Thursday, April 8, 2010

Defrocking The Priests Of Scientism

The “skeptical” materialist Michael Shermer recently offered the following as a description of his atheism:
“There’s no, like, central set of tenets that we adhere to or believe in, or anything like … a Christian or a Jew or whatever. We don’t have anything like that, because there is nothing. It’s just simply we just don’t believe.”*
Shermer’s denial of any adherence to religious belief is instructive in light of the widely heralded claims he and others make about the legitimacy of Christian input to the marketplace of ideas. A “religion,” let us remember, is nothing more than a template by which one understands and responds to the world. Everybody has one. Shermer’s religion is simply informed by a belief that God does not exist. But that assertion does not allow him to escape the fact that he holds to a systematic view of the world. He has simply tried to construct his understanding of ethics, truth and ultimate reality on the non-existence of God. The question is not about who holds religious views. The question is which of those views correspond best with reality.

Acknowledging this materialist religiosity is not just a clever way to make a trivial point – not when we have been trained to believe that legitimate dialogue starts with the tacit acceptance of naturalistic assumptions in any discussion about what really matters. Any view that questions that mindset is categorically dismissed as a matter of personal opinion that need not be taken seriously. It is within such a paradigm that only scientists may offer us “proof.” Our scientific culture ordains scientists as the source of all wisdom and authority.

If Naturalism is true, this all makes sense. If the physical world is all that is real; if every phenomenon must be understood as a consequence of molecules in motion; if material causes are the only kind we are allowed to invoke, it stands to reason that science – the study of the natural world – is the only explanatory game in town. If science holds all truth, our belief in science – scientism – is our greatest hope.

But if science is the only appropriate defender of the Naturalistic worldview, it seems fair to ask how science can analyze things that, under the presuppositions of Naturalism, are not possible even in principle? How do the priests of scientism propose to explain away non-natural realities?

Take for instance the often-repeated declaration that “science has disproved God.” This is an odd claim to say the least. For one thing, it must simultaneously address the mutually exclusive truths that: 1) science is the study of the physical universe and, 2) no credible theist has ever claimed that God is part of the physical universe. This detail seems to be lost on the priests of scientism – especially on those who espouse their disbelief in the deity with a smug wave of the hand and a demand for “evidence.”

They insist that the Christian theist offer acceptable physical evidence for a non-physical entity that the scientific clergy has already dismissed by mere presupposition. Do they not see the circularity in their reasoning? Without it, the entire scaffolding of scientism collapses under the weight of its own criteria for identifying truth.

It is wildly ironic that the priests of scientism seem ignorant of the language of their faith. Science depends on mathematics to make its case. Moreover, this mathematical structure has been described by naturalistic scientists themselves as “an abstract, immutable entity existing outside space and time” that allows for the orderliness and invariant properties we observe in nature. It is “something bordering on the mysterious” that has “an eerily real feel” to it and satisfies “a central criterion of objective existence.”* Stephen Hawking wonders where such characteristics as mathematics, and the laws of physics and chemistry could have originated. Even atheist Bertrand Russell once remarked that mathematics holds both “truth and supreme beauty.”*

Mathematics is the language of science – the vocabulary of those who deny non-physical reality – yet mathematics itself is the combination of numbers and concepts, neither of which are physical but both of which are undeniably real.

It is through mathematics that scientists engage in the quantum metaphysics by which they try to evade the clear causal inference of Big Bang cosmology. They profess that our universe really required no cause at all and that they know this because the otherwise inexplicable degree of fine-tuning in this universe implies that we must just be living among an infinite number of other ones. As cosmologist Max Tegmark has put it, this “idea … seems strange and implausible, but it looks as if we will just have to live with it, because it is supported by astronomical observations.”* Of course, the fact that these alternate universes are, by definition, unobservable is never addressed by those who demand “evidence” from the theist whose “blind faith” is considered a target for their derision.

Agent causation. Life from non-life. Mind from matter. Non-material objective reality. Each of these actualities is part of our common human experience, yet each is foundationally inconsistent with a naturalistic view of the world.

This is not to say that the scientific enterprise is misguided. Far from it. The point is that, on Christian theism, science is understood in context as the rational method whereby we discover and understand the order and majesty of God’s creative work. Seen that way, each of these conundrums vanishes inside the more comprehensive view that nature is not a full description of reality. It turns out that Christianity’s explanatory power far exceeds the naturalistic alternative.

This does not diminish science. It simply acknowledges that materialism’s idolization of science is a futile ritual meant to account for realities the worldview itself denies. “Be patient,” we are told, “science may not have explained these things yet, but it will. Just give it time.” Though meant to persuade, this pious exhortation serves only to confirm the materialist’s religious zeal.

The priests, it seems, also fancy themselves as prophets.

__________ Notes __________

~ Excerpt from the transcript of the December 31, 2009 Hugh Hewitt radio program available at:

~ Max Tegmark, “Parallel Universes.” (Scientific American. May, 2003), 49.

~ Dean Overman, A Case Against Accident and Self-Organization (New York, New York: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. 1997), 159.

~ Tegmark, 41.

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