Scientism – for comments

February 29, 2016

Some other illustrations

I have provided two illustrations (see my last month’s scientism posts) of how the charge of ‘scientism’ has been made in a baseless and indeed irrelevant way against critics of religious and/or supernatural beliefs. It is not difficult to find further examples.

Here, for example, is Bishop James Heiser:

[T[he efforts of scientists to disprove the existence of God is not a pursuit of Science, but Scientism. (Heiser, 2012)

As should now be clear, efforts to disprove the existence of God do not necessarily involve an embrace of scientism.

In their paper ‘Has Science Disproved God?’, Ashton and Westacott write:


It is important to note that science, unlike scientism, should not be a threat to religious belief. Science, to be sure, advocates a ‘naturalistic’ rather than ‘supernaturalistic’ focus, and an empirical method for determining truths about the physical world and the universe. Yet the proper mandate of science is restricted to the investigation of the natural (physical, empirical dimension) of reality. It is this restriction that scientism has violated… (Ashton and Westacott, 2006, 16)

This is another example of authors just assuming the supernatural is off-limits to science and then using that assumption to immunise their religious belief against any potential scientific threat. As we have seen, empirical science is more than capable of investigating many supernatural claims, and has done so successfully. To suppose otherwise is not to be guilty of scientism.


G.K. Chesterton scholar Dale Ahlquist writes:

Too often a prominent physicist or biologist is believed when he declares that empirical science has disproved the existence of God… The fallacy is, of course, that empirical or experimental science is limited to the work of discovering and applying truths about the material world. If there is a spiritual presence in the material world, physical science will not discover it; and if we discover it, physical science will have no idea of what it means. Chesterton would have none of such scientism.

What can people mean when they say that science has disturbed their view of sin? Do they think sin is something to eat? When people say that science has shaken their faith in immortality, do they think that immortality is a gas? (Ahlquist, 2104)

But immortality doesn’t have to be material – and certainly doesn’t have to be a material substance like a gas – in order to be scientifically investigable. Neither does God. Again, an unjustified and mistaken characterisation of the remit of science is used by the author to immunise religious belief against any potential scientific refutation.

In ‘Has Science Done Away With God?’, Catholic apologist Matt Fradd asks:

Hasn’t science disproved God? No, and it is not within the ability of science to do so. Science is a method that one can use to dis
cover information about the natural world… Examining God’s material creation using a method which, by its very nature, is limited to the material universe cannot provide evidence against the existence of an immaterial God….
The view that science can or should provide the answer to every question is known as scientism. (Fradd, 2012)

Fradd asserts that it is beyond the remit of science to ‘disprove God’. But no justification for this claim is given. We’re just told those who suppose otherwise are guilty of scientism.


In the hands of some – including many theologians – the charge of ‘scientism!’ has become a lazy, knee-jerk form of dismissal, much like the charge of ‘communism!’ used to be. It constitutes a form of rubbishing, allowing – in the minds of those making the charge – for criticism to be casually brushed aside. No doubt some things really are beyond the ability of science, and perhaps even reason, to decide. But there’s plenty that does lie within the remit of the scientific method, including many religious, supernatural, New Age, and other claims that are supposedly ‘off-limits’. However, because the mantra ‘But this is beyond the ability of science to decide’ has been repeated so often with respect to that sort of subject matter, it is now heavily woven into our cultural zeitgeist. People just assume it’s true for all sorts of claims for which it is not, in fact, true. The mantra has become a convenient, immunising factoid that can be wheeled out whenever a scientific threat to belief rears its head. When a believer is momentarily stung into doubt, many will attempt to lull them back to sleep by repeating the mantra over and over. The faithful murmur back: ‘Ah yes, we forgot – this is beyond the ability of science to decide…. zzzz.’