I am very astonished that the scientific picture of the real world around me is deficient. It gives a lot of factual information, puts all our experience in a magnificently consistent order, but it is ghastly silent about all and sundry that is really near to our heart, that really matters to us. It cannot tell us a word about red and blue, bitter and sweet, physical pain and physical delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, God and eternity. Science sometimes pretends to answer questions in these domains, but the answers are very often so silly that we are not inclined to take them seriously.
–Erwin Schrödinger, Austrian physicist, One of the founders of quantum theory, Nobel Prize winner for Physics
Science is the investigation of the physical universe and its ways, and consists largely of weighing, measuring, and putting things in test tubes. To assume that this kind of investigation can unearth solutions to all our problems is a form of religious faith whose bankruptcy has only in recent years started to become apparent.
There is a tendency in many people to suspect that anything that can’t be weighed, measured, or put in a test tube is either not real or not worth talking about. That is like a blind person’s suspecting that anything that can’t be smelled, tasted, touched, or heard is probably a figment of the imagination.
A scientist’s views on such subjects as God, morality, and life after death are apt to be about as enlightening as a theologian’s views on the structure of the atom or the cause and cure of the common cold.
The conflict between science and religion, which reached its peak toward the end of the nineteenth century, is like the conflict between a podiatrist and a poet. One says that Susie Smith has fallen arches. The other says she walks in beauty like the night. In his own way each is speaking the truth. What is at issue is the kind of truth you’re after.
As useful and successful as metal detectors are, they can’t be used to find everything. Metal detectors won’t help you find wood, plastic, rubber, or other nonmetallic objects.
Now, suppose metal-detector man, after just combing the beach, says to you, “I know there’s no plastic or rubber on that beach because I looked for those things with my metal detector and found nothing!” Then suppose he goes even further and says, “There’s not only no plastic or rubber on that beach, there is no plastic or rubber anywhere because I’ve never found a speck of it with my metal detector!” Meanwhile, you can’t help but notice that his metal detector is made of mostly plastic and rubber.
You’d think, “Is metal-detector man nuts? He’s certainly not thinking properly.”
That’s what Dr. Edward Feser, who thought of this illustration, thinks about atheists who insist that all truth comes from science. The atheists are like metal-detector man, and science is their metal detector. Because their chosen tool — science — has been so successful in discovering material causes in the natural world, atheists mistakenly assume that nothing but material things exist. And just like metal-detector man doesn’t realize that plastic and rubber are part of his metal detector — in fact, it couldn’t work without them — some atheists don’t seem to realize that immaterial realities are part of science, and science couldn’t work without them.
When the new atheists (such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris) refer to “science,” they are normally referring to the study of material causes in fields such as physics, chemistry, biology, cosmology and astronomy. There’s obviously much to gain by studying those areas of reality. The problem arises when the new atheists assert that those are the only areas of reality — that everything can be explained by material causes, and all truth comes from science.
Such an assertion is obviously false. In fact, the claim “all truth comes from science” didn’t itself come from science. It’s not a scientific truth, but a philosophical claim about science. So the claim is self-defeating.
Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality, frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate. But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.
In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research. Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are inherently beyond its ability to answer.
Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity, scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous, both because it pretends to be something very different from what it really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that questions the ability of science to address even the questions legitimately within its sphere of competence. One longs for a new Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition.
–Austin L. Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of South Carolina.
To limit oneself to what reason and science can prove is merely to skim the surface of reality, and fail to discover the hidden depths beneath. Both reason and science are severely limited in what they can prove…
For Christian writers, religious faith is not a rebellion against reason, but a legitimate and necessary revolt against the imprisonment of humanity within the cold walls of a rationalist dogmatism. The Christian faith declares that there is more to reality than reason discloses – not contradicting reason, but simply transcending it, and escaping from its limitations.
Science is the tool of the Western mind and with it more doors can be opened than with bare hands. It is part and parcel of our knowledge and obscures our insight only when it holds that the understanding given by it is the only kind there is. –Carl Jung