"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A true religious threat to science: the Scientism cult

The Scientism cultist believes he loves science. Sadly, he only dimly understands science, so ironically, he tends to harm science by bringing unearned discredit to it.

Science, which can only demonstrate things by observation and measurement in the physical world, can by definition only tell us so much about anything. Real scientists understand this completely. But the Scientism cultist does not understand this; he treats science like a divine force, the source of all truth and enlightenment, as well as miracles he only dimly undestands like iPhones and the Internet.

I frequently meet people today who deny that "Scientism" exists as a religious philosophy. Then they'll turn around and make the most dogmatic assertions of faith you will ever hear in your life, such as "Science is how we know things are true" and "Science can be trusted unlike the dark superstitious beliefs of the past."

The belief that science is how we know things are True (as opposed to one way we know some things to be true) is, ironically, unsupportable scientifically. When you point this out, Scientismists will then respond with "well, it's the best we have." Which they also offer, unironically, without scientific proof. That too is a dogmatic faith statement, you see.

It's just like their faith that there's nothing running the laws of probability or physics. They simply believe things like that unquestioningly, and somehow experience no cognitive dissonance. Or at least pretend to have no cognitive dissonance.

Probably the best reliable indicator of the Scientismist religion is the dogged fascination its adherents have with credentialed scientists. A Master's degree in some area of science appears to make you eligible for Deacon status in the Scientism Church, with a PhD entitling you to full priesthood. Bishop status is accorded by large research grants or at least a tenured faculty position in some area of the sciences. Or a big media presence at least.

The laity of the Church of Scientism tends to look at scientists not as people doing research who sometimes finding useful or interesting results, but as moral and intellectual and even spiritual (they prefer the term "psychological") authorities the rest of us should listen to because, supposedly, the credentialed scientist is wiser or more moral or more trustworthy or more incorruptible than the rest of us.

Especially if they have a high IQ, since supposedly the high IQ is the indicator of worthiness or at least wisdom as a human being. It's another unstated part of the Scientism creed, you see. One every Scientismist believes, though he rarely is bold enough to say it aloud.

Scientism cultists also almost always claim that religion was primarily science's enemy for most of human history. This is the great Creation Myth of the Scientism religion. Unfortunately for them, it's pure superstition, a superstition utterly unsupportable by any scientific look at history.

History does indeed show religious people getting in the way of science sometimes, but nonreligious people doing it as often if not moreso, as we see whenever there is a vested monetary or ideological interest in a scientific theory that may be bunk. In the meantime, it remains that for thousands of years, it was ancient organized religion and philosophy that spurred most interest in, and funding for, the development of education and science. Rulers were busy fighting each other; it was the religious and philosophical who were off "wasting time" doing odd things like figuring out how the laws of physics actually worked.

Another big sign of the Scientism cultist? He views criticism of his religion as an attack on science. Proving once again that he does not know what science is and is not. The most rabid, frothing Fundamentalists of the Scientism cult will use the phrase "Science Denier!" and "Conspiracy Theorist!" to shut off all criticism and dissent, and discredit all who would dare question the Holy Word of what they call "science." (But which, I remind you again, is often not science at all.)

Meanwhile, in the land of actual science, institutional science is in a shambles. At this point, with any given scientific paper, you can basically flip a coin as to whether or not it's got anything valid or is total garbage. Literally, following scientific literature is now about as good as following astrologers, since research in too many areas of institutional science is no longer reliable at all.

But what have the Scientismists been doing the last couple of decades, instead of cleaning house? Terrifying the public with fears of the "Creation Science" fringe loons, and against the horrifying danger that someone, somewhere might take a homeopathic remedy and feel a positive effect*. While they were chasing down theological clowns and fringe medicine, institutional science was, and still is, falling apart at the seams.

As someone who's loved science his whole life and still does, it's hard not to curse the Scientism cultists for being a big part of the problem. They put something they call "Science" where God and humility were supposed to go, to be blunt. As a result, they did massive harm to people's ability to trust science at all, by turning it into an intolerant, money and status-obsessed cult.

For those who doubt Scientism is real, or doubt what I'm saying about the increasing shambles the sciences are in, here are a few references from completely credible scientific sources. I'll probably add to them over time as more objections pop up and more comes to my attention. The crisis in the sciences is huge and escalating in the Western world, and the Scientism cultists are in deep denial. Apparently, their priority is to obsess over fringe ideas like Michael Behe's "Intelligent Design" theories or the thought that someone, somewhere, might be getting positive results with acupuncture, rather than to actually understand how science works, and why institutional science increasingly doesn't.


  1. American Academy for the Advancement of Science: What is Scientism?
  2. Clinical Chemistry journal: A Critique of the Hypothesis, and a Defense of the Question.
  3. New Scientist: Why so much science research is flawed – and what to do about it.
  4. The Lancet: About half of medical science is total garbage at publication.
  5. Science (world's most prestitious science journal): Pretty much no reason to believe most psychological studies.
  6. Why the corruption? Editors, Publishers, Impact Factors, and Reprint Income
  7. Why trust science when scientists can't be trusted? Most published research findings are false. Why?
  8. Nature: C. Glenn Begley finds that about 90% of "landmark" cancer drug research is not reproducible.
  9. Nature: Brian Owens:  About 80% of target-validation studies on cardiovascular medicine, women's health, and oncology are not reproducible.
  10.  Monopolising Knowledge: A Refutation of Scientism, short talk by Professor Ian H. Hutchinson of MIT.
  11. Excellent YouTube lecture on Scientism and other religions by Professor Lawrence Princepe of Johns Hopkins. 
  12. Nature: 1,500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility


Tom Van Dyke said...

About time New Reform Club got a decent writer around here.

I esp liked

Terrifying the public with fears of the "Creation Science" fringe loons

The crisis in the sciences is huge and escalating in the Western world, and the Scientism cultists are in deep denial. Apparently, their priority is to obsess over fringe ideas like Michael Behe's "Intelligent Design" theories

Science should be [and is] an enterprise of affirmation. Not attack. Proving Behe wrong would still make nobody right.


Seek truth. Any mook can hunt for error.

Dean Esmay said...