there is no evidence for design, and I’m assuming he means the ID type of design, then some type of materialism is the best explanation for the universe. Why so much emphasis on scientific evidence? My case for Christian Theism doesn’t depend on any scientific arguments. It seems like Meyer thinks scientific knowledge is the most important and rational. Kind of like those who adhere to Scientism that they like to critique.


This is not an academic book intended to add something to the conversation among philosophers about scientism. As best as I can tell, this is a book for the (evangelical Christian) layperson. And I think there is something to the idea that scientism is present in popular culture, even if it is not highly regarded in philosophical circles. For example, the quote used to introduce the original Cosmos series and its recent revival: “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” That at least sounds like scientism to many, even if there might be some ambiguity depending on how one understands “cosmos.”


No, that’s not scientism; that’s rhetoric.


Yes, I found myself wondering if advocating for a scientific test of the agency of God (or at least a supernatural designer) was the best way to make the case that science is not the ultimate arbiter of all questions. Even if Moreland does have some good philosophical points for why such a hypothesis should not be excluded a priori.

OK, so if it is rhetoric, what is it advocating for?

Perhaps that is just a definition. They are defining the Cosmos as “all that is, or ever was, or ever will be,” knowing full well that this is a very squish definition that just sounds very grand and beautiful.


Fair enough, and I recognize the squishiness. (I’m also trying, unartfully, to apply what I learned about rhetoric from the rhetorician in the Veritas Forum video I posted in the other thread.)

At the same time, upon hearing Neil deGrasse Tyson say those words and knowing some of his other comments about philosophy and other non-science disciplines, an inference to some flavor of scientism is understandable even if he did not intend or explicitly state such a view.


It is advocating for people to watch the program :drooling_face:

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The bigger issue with Neil deGrasse Tyson in Cosmos is the pseudohistory of the conflict thesis. I couldn’t get through the first episode, or bring myself to watch any others. If you want to criticize, that is the place they do not even have a fig leaf. No science historian buys that nonsense.


Some people probably do say that about Tyson. But I hope they are not jumping to such a conclusion based on a introductory sentence.

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Well, yes. But perhaps I have unnecessarily derailed the conversation by bringing up Cosmos at all.

For clarity, Moreland did not mention that particular quote. He actually used anecdotes from personal conversations to illustrate where he sees scientism manifesting in the wider, nonacademic culture. I thought the Cosmos quote would be more widely familiar and easier to type than a whole story from the book. I agree with you that it is not proof of anything.

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It’s a useful concept though. We have some idea about the extent of the universe, but less about what’s beyond it. Sometimes it’s relevant to refer to everything that exists in reality in one set.

I’m not sure of Sagan’s intent in saying it, but the concept doesn’t seem limited by scientism to me.

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