I watched a very powerful documentary on the subject of Scientism- an approach to reduce everything scientifically to materialistic, blind, undirected causes; it’s the effort to use the methods of science to explain and control every part of human life.
One reason I was interested in watching this is because it’s coming from the viewpoint of C.S. Lewis, the famous novelist and scholar, most noted for writing The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis is still a very influential figure around the world, and his work is widely respected. He was one of three people who wrote about the dangers of science (G.K. Chesterton and George Orwell were the others).
Lewis had a healthy respect for science, a field that has paved the way for many advancements and progress. Science is a legitimate endeavor and enterprise, but Lewis knew that it could be corrupted, and this is what he was warning us about. What he was opposed to was an ideology confused with science. He knew some people would pursue science because they wanted power and control. He acknowledges that we can’t ignore the scientific method or the findings of science, but he also understood the dangers of deifying it. Plenty of examples of this deification are provided, including such headlines and quotations as, “Only Science Can Save us From Climate Catastrophe”; “We will have the power of the gods”; “Science is my savior”, or “Forget faith, only science can save us now.”
Other ideologies, such as Scientific Socialism and Social Darwinism became mainstream in certain cultures. These paradigms were scientific versions of politics; at one point people actually believed Marxism was scientific. Lewis even recognized that the developments in Nazi Germany materialized from abuses in the scientific method, and many people died and were harmed as a result.
An important concept that’s developed in the documentary comes from Lewis comparing science with magic and calling them twins. He does this by identifying three common characteristics: 1: The ability to function as a religion. 2: Encourage a lack of skepticism. 3: A quest for power.
Lewis is absolutely right about these. He’s not claiming that science is the same thing as magic or that we should shun science, but that both magic and science have these three similarities- and these similarities demonstrate how science can be abused and result in terrible consequences such as have been experienced in world history. Most people would understand how these characteristics describe magic; witchdoctors, for instance, incorporate magic with religion, demonstrating that their power is a sign of their divinity, or demonstrates a divine relationship with a deity. The witchdoctor will attempt to convince others that the magic is real and will discourage anyone from learning his secrets. All this is done to control or manipulate those around him.
Science, though, has a highly esteemed reputation, and scientists can be placed on a pedestal. We tend to think that because they have earned significant academic achievements and have brilliant minds, we can automatically trust whatever they say without critical thinking, skepticism, or even considering that they might have an egregious hidden agenda. We’re encouraged to trust them because they’re experts. Few actually believe scientists would deceive the public or manipulate data. For this reason it’s easy for a scientist to intentionally publish falsified work for a personal agenda and not get caught- even when the work is peer reviewed. Not only that, but few realize that science can be a substitute or alternative to religion; that it provides a sense of meaning and fulfillment. The famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins even claims to be “an intellectually fulfilled atheist”. All this means that a scientist could very well pursue a quest for power… not that all scientists pursue a dishonest agenda, but enough that we need to be educated on the subject, demonstrate genuine skepticism, and think critically. We should recognize that there are those who desire to harness the power of nature and control it. Science, then, becomes the savior where nothing is impossible.
C.S. Lewis goes so far as to claim that science can be more dangerous than magic because our society rejects magic… and where magic has failed science has “prevailed”. The success of science makes it easier for us to fall victim to its abuses. Therefore Lewis contends that we need to have some kind of protection from science- a control mechanism- otherwise we’ll face a bleak future. We need a kind of ethical basis not dictated by science itself. In our modern age it seems that nothing is sacred, not even human life. There are scientists who maintain that there’s no distinction between humans and animals or vegetables or minerals. This lack of distinction has justified the taking of many millions of unborn babies since Roe v. Wade was enacted over 40 years ago.
As you can see such thinking in the name of science is dangerous. It can be used for political ends to control a society at large. Politicians are known to use scientific findings that benefit their agenda, allowing them to manipulate the public and force them to comply with the policies. Just think, how many corporations have taken steps to “reduce their carbon footprint” to prevent global warming? Climate change is accepted as fact by some scientists and the public at large, however there’s considerable evidence demonstrating that the data in favor of man-made global warming is fraudulent. Yet, how many people question what they’re being taught and diligently seek the truth?
Lewis is right to be alarmed by the dogmatic use of science because those adopting the consensus view are claiming the right to rule based on their scientific knowledge and expertise. Those who question the new order implemented upon society are labeled anti-science, ridiculed, or are denounced as being opposed to progress, and Lewis rejected these charges… as well he should. He claimed that science is not a form of knowledge immune to inspection, and that non-scientists are not segregated from science. Scientists should be subject to review by everyone who is capable of critical thinking. Public policy should be about what is good and is worth having when compared to the cost. Scientists are not moral philosophers that can answer how we should act or determine what’s worth spending money on.
Lewis understood that we’re not just blind matter in motion; there’s ethics behind science, and that comes from a universe that has been designed by God and held together by the laws he created.
Lastly, Lewis questioned how we can rescue science from scientism. He claimed we need a regenerated science that respects human rights and honors human dignity. Amen. That was true in his day, and it’s still true today. Such skepticism and critical thinking is exactly what we must resort to, and we need to promote an environment where our children learn this as well.