By Paul Copan
What is science? How should Christians respond to scientism? Are God and science really opposed to each other?
In 1956, C.P. Snow wrote of “two cultures” — the declining literary culture and the expanding scientific culture. Scientists are the “new men,” the “directing class of a new society.”1 Those clipboard-carrying, lab-coat-clad scientists are, to many, the new high priests of our culture — the ones who provide definitive answers where theology and philosophy cannot. In this vein, zoologist Richard Dawkins declares,“Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.”2 Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin calls science “the only begetter of truth.”3 Science, then, is the only reasonable, safe road to travel. God and science, we are told, are opposed to each other. After all, didn’t the Catholic Church oppose Galileo?
This kind of criticism, however, is not science. Instead, it is a philosophical view of reality and a purported path to knowledge called scientism. Scientism comes in two versions: strong (science is the only path to knowledge) and weak (science is the best path to knowledge, even if some other disciplines like philosophy may help).
Cambridge physicist and best-selling author, Stephen Hawking, takes the strong view: science can help us answer “why we are here and where we came from. … And the goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”4 That is, you should only believe what is scientifically testable or part of an accepted scientific theory. If a belief is not “scientific,” then it is meaningless or even false.
Scientism, particularly its strong form, is a worldview or philosophy of life that affirms two things: the material world is all that there is, and science is the (only) means of verifying truth claims. All claims of knowledge have to be scientifically verifiable; otherwise, they are meaningless.