There’s a thinly veiled tautology in Michael Shermer’s definition of scientism (“The error of scientism,” The Bishop’s Voice, June 1 issue of the Herald ).
His definition asserts that “scientism is the scientific worldview that encompasses natural explanations . . . embraces empiricism and reason . . . appropriate for an Age of Science.” If that feels as though you’ve been led through a circular argument, you have a superb grasp of a tautology. It’s a descriptor that is formally defined as redundancies of propositional logic. A colloquial example is “they arrived one after another, in succession.”
But that self-serving, transparent legerdemain aside, it must strike the likes of Shermer as paradoxical, if not intellectually dishonest, to argue that only what can be empirically verified qualifies as science. Were that the case ,everything from Einstein’s General and Special Theories of Relativity to String Theory, including Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Planck’s Constant, the Bohr Model of the Atom, Quarks, Leptons, Bosons, and Neutrinos — all of which have the strong support of peer-reviewed research articles and books — would be disqualified as acceptable to scientism.
Indeed, there is nothing so demanding of faith as modern physics because it inhabits the ghostly, nebulous world of abstruse theories that are only substantiated by vastly complex, self-referential mathematical formulae. Dark Matter and Dark Energy, whose existence have never been empirically proven, but which the majority of astrophysicists agree must exist in order to explain our expanding universe, are yet further examples of the deep faith scientists have in phenomena that are just as invisible as God.
We can add to scientism’s misguided notion of empiricism its insistence that conscience and morality have no objective meaning or content. It perfectly dovetails with postmodernism’s dictum that the only meaning in human existence is what an individual imputes to events, objects, or, indeed, morality. This inevitably leads to a kind of moral Darwinism where right and wrong are adjudicated by who pulls the levers of power. The unavoidable conclusion is that barbarous acts such as abortion are justified in this Nietzschean world.
However, to leave this subject on a positive note, it has been said that faith is a gift, but it’s also the result of an act of will, which, as Saint Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians, “ . . . is producing for us an eternal weight of glory . . . as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.”