The more that I dialogue with proponents of New Atheism the more I find that scientism, the epistemological theory that scientifically proven facts are the only source of true knowledge, undergirds their response to theistic arguments. They generally just dismiss theistic arguments with something like Christopher Hitchens slogan, “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence,” or if they deal with arguments their critiques are often full of blunders such as Richard Dawkins asking who made God. The problem with believing that science is the sole source true knowledge is that it is self-refuting and incoherent idea.
We can see this when we look at this argument:
- 1. If scientism is true then scientific facts are the only source of true knowledge.
- 2. Scientific facts are not the only source of true knowledge.
- 3. Therefore scientism is false.
First of all, scientism is self-refuting because it can’t be scientifically proven that we should only believe scientific facts, and since scientism isn’t a scientifically proven fact it should be rejected.
Scientism destroys science
Secondly, scientism destroys science because it rejects principles that science relies upon. Science makes several assumptions such as there is an observable universe outside of our minds and that universe behaves in a uniform and repeatable way. These assumptions can’t be scientifically proven true so without the justification of philosophy these assumptions would have no logical merit. Inductive reasoning, which is the epistemological heart of science, can’t be scientifically proven. Inductive reasoning says that events will probably proceed as they have in the past, but there is no way to support this presupposition as events could change at any time.
Also, scientism invalidates the mathematics which science relies upon since math can’t be scenically proven. Mathematic proofs such as 2+2=4 are taken to be necessarily true. If scientism invalidates inductive reasoning and mathematics then it destroys the only source of truth that it claims is true.
Scientism is a very limited view
Scientism rejects other sources of knowledge such as philosophy, history, mathematics, literary theory and theology which can be great sources of knowledge. Without philosophy there is no way to think about what the findings of science mean to our lives. Important questions couldn’t be addressed such what is to be alive and how our knowledge of physics and chemistry relate to this question? Without philosophy science would have trouble organizing itself. Questions that help science organize itself couldn’t be asked such as is there such a thing as the scientific method, and if so what is it?
Also, scientism rejects knowledge that seems intuitively true. Knowledge such as the existence of objective moral values and duties and free will is rejected by scientism because these things can’t be scientifically proven true. These are things that we take to be true because we don’t have any reason to question their existence.
ConclusionScientism is an incredibly limited view that is incoherent and self-defeating. It is question begging against faith and it destroys the principles that science rests on. We can conclusively say that scientism is false—that scientifically proven facts aren’t the only source of knowledge. In the case of scientism we can say in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “That which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”