Progressive Enslavement: The Seductions of Scientism

by John Tertullian

scientistOne of the silly characteristics of our age is the credulous and naive veneration of science. It has led to the emergence of what we call scientism–faith in science as the ultimate source of truth and wisdom. This faith is pervasive.  How many social issues or ethical questions are falsely claimed to be resolved by the magisterium of “scientists say . . . “, or “science tells us . . . “? Consider the insinuation of “science” into the humanities: social “science”; political “science”; anthropological “science”; and “scientific” pedagogy, to name but a few.  Recall how global warming propagandists have tried to pull a swift one by asserting, “the science is settled” by which is meant that infallible truth has been discovered, and that all must now stop debating, stop questioning. Reflect on how politicians crave “scientific” warrant for crazy schemes. Consider how the adjective “unscientific” is used to bludgeon the views of opponents. It is the ultimate evisceration of an opponent’s argument.

How did it come to this?  Whilst not alone, probably the most influential protagonist in the English speaking realm for “science”  and the “scientification” of all of life has been John Dewey.  He moved things along a bit from the first phase of the Enlightenment which had held to the idea that Nature was governed by a collage of immutable laws.  Darwin had taught Dewey and his contemporaries otherwise.  Darwin and his popularizers had “convinced” the West that Nature was not fixed, but was changing; mankind, therefore, could not be said to have an immutable nature.  Mankind was now seen as also changing and developing.

But, reasoned Dewey, this opened up the opportunity for mankind to seize the day.  Mankind had become so advanced and developed that he could now take charge of and manage his own evolutionary development.  “Following Bacon’s prescription, the power to manipulate nature with a view to human purposes had been exercised to remarkable effect.  But the [old] belief  in a fixed human nature meant that the power unleashed by science had not yet been applied in a thorough fashion to our essentially plastic human nature and political society.” (J. Judd Owen, Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism: The Foundational Crisis of the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p.19)  If the scientific method were applied to humanity, we would be able to take effective charge of our evolutionary development.  Humanity would therefore progress more effectively and more quickly.

Here is Dewey, writing in 1931:

The entrenched and stubborn institutions of the past stand in the way of our thinking scientifically about human relations and social issues.  Our mental habits in these respects are dominated by institutions of family, state, church, and business that were formed long before men had an effective technique of inquiry and validation.  It is this condition from which we suffer today.  Disaster follows in its wake. (Cited by Owen, ibid, p.21)

Note the radical nature of the claims here. We must, says Dewey learn to think scientifically about human relations and social issues.  Science alone has an effective technique of “inquiry and validation”; the verities of the past (family, church, state) are relics.  If we continue to resist the “sciencing” of society, we will face disaster.  He means by this that we will not be able to take control of our development–which opens up the possibility, if not probability, that mankind will self-extinguish, proving unfit to survive.  Because Nature is evolving, old verities are worthless.

Dewey  went on to assert that the Great Scientific Revolution was still awaiting.  We ain’t seen nothing, yet…


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