Is science the most dangerous religion of them all?

Scientism is the belief that the scientific method is the only valid way to understand the world, disregarding other forms of understanding. An adherent of scientism will attempt to apply the scientific method in inappropriate areas, such as the arts. This term was coined by philosophers as a pejorative against the extreme faction of logical positivists.

This term has been borrowed by the religious right to describe the worldview of the new atheists. I don’t know how open Dawkins et al are to non-scientific forms of inquiry, such as philosophy, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of this label. Dennett himself is a philosopher.

I can say the following though:

  • Science itself is not a religion.
  • An individual can become obsessed with science to the exclusion to the point where it is the only acceptable worldview. This is scientism.
  • Scientism is not a religion, because it has no aspects which are supernatural.
  • Since Scientism denies other forms of knowledge and applies science in contexts where a scientific approach is unjustified, it is a dogma.
  • When used to dehumanize others, a dogma is dangerous. Scientism can be used this way.

However, “Michael Shermer, founder of The Skeptics Society, draws a parallel between scientism and traditional religious movements”.

What I think gets mistaken for close-mindedness is actually stridency on the part of some atheists.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry on scientism: Scientism 

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

Painting: Justus Sustermans Portrait of Galileo Galilei, 1636

3 thoughts on “Is science the most dangerous religion of them all?

  1. Scientism rests on the use of scientific assessment where none is required. One can attempt to apply the scientific method on art — indifferent to the subjective component of perception as critical in the recognition of art. However, science isn’t meant to quantify the elusive emotional response of an individual. For the act of quantifying things of this nature will remove the experiential uncertainty of one’s personal perception — thus destroying the perception of art.

    As for atheists accepting the label of scientism, it’s likely most would recognize the application of the scientific method as applicable to extracting the type of data this method offers. To find someone who is driven to quantify their everyday existence through the scientific method is indicative of a personal disposition towards the kinds of assurances offered by the method.

    To that, this characteristic trait is not the same as a movement, for the use of the scientific method as earning the scientism label is a byproduct of one’s persona — not a social trend.

    Religion is a social construct where faith is revered over reason. Remove reason, and you can define a social club of any shape with unknown objective — irrespective if these represent sustainable social function.

    Perhaps Michael Shermer is labelling the symptom, and not the cause.

    1. I don’t know of any atheists who accepts the label. It is foisted on them by conservative Christians.

      When they accuse Daniel Dennett of scientism, it is absurd, because he is a philosopher. They accuse Dawkins of it as well. However, he has spoken of the passions stirred by music and poetry, so I think it is misnomer in his case as well.

      I think the conservative Christians are trying to make scientism a movement by accusing groups of people (such as the four horsemen of atheism and their fans) of practicing it. I agree with you, it is more of a disposition than a kind of group think.

      1. A concise appointment of reason sir. It wouldn’t be surprising for “conservative christians” to apply some social description in an attempt to place intellectual atheists in such a container. For in doing so, might hang contemptuous connotations on it.

        Entertaining and untenable as this is, much of the receding doctrine will continue to point at the “round earth” fanatics while their world shrinks with the size of their followers.

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