Science or Scientism?

Ok so we've all had that moment when you hear about some miraculous event and you think "that's not scientifically possible". You know, those stories where somebody was dead for 2 days and comes back to life, or some kid predicting the time and place of a deadly catastrophe, or people who claim to be able to diagnose a medical ailments by looking at them.

In the Western world science has become the marker of what is a reasonable and acceptable. If you don't want to be looked at with cock-eyed suspicion or pity you don't walk around telling people that you can see their aura. Yes, folks Newton's tried and true laws of physics still rule our collective consciousness and with good reason, they work and make sense to us...more about Newton later. But what happens when a belief in science becomes fanatical and oppressive?

There is a difference between science and scientism. Science is the healthy exploration of phenomena through trusted scientific methodologies and tools. Most balanced scientists are both logical and exploratory, they find beauty in the pursuit of answers but grant that some things are unexplainable or mysterious and quite like it that way. 

Scientism is a religious-like fanaticism about the ultimate Truth of scientific laws. People who have fallen victim to scientism often scoff at "supernatural", spiritual or religious explanations for phenomena and ironically become just as dogmatic and punitive as those religious or spiritual kooks out there they want to "educate". 

Scientismists often think any person discussing energy, vibes, spirits or even yoga should be put on an island for lost causes, and reject out of hand anything they can't see or haven't experienced themselves. 

These people often find any exploration of spirituality, the "supernatural" (I use quotations around the term because I believe many of the things we deem supernatural are perfectly natural we just don't know how they work) to be ridiculous and futile.

People who belong to the Church of Science are often a few hundred years off on their scientific paradigms. Many are even skeptical of quantum physicists who have found that everything in the universe is made of light, rendering the "reality" of the material world moot.  

Can you imagine if you told Isaac Newton physical objects weren't really there they were just tiny balls of light? He probably would have thrown that apple that fell on his head at your face, and then, if he were the truly great mind I believe him to be, thought about it and listened to this fascinating bit of information.

Nonetheless, people who practice scientism are unwilling to entertain anything outside of the five senses. It's almost as silly as those who think dinosaurs are some kind of hoax. 

I love science. I think it's done wonders for our understanding of the world and our quality of life and it can do more. Medical science is fantastic, without it we would still be dying of the common cold (which people in many under-developed countries still do...but that's a whole other blog post.) At the time of this writing scientists may be close to cures for cancer and HIV. Science has accelerated at staggering rates and produced everything from penicillin to the atomic bomb.

But when science devolves into scientism I think we need to take a step back and remember that logic must be balanced with intuition. We all know of the horrors of religious or spiritual belief without healthy reasoning (the history of violent cults and religious terrorism is evidence of this). But rarely do we look at how scientism closes the world of possibility into parcels of reductionism.

There are some scientists in Geneva working on discovering "the god molecule", my suspicion is that what they really want to do is put to sleep all the fanciful notions of God by equating God with some undetermined dark matter that started the universe. Ultimately they believe they will have solved the mysteries of the Universe. 

So I move for people developing a sense of healthy skepticism mixed with a heavy dose of wonder and curiosity. I vote for science and those who love it's certainty to step into the excitement of uncertainty and exploration.

I personally don't want to live in a universe without mystery, but I don't think we ever will. I think what keeps the discipline of science alive is the spirit of discovery. When it congeals into a hardened mass of dogmatic laws and paradigms it's not science, it's fear of the unknown. And who needs more fear.