Of numerous things that President Obama said in his inaugural address his comment about science was one that stuck out to me.  He said that he would, “restore science to its rightful place and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality.”

Some questions:

  • What is science’s rightful place?
  • What exactly happened, in his mind, that preempted science?  Was it President Bush’s opposition to ESCR or unwillingness to sign the Kyoto treaty?
  • If so, if you hold opposing views in those areas (or others) does it naturally follow that you are demoting science?  Or are you demoting something entirely different?

Those were some thoughts/questions that I initially had when listening to his speech.  Today, Chuck Colson in his Breakpoint commentary addresses this position, because it would seem that some whom President Obama is getting his advice from are not just proponents of science, but scientism.  What’s the difference?  Colson explains the difference:

The standard assumption is that science is objective knowledge, while religion is an expression of subjective need. Religion, therefore, must subordinate its claims about the world to whatever science decrees.

Scientism assumes that science is the controlling reality about life, so anything that can be validated scientifically ought to be done. Other things are subjective fantasy—like love, beauty, good, evil, conscience, ethics.

So science, which originally simply meant the study of the natural world, has in this view been conflated with scientific naturalism, a philosophy that the natural world is all that exists.

Humans are reduced to “objects” that can be inspected, experimented on, and ultimately controlled. In 1922, G.K. Chesterton warned that scientism had become a “creed” taking over our institutions, a “system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics.”

C.S. Lewis warned that the rise of scientific naturalism would lead to “the abolition of man,” for it denies the reality of those things central to our humanity: a sense of right and wrong, of purpose, of beauty, of God.

And if we deny the things that make us truly human, by definition we create a culture that is inhuman—a culture that, for example, embraces moral horrors like the killing of humans at the earliest stage of life on the spurious grounds that doing so might cure other people’s diseases. Or cloning. Or medical experiments on humans, as the Nazis conducted.

Our task is to expose the flaws in scientific naturalism—not because we are against science but because we want it to fill its proper role as a means of investigating God’s world and alleviating suffering within ethical boundaries.

And it’s right that we should be doing this because it was a Christian view of reality that led to the scientific method, investigating all the things God has created.

He concludes, and I concur, let’s hope that President Obama knows the difference between the two.

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