“Scientism,” “cult-acolytes” and me

“Scientism,” “cult-acolytes” and me January 1, 2018


Nick Allen does MIT from above
An aerial view of the East Campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Charles River, facing Back Bay and central Boston. The Harvard Bridge is at the bottom right.

(Wikimedia Commons public domain photo by Nick Allen)


I receive a fair amount of hate mail.  This afternoon, for example, the following treatise (quoted in its entirety, except for a family-blog-unfriendly pejorative) arrived at my inbox:


you and your cult acolytes love the word ‘scientism’.  that’s cult-speak… [obscene epithet deleted].


Now, I recognize this fellow’s characteristic style and his, um, reasoning; he’s been sending me similar messages for a number of years now.  He’ll write to me several times a week, occasionally even more than once per day, and, after that, he’ll go silent for a while.  Then, suddenly, a random brain event will impel him to begin writing to me again.  (Sometimes, his posts are connected with comments on a particular predominantly atheistic ex- or anti-Mormon message board where, I assume, he’s a participant.)


Here is some of what I’ve posted about “scientism” on this blog:


“‘What is scientism?'”


“On the Useful Self-Limitation of Science”



It’s true that religious people who think about the issue are displeased with scientistic dogmatism.  Here, for example, is a comment from a prominent Evangelical philosopher:


I have no bone to pick with legitimate science. Indeed, it has been argued repeatedly that science was born in Christian Europe precisely because Christian theology helped provide worldview justification for its assumptions. What I do reject is the idea that science and science alone can claim to give us knowledge. This assertion — known as scientism — is patently false and, in fact, not even a claim of science, but rather, a philosophical view about science. Nevertheless, once this view of knowledge was widely embraced in the culture, the immediate effect was to marginalize and privatize religion by relegating it to the back of the intellectual bus. To verify this, one need only compare the number of times scientists, as opposed to pastors or theologians, are called upon as experts on the evening news.

J.P. Moreland, Love God with All Your Mind (Colorado Springs: NAV Press, 1997, pages 33-34.


But it’s not only religious people.  Such thinkers as the Nobel laureate economist Friedrich von Hayek, Hilary Putnam, Max Weber, Tzvetan Todorov, and Sir Karl Popper have criticized scientistic excess.  (And, by the way, J. P. Moreland’s undergraduate training was in chemistry; presumably, he doesn’t hate science, either.)


Here is the eminent German-American philosopher Nicholas Rescher, of the University of Pittsburgh:


The theorist who maintains that science is the be-all and end-all — that what is not in science books is not worth knowing — is an ideologist with a peculiar and distorted doctrine of his own. For him, science is no longer a sector of the cognitive enterprise but an all-inclusive world-view. This is the doctrine not of science but of scientism. To take this stance is not to celebrate science but to distort it by casting the mantle of its authority over issues it was never meant to address.

Nicholas Rescher, The Limits of Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984)


“Cult-acolytes” all of them, I suppose.  Not to mention “[obscene epithet deleted]s.”


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