The Foolishness of Sciencism

There seems to be a new term out there, which is being used in all sorts of settings, which apparently is believed by some to be the worst thing that one person can call another.  The term that I am thinking of is ‘science denier’.  It is used in politics, culture and, of course, science – as weapon of peculiar power.

If you want to get a feel for the scope of its use do a quick internet search for the term science denier.  You will see Trump, Pence and William Happer all called science deniers.  You will see at least two articles from Scientific American on how to argue against science deniers.  Dig a little deeper and you can even find articles where scientists within a particular discipline are using the term against one another.  I glanced through one in regard to grizzly bear populations.

Examining the way the term is used is interesting.  It is not being utilized scientifically at all.  In fact, it is used a bit more like a religious doctrine.  And if this is the case, the religious viewpoint that it is a doctrine of would have to be atheism.  Or perhaps some offshoot or denomination of atheism, sciencism.  After checking that term out, I discover I am not the first to use it.  The urban dictionary defines sciencism as the worldview that accepts conventional science as dogma.

I am writing this article to stave off an irritation I feel with the term ‘science denier’, but also to warn the reader off of sciencism.  Now before you fall into the most probable misunderstanding of this article, let me say that I am not asking you to disbelieve and disregard science.  The true scientist will know and appreciate peer review, opposing opinions, and open discussion.  The true scientist knows that science is always a collection of theories, and the vast majority of these are proven false, or at least replaced with more robust theories.  Think about this – Newtonian physics explained everything until Einstein came along.  And now quantum physics is overshadowing Einsteinian physics.

If sciencism is understood as a false religion it already has the hallmarks of religious thought.  It has its preachers, evangelists and institutions.  Like false religion all over the world, sciencism also has its minions. People who will wait for the next sermon or ritual for them to enthusiastically embrace.  These folks are waiting breathlessly for the next thing to come along that is scientifically proven.

Earlier I suggested that you do a quick internet search for the term ‘science denier’, let me also suggest you do a similar search for ‘science proves.’ Part of what set off this tirade was seeing a surprising number of articles in my feed beginning with the words ‘science proves.’ Here are some of the articles:

  • Science proves that gratitude is the key to well-being. (I like this one.)
  • Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them. (NBC news!)
  • Science proves greed is good. (This was Time.com.)
  • Science proves unicorns are real. (That is Good Housekeeping?)
  • Science proves pop music has gotten worse.

I’ll stop there, just to prove sometimes science does get it right.

Let be begin to wrap up with a few thoughts.  Humanity should avoid beating each other up, and part of that is not using terms which are meaningless in the big picture and only serve to silence opponents in the small picture.  We should also recognize when we are following something religiously, especially when it is unintentional, silly and not reflecting who we wish to be.

Finally we should recognize that the search for truth is important.  It’s important to all of us.  I personally believe the highest truth is beyond this physical world.  There are spiritual realities which are deeper, eternal and can never be discovered by science.  These things will be revealed to us by God Himself, and have been already both in His Word and in His Son.

Consider 1 Corinthians 1:27 (NASB)

“but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong”