Science Si! Scientism No!

Above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. They will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. There have been sad cases among the modern physicists. If he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable “real life.” But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is “the results of modern investigation.” Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!

                                        CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters


Austin L. Hughes at The New Atlantis has a first rate look at science and scientism:


An additional strength of the falsifiability criterion is that it makes possible a clear distinction between science properly speaking and the opinions of scientists on nonscientific subjects. We have seen in recent years a growing tendency to treat as “scientific” anything that scientists say or believe. The debates over stem cell research, for example, have often been described, both within the scientific community and in the mass media, as clashes between science and religion. It is true that many, but by no means all, of the most vocal defenders of embryonic stem cell research were scientists, and that many, but by no means all, of its most vocal opponents were religious. But in fact, there was little science being disputed: the central controversy was between two opposing views on a particular ethical dilemma, neither of which was inherently more scientific than the other. If we confine our definition of the scientific to the falsifiable, we clearly will not conclude that a particular ethical view is dictated by science just because it is the view of a substantial number of scientists. The same logic applies to the judgments of scientists on political, aesthetic, or other nonscientific issues. If a poll shows that a large majority of scientists prefers neutral colors in bathrooms, for example, it does not follow that this preference is “scientific.”

Popper’s falsifiability criterion and similar essentialist definitions of science highlight the distinct but vital roles of both science and philosophy. The definitions show the necessary role of philosophy in undergirding and justifying science — protecting it from its potential for excess and self-devolution by, among other things, proposing clear distinctions between legitimate scientific theories and pseudoscientific theories that masquerade as science.

By contrast to Popper, many thinkers have advanced understandings of philosophy and science that blur such distinctions, resulting in an inflated role for science and an ancillary one for philosophy. In part, philosophers have no one but themselves to blame for the low state to which their discipline has fallen — thanks especially to the logical positivist and analytic strain that has been dominant for about a century in the English-speaking world.

Go here  to read the brilliant rest.  I have a great appreciation for science and nothing but scorn for those who attempt to appropriate the prestige of science in order to foster their policy preferences on political questions that are not scientific.

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Thank you, Donald. Now shared on Facebook and at my blog. BTW, this same idiotic anti-science attitude on the part of liberal leftists permeates everything they say and do. We face it constantly in the nuclear energy industry with their idiotic fear mongering, their deliberate ignoring of the facts, or distortion thereof, and their hype of useless crappy renewable junk energy. Sure, not the same thing as this topic, but the attitude of those who worship science is the same everywhere. They really do not know science and they do not want to know science.

  2. T. Shaw, it’s all the same. These kinds of people want to:

    Legalize dope smoking
    Mandate teaching of atheistic evolution in public school
    Shutdown safe, clean, cheap nuclear power plants
    Rely on useless crappy wind mills and shiny tin foil solar mirrors
    Outlaw guns, Bibles, wearing of Rosaries and Crucifixes, and public prayer
    Remove Christmas Trees and Nativity Scenes
    Parade half-naked sodomizers in civil rights parades
    Murder unborn babies

    The analogy of what a drunk uses a lamp post for is very apt. They are the drunk smoking dope while leaning on the lamp post.

    PS, I’ll be damned before they remove my Bible, my statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary or my Crucifix in my office at work, and I don’t care how many hateful stares I get as I do my lunch time walk in the hallways with a cane in one hand for my bad leg and praying my Rosary in the other hand. Everytime they want an answer about some esoteric nuclear equation, they invariably come to me.

  3. I haven’t visited The New Atlantis’ site in a while, but from what I remember they’ve had some really provocative articles about science.

  4. From my pottish reading, at the time when Sir Karl proposed his falsifiability criteria, two malign systems, Marxism and Freudianism which had scientific pretensions, held the minds of many who considered themselves intellectuals. It was apparent to him and to many others that these enterprises were essentially fraudulent, especially when they claimed the mantle of science; in that they had equipped themselves in such a way as to be rendered immune from any attempts at refutations. Any attempt at refutation would be met by the Marxists with accusations of a lack of class consciousness or by the Freudians as the outworking of some suppressed desires in the unconscious. They were closed self-referential systems that made sense only to their votaries. This is in itself may not be so bad for the rest of us, had they not then claimed in the name of their pseudo-scientific cults the right to reorder societies and morals to forment violence and anarchy. By his simple device of genius, Popper made all their scientific claims moot. Hence the howls of protest from another corner, that of SJ Gould who was both a marxist and a darwinist, which is yet another one of these irrefutable systems. For the darwinist could apparently explain both statis and change; if for aeons nothing happened: moss and lichen were all that were, this is because there were no selective advantages for the darwinian mechanism to work on. But the Cambrian Explosion which brought forth a whole swathe of bodily forms, (in a time period that any sensible person would realise was too short for their development through the accumulation of small beneficial changes) is also an example of natural selection in action. Thus Darwinism can explain both the profusion of forms and their nonexistence.

    The religion of man-made global warming too shares the hallmarks of the above, the same type of lies, the same cultish behaviour of the votaries, the same denigraton of those who oppose them as unintelligent dolts to be cast to the outer darkness and so on.

    His scientific epistemology is one of humility, we can be truly sure only when we are wrong, since we know at least that we are wrong.

    Sir Karl followed truth wherever it may lead, in later life he and Sir John Eccles developed a philosophy of mnd the three worlds, that accepted something like Plato’s theory of Forms since there really is no other way to account to for the awesome complexity of the mind.

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