In their book The Privileged Planet, astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and philosopher of science Jay Richards point out that rather than adopting the original definition of ‘science’ as a search for knowledge (literal translation from Latin), some opinion makers in science have taken it to mean “applied naturalism” defined as, “the conviction that the material world is all there is, and that chance and impersonal natural law alone explain, indeed must explain, its existence” (1).
Outspoken neo-atheist Peter Atkins has actively pushed such a view through his espousal of the ‘scientism’ movement, unwaveringly maintaining that science is “the only reliable way we have of discovering anything about the workings of nature and fabric of the world” (2). Countering such a position is philosopher Eddie Colanter who described scientism as “the worldview [that] asserts that the only type of truth or knowledge that exists or that is important is that which can be known or verified through the scientific method” (3).
Notable in Atkins’s collective ‘house of horrors’ is the ontological reductionist notion that metabolic processes alone organize the “random electrical and chemical currents in our brains” that then shape our personalities and creative drive (2). Brain biologist John Eccles revolted against the demeaning undercurrent of such reductionism “with its claim [that] promissory materialism accounts for all the spiritual world in terms of patterns of neuronal activity” (4). In his Challenges From Science theologian John Lennox maintains that if Atkins’s assertion were true, it would at once render philosophy, ethics, literature, poetry, art, and music irrelevant for our understanding of reality (5).
Besides throwing these and other disciplines into the intellectual trash heap, Atkins’s position better reflects his atheist tendencies than any truly unbiased approach to discussion. His own ‘cosmic bootstrap’, the idea that cosmic spacetime brought about its own existence and today “generates its own dust in the process of its own self assembly” (5), is laughable precisely because, as theologian Keith Ward notes , “it is logically impossible for a cause to bring about some effect without already being in existence” (5).
Theologian J.P Moreland brilliantly counters the axioms that Atkins holds dear, by demonstrating their self-refuting nature. “A proposition”, writes Moreland “is self-refuting if it refers to and falsifies itself. For example, “There are no English sentences” and “There are no truths” are self-refuting” (6). He later adds that “scientism is not itself a proposition of science, but a second-order proposition about science to the effect that only scientific propositions are true or rational to believe” (6).
Atkins’s condemnation of cosmic purpose and design is all too evident in his own rhetoric. “Our universe” he assures us, “hangs there in all its glory, wholly and completely useless. To project onto it our human-inspired notion of purpose would, to my mind, sully and diminish it” (2). Side-stepping the extraordinary nature of the cosmic Big Bang (5), Atkins then contents himself with speculation over the existence of infinite universes (2), and clearly unveils to his audience that his acceptance of the facts is dependent on his own pet peeves and preferences. In short his conclusions are not those of an unsullied objectivist.
Years ago astrophysicist Kenell Touryan warned us of the ‘trap of scientism’ that, in the realm of biology at least, has become the philosophical foundation of many an evolutionist. “No reputable physicist or chemist” Touryan noted “would be presumptuous enough to characterize scientific discoveries, at least in the hard sciences, as “truth that will make us free”” (7). Laying out the reality of his own experiences he wrote:
“I and many of my physicist colleagues see intelligent design everywhere in nature and, compelled by the weight of such evidence, choose to believe that we are made “a little lower than the angels”… We should all take seriously the principle that “the confidence expressed in any scientific conclusion should be directly proportional to the quantity and quality of evidence for the conclusion”” (7).
Last year’s scathing allegation from Atkins and his ilk- that you cannot be a true scientist in the ‘deepest sense of the word’ and still have religious beliefs (8) – was not one grounded upon scientific insights but on a pervasive atheistic brand of religion. It is high time that we recognized this and tossed the ‘addled eggs’ of scientism out of the frying pan.
1. Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards (2004) The Privileged Planet, How Our Place In The Cosmos Is Designed For Discovery, Regnery Publishing Inc, Washington D.C, New York, p.224
2. The Joy Of Science, The Existence Of God And Galileo’s Finger, Roger Bingham Interviews Chemist Peter Atkins, 2007, See http://thesciencenetwork.org/media/videos/3/Transcript.pdf
3. Michael Behe, Eddie N. Colanter, Logan Gage, and Phillip Johnson (2008) Intelligent Design 101: Leading Experts Explain The Key Issues, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p.161
4. John C. Eccles (1991) Evolution of the Brain, Creation of Self, Published by Routledge, New York, p.241
5. John Lennox (2007) Challenges From Science, Beyond Opinion, Living The Faith We Defend (Ed. Ravi Zacharias), pp. 112-118
6. Ibid, p.204
7. Kenell J. Touryan (1999) Science and “Truth”, Science, 30 July 1999, Volume 285. p. 663
8. Gene Russo (2009) Balancing Belief And Bioscience, Nature Volume 460, p. 654