How to Deprogram a Scientism Dogmatist
There are still influential people who suffer under
illusions of scientism. They need our help.
Dr. William L. Roper wrote an Editorial for Science Magazine on 29 June 2022 with the brash title, “Science, health, and truth.” Roper is the president of the campuses of the University of North Carolina. One would think before writing about science and truth that Dr Roper would read up a little bit on the philosophy of science. Sadly, his view of science appears at about a high school level. He should know better.
In addition to clarifying the separate roles of science and politics, society needs to understand better how scientific truth is established and updated. It is based on verified and reproducible facts. The scientific method of gathering data, debating various formulations of the information, and arriving at consensus understandings of what is “true” about a particular matter has been the bedrock for establishing scientific truth for centuries. But in the past few years, political leaders, media personalities, and ordinary citizens have proclaimed their own “alternative facts,” disparaging the idea that anyone should question their “facts” and theories.
We hate to disillusion the poor gentleman, but there is no one scientific method. The methods of cosmologists are very different from the methods of structural chemists or paleontologists. If Roper were to limit his definition of science to “verified and reproducible facts,” he would have to cut out much of what passes for science today, because the “big tent” of various –ologies out there routinely make use of “unobservable realities” that are inferred as part of theoretical constructs. Occult phenomena like dark matter are treated as “facts” even though nobody knows what dark matter is.
It is sad to have to remind him, too, that “Science is not consensus. Consensus is not science. Period!” (20 Dec 2019). Roper ignores the problem of groupthink. There is often peer pressure in scientific communities to conform. And if scientists are trained in only one theory as the “consensus” theory, they will probably not even be aware of alternatives.
Roper is living in a Pollyanna world where scientists debate things to arrive at “scientific truth.” Scientists will debate, but only within the bounds of accepted paradigms. Try to get a scientist to debate with someone outside the paradigm and you will quickly encounter censorship, shaming and canceling. For instance, evolutionary biologists might debate about “how” fruit flies evolved, but ask them to debate “whether” fruit flies evolved and watch what happens. The censorship occurs even among scientific materialists. Look how they treated J Harlen Bretz. Look how they treated Benoit Mandelbrot. Look how the hardcore neo-Darwinists are treating the promoters of the Extended Evolution Synthesis.
Strictly speaking, there is, I confess, no such thing as ‘modern science’. There are only particular sciences, all in a stage of rapid change, and sometimes inconsistent with one another. —C.S. Lewis
The Truth about True Truth
It’s good that Dr Roper believes in the existence of truth. But the best that scientists can approach to “scientific truth” is something that is tentatively true. He admits this to a point:
Given that truth is based on what is known so far, it is always provisional. We likely will know more tomorrow than today, and we will then have to revise our conclusions. That is just the scientific method at work. Though science and politics have separate roles, once this system “gets the facts straight,” scientists and political leaders can work constructively together for the common good.
Is he unaware of scientific revolutions? Was caloric theory true? Was phlogiston true? Was Piltdown Man true? Was the threat of global cooling true in the 1960s? The champions of those theories were at least as dogmatic about their “facts” as Roper is about his facts. He assumes that scientists, after sufficient observations and debates, can “get the facts straight.” How can he know where that point is, if scientific truth is always provisional? This is sophoxymoronic. It’s like saying “certainly maybe.”
Dr Roper mentions The Enlightenment, but a lot has happened since then. He should catch up on the collapse of logical positivism, and the major works of philosophers of science. He should read up on Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Nelson Goodman, Cartwright, Polanyi, C.S. Lewis, and other thinkers who explored the possibilities and limits of knowledge, and warned about the dangers of scientific elitism. He should read up on the history of science, the sociology of science, and the rhetoric of science. He should indulge his thinking in the philosophy of explanation, the problems of reference and classification, and the difficulties in describing laws of science and what they mean: e.g., are they descriptive or normative? He should realize that there are no airtight criteria that distinguish science from pseudoscience. He should consider the errors of induction and the possibilities of abductive reasoning (tacit knowledge) and flashes of insight. Those are not products of any scientific method, but of mental creativity and intellectual brilliance. The Enlightenment, which brought the world the guillotine, was a long time ago. That was then. This is now.
