Do We Rely Too Heavily on Science?
In late April, the Calbuco volcano in southern Chile erupted for the first time since 1972. The eruption sent billows of ash into the sky and painted the sun red.
The eruption and its intensity caught scientists and government officials by surprise, according to the regional emergency director. Chile is home to 90 active volcanos, and Calbuco is regarded as one of the three most dangerous. Yet, it wasn’t under active observation.
Now, volcanology isn’t normally one of our beats here at BreakPoint. But stories like this one have something to tell us about the absurdity of scientism—that is, the worldview which says that science is the ultimate source of knowledge, our best authority, and is able to offer explanations for everything.
The day after Calbuco erupted, researchers from the University of Utah published a paper that “imaged the continuous volcanic plumbing system under Yellowstone.” What they found was big. Really big.
Yellowstone has enough magma to fill the Grand Canyon more than 13 times! That’s 13,500 cubic miles, or, 1,000 times the eruptive power of Mt. St. Helens.
But as the researchers pointed out, a better understanding of the system doesn’t bring us any closer to being able to predict if and when the system will erupt. As the Washington Post put it, “Yellowstone is unpredictable.”
The same can be said of every other volcano, and for that matter, fault lines like the San Andreas. As my colleague Roberto Rivera wrote at the BreakPoint blog, “For all of our pretense to an increasing omniscience, we are almost completely in the dark about the ground literally beneath our feet.” The horrible tragedy in Nepal also reveals this.
And yet, Roberto is not exaggerating about our current scientific “pretense of increasing omniscience.” A recent article in the Washington Post talked about the “coming problem when our smartphones are smarter than we are.” Setting aside the hype and the hubris, the question we should ask in response is “what do you mean by ‘smarter?’”
For instance, a computer can answer the question “what is the square root of 3721?” a lot faster than a human. But is that the meaning of “smarter than us”?
Well, yes, if we define intelligence, as our culture tends to do, as the ability to process information quickly. In the article, computer scientist Ray Kurzweil predicted that we’re little more than a decade away from software that can mimic human thinking. Add in processing speed and internet connectivity with this software, and your smartphone will be your superior.
But missing in this discussion is any acknowledgement that Kurzweil’s prediction is based on a particular “theory of mind,” in which the human mind, in all of its awesome complexity, is reduced to nothing more than a pattern-recognition machine. Most people, including neuroscientists, reject this view.
You see, the truth is that “scientism,” as Roberto writes, “is absurd on its face because ‘science’ isn't nearly as smart as it claims to be.” After all, he continues, “settled ‘scientific fact’ today is so provisional that shaping a worldview out of it alone is about as stable as taking a prostitute for a wife without divine warrant.” I hope you catch the reference to Hosea there.
Not to mention, Roberto goes on, scientism is dependent on the bogus “fact/value” distinction, that deeply embedded cultural assumption today that considers only what can be discovered through science and reason as facts, while everything else, such as moral judgments is personal opinion. This distinction leaves us powerless to distinguish some moral behaviors as better than others.
The fact is, scientism is a flimsy worldview. Our God-given abilities to understand the world are amazing, but it ought to lead us to wonder and worship, not arrogance and hubris.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Publication date: April 29, 2015