Scientism is Not Only Self-Refuting, but Dangerous

Part Three

Scientism is not merely wrong, but dangerous. This is the claim I want to make to conclude our series on scientism. It probably seems like an aggressive claim; perhaps it is. But it’s also right there in the subtitle of JP Moreland’s book: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes.

Power outlet on fire.

I started this series by explaining why scientism is self-refuting. Whether someone believes in strong scientism or weak scientism, their belief is logically incoherent. If scientism is true, then the non-scientific foundations on which scientism (and science!) rests would be null and void. If scientism were true, it would prove that scientism couldn’t be true; it’s a logical contradiction and has no merit as a system of thought.

I then covered the ways in which scientism influences how everyone talks about abortion. Both pro-life and pro-choice people often act like science is the thing with all the answers, but, in reality, science can only get us so far. Some scientific facts, like those from embryology, give us relevant information, but we have to use that information in non-scientific ways to come to a reasoned conclusion about abortion.

If you’ve gotten this far, you may wonder how scientism still exists and why it continues not only to survive but thrive in the public sphere. My answer is simple: scientism is a means of power for some things against other things. It is a convenient weapon in favor of moral relativism against absolute moral truths and those who claim them. Every meaningful defense of human rights must rest on moral truth, so denying moral truth must lead to an eradication of grounds for human rights. Scientism is not bad just because it is incorrect or unhelpful, but because it is a danger to humanity.

Equal Rights Institute Turns Six

This week marked the six-year anniversary of the launch of Equal Rights Institute!

I failed to make a five-year anniversary post happen last year because it was right around the time of Tim’s transition out of ministry, and there was just too much going on. My apologies! If you want to know our main accomplishments during that time, this PDF covers our main accomplishments of 2018 and this post covers 2019.

I’ve already updated our GuideStar profile this year, earning their platinum rating for the second year in a row, the highest rating a non-profit can attain by being transparent about our goals and metrics.

In the last year we spoke to 2,459 people in 31 speeches and two all-day seminars, representing a 69% decrease in how many people we spoke to in the last year. That’s a big decrease and even surprised me when I saw the numbers, so reviewing the data from the last few years, here are the main factors that I think contributed to that:

  1. COVID-19 has had a negative effect on our speaking. Several talks were canceled because of that.
  2. When we lost Tim last year, we went from having three speakers to only two. We got a ton of speaking done last spring when Tim and I were both available to speak in different parts of the country simultaneously.
  3. Our average audience size spread across the year is roughly the same in the last two years, so it’s not that we’re speaking to smaller audiences. It’s almost entirely that we’re doing fewer speeches and trips than we did before. Our staff agreed last year that I should do fewer speaking trips to help us focus on finishing some of our big projects like the advanced module to the Equipped for Life Course, the Sidewalk Counseling Masterclass, and the Equipped for Life Podcast relaunch. In the last year, I did eight out-of-town speaking trips, while in the previous year I did 10 and Tim four on top of that. So our out-of-town speaking was cut roughly in half, and that’s a combination of losing Tim and me accepting fewer gigs.
  4. One of our talks in 2018 skew the numbers a bit because it happened at a megachurch.

We also published 19 new articles to our blog which were read by 40,344 people, a 10% decrease from last year, but that’s just because we published five fewer articles this year than we did last year.

In the last year we relaunched the Equipped for Life Podcast, which used to be for Equipped for Life Course members only. This was a huge project, and we ultimately republished 38 previously recorded episodes that are now edited for the public podcast feed, knowing that some listeners won’t already have access to the Equipped for Life Course. Once we’d finished that project in March of this year, we could focus on creating new episodes. We’ve published eight new episodes of that podcast in the last three months. In the last year we also posted five new speech audios and discussions to the separate ERI Podcast Feed. You can subscribe to both podcasts here.

We also have turned a lot more attention to creating videos for our YouTube channel. We’ve published 41 videos in the last year, not counting podcast episodes which we also publish to our YouTube channel now. Those videos have 21,442 views cumulatively.

Here are a few of my favorite memories from the last year:

The Limitations of Science in the Abortion Debate: Why You Need Philosophy

Part Two

One of our not-so-secret missions at ERI is to help pro-life advocates to think well about philosophy as it relates to the abortion debate. The problem with scientism is it says that philosophy isn’t a valid way to reach truth or discover facts. According to this position, our philosophical case for the unborn doesn’t matter, because only science really matters.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes.

Book with glasses.

Now, if scientism was true, we would have to drop our strong philosophical arguments and just talk about biology. Biology and embryology can be helpful in articulating the pro-life position, but we don’t think they can get you all the way there. Just knowing that the fetus is human doesn’t tell us how to think about it. But scientism is false—more than that, it’s self-defeating, as I showed in the first article in this series.

So, How Far Can Science Get Us?

This is important, so to say it again: scientism does not equal science. Scientism says that arguments don’t matter, only bare scientific facts. Science stems from philosophical foundations. It answers questions about the world while using basic rules of logic to do so. This makes it a second thing, not a first thing, but scientism pretends that science is first and only. As C.S. Lewis writes:

“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”

If we pursue science as first (scientism), then we lose science in its proper place.

And science in its proper place gives us good and valuable facts which can support various arguments in the abortion debate. We cannot say, with the justices playing make-believe about biology in Roe, that we don’t know when life begins. 96 percent of biologists (not just embryologists, mind you) agree in acknowledging that life begins at conception.

The study of embryology expands on this consensus by telling us what happens at and after conception. An individual human being develops from a single-celled organism into a recognizable baby, maintaining biological integrity and continuity the entire way. We can detect early cardiac activity; we can observe the differentiation of stem cells; we can see movement and interaction. And science adds new discoveries, such as the likely pain threshold for prenatal humans recently being pushed back from 25 weeks to 12 weeks.