As sure as the sun rises, Dr Roper’s bias becomes evident when he mentions politics. He’s a Lefty.
This knowledge-certifying system is under concerted attack today, most notably in polarized political conflicts, including about masks and vaccines, climate change, and gun violence. Restoring confidence in messages regarding science for the public good will be challenging, but it can only be done if there is an effort to explain, defend, and reinforce this public system for shepherding new knowledge. This needs to include widespread discussions across the scientific community and in the public at large, leading to a broad recommitment to the scientific method.
Our experience with Big Science leaves no doubt about what he is saying here. By masks and vaccines, he means obey the CDC and the WHO and Dr Fauci without question, even when they change their minds every month and cover up the source of the Wuhan Virus so as not to offend China, with whom not a few in Big Science have financial ties. By climate change, he means cry along with Greta, and march on Washington to redistribute wealth, and only fund papers that support the IPCC and Paris Climate Accords. By gun violence, he means “damn the Constitution: outlaw guns.” For the latest example of inherent leftist bias, look at the uniform outrage all the journals and science media sites expressed when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. No debate there! Is that scientific? What is scientific is that life begins at conception. Big Science has its hands bloodied with politics all the time.
The leaders of Big Science live in a fogma world, where they cannot see their bias. They think everybody is just like them: Democrat voter, Trump hater, globalist, supporter of abortion, collectivist, statist, socialist—the whole gamut. As a dupe of scientism, raised in DOPE schools (Darwin Only Public Education), he is infected with the Yoda Complex. From his exalted plane as a champion of “science” (whatever that is), he pontificates to “the public at large” because, to Big Science, communication is always one-way, from exalted expert to peon. Scientists do not owe “the public at large” a hearing. The public needs to listen to The Scientist in Big Science, where the fountainhead of Truth flows pure, uncontaminated by the misinformation to which the peons are prone.
The challenges of communicating messages about science, health, and truth are among the often-mentioned reasons for the fatigue and discouragement that public health and medical leaders face today. And that same frustration is transferred to those who seek to engage the wider public with these messages.
Note to Dr Roper: Does your engagement with the public include learning anything from them? Does it include the remote possibility that they might hold some truth you need to hear and believe? Maybe the public would respect Big Science more of it showed a little humility and jettisoned its leftist politics. Big Science likes “diversity and inclusion” doesn’t it? How about some political diversity?
Sadly, Roper is right to a certain extent. Many in the public are poorly informed about basic science, just like they are about history and literature. But scientists put on their pants and skirts the same way as everyone else; they are not experts in everything. Many scientists are also poorly informed about politics and ethics. Typically, they specialize in very narrow fields. There’s a great deal of wisdom that many scientists could and should learn about fields outside of their specialty. Maybe they should get out more and talk to people. How about at least having lunch with scholars in their field who teach at private universities? It would do them good to get out of their comfort zone and engage with others who don’t think like them. Ask scientists if they would still do what they do if they didn’t get paid for it. Some of the great early scientists pursued the study of nature as a hobby because they wanted to understand nature, not because it was a paying job. Leeuwenhoek was a good example, as were Boyle and Joule.
Is Science a Thing?
What is science? It is not some idealized, disconnected entity out there that originated out of the void, and before which all must bow. Neither is Science an untainted repository of Facts. Science was invented by people for people, because only people do science. Your dog obeys the laws of science, but it does not do science. As a human activity, science cannot be separated from our virtues and vices. It is not self-correcting, as proponents of scientism often claim (13 Feb 2017). It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
Has Roper never heard of major scientific frauds that went on for decades or centuries? How does he know that some of his most cherished beliefs will not be overturned? Consider how Big Science drooled over Sigmund Freud, who is largely considered today to be a one of the worst pseudoscientists of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Look at Big Science’s embrace of Eugenics and scientific racism for the first half of the 20th century. To think that kind of self-deception doesn’t happen today is naive.
There is something greater than science. Solomon said it well: “Wisdom is the principal thing. Therefore, get wisdom.”
Experimental verification is not a new kind of assurance coming in to supply the deficiencies of mere logic. We should therefore abandon the distinction between scientific and non-scientific thought. The proper distinction is between logical and non-logical thought. —C.S. Lewis
A Slightly Improved Scientism
At Penn Today on July 7, there was a refreshing bit of introspection about science. Professors Cory Clark and Philip Tetlock at the University of Pennsylvania are trying to get scientists to open up to opposing ideas.
“The current scientific model isn’t working. It’s often dysfunctional and unproductive and sometimes even counterproductive,” Clark says. “We make the argument that scholars who care about truth should participate in adversarial collaborations any time their own research contradicts the research of another scholar. My ultimate goal is to improve science as a tool for discovering the truth to help humans flourish.”
Is William Roper open to this idea? We care about truth. Would he listen to us? Would he listen to scholars in the Intelligent Design movement who have multiple PhDs? Paleontologist Gunter Bechly did, and was surprised how misled he had been about ID. He read their books. It opened his mind.
As noble as Clark and Tetlock feel their quest is (and we would agree), they seem oblivious to the fact that they are stating propositions they believe are true. Moreover, they are assuming a moral standard, thinking that is good to care about truth. Where did those thoughts come from? From a scientific method?
Prerequisites for Science Are Theological
No science can be done without integrity, we often say, but integrity is not a product of the scientific method. It takes a belief in truth and a commitment to act honestly. This leads to the final step for deprogramming scientism dogmatists. It’s a painful step, but it must be done for the good of the victim.
It is safe to assume that Dr Roper is a Darwinist. He certainly would not survive in academia if he were not. The subspecies of Darwinism doesn’t matter here (neo-Darwinist, Third Way Darwinist, punctuationist, etc.). Does he believe that life is the product of unguided natural processes with no foresight or intention? Then for us to believe him, he needs to account for the origin of integrity. How did that evolve?
If he answers that morality evolved from apes, then it can change. It has no ultimate reference to Truth with a capital T (timeless, universal, necessary, and certain). Worse, if integrity is material, then brain patterns interpreted as integrity can change, and are different for Dr Roper than they are for someone else. Whatever kind of moral system evolved, it could be immoral tomorrow. In fact, strict Darwinism makes morality a ruse—a strategy for passing on one’s genes, like a butterfly that mimics another species to avoid getting eaten. Remember: to Darwinists, human beings are not exceptional. They are animals that evolved like everything else.
That would lead an impartial observer to conclude that Dr Roper is tricking us with his scientism because he doesn’t even believe it himself. It’s his evolutionary strategy. We can therefore dismiss everything he says.
If that line of reasoning sank into Roper’s material brain and sizzled for awhile, there might be hope for him.
Update 13 July 2020: “You’re a scientist? So what?” That’s Dennis Prager’s new response since science went Woke in the last 3 years. Read his opinions about the downfall of science’s good reputation at The Epoch Times. “Scientists have given science a bad name,” he says. “I would not have said that as recently as three years ago.” He gives examples of irrational opinions taken by scientific institutions.
We must deprogram these people. They are dangerous. If you have not read That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, it’s time to realize what a scientific elite is capable of. 1984 and Brave New World can also show the consequences of arrogant Big Science. As a start, watch Discovery Institute’s 10-minute video about Lewis’s novel on YouTube.
For Roper to rely believe in Truth and Integrity, he would have to subscribe to a worldview that can account for those requirements. In other words, he would have to become a Christian. His scientism thus becomes unmasked as a disguise. He is a thief. Take off his Scientism mask, and he will be revealed as a plagiarist. In his Editorial, he plagiarized Biblical values of truth and integrity in order to preach his lie that Science is Truth.
Now, if he were to repent and believe his Maker, we could have some interesting discussions about the nature of science, the nature of evidence, what methods might produce more reliable theories, and what should be done with what we think we know. We could look for the fruits of regeneration in his life—love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, humility, unselfishness, self-control—and if they were growing, we could slowly gain confidence in his judgment.
The only scientific enterprise that can do good for mankind and the planet is one that acknowledges its Creator. We know that Dr Roper is not really Yoda. We know he is not really an evolutionist. He is an eternal soul made in the image of God, for whom Christ died. We hope and pray he comes to acknowledge his debt to his Maker. Then true science can begin in earnest, with self-sacrificial love, gratitude, and wisdom.