Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality,
frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very
antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or
even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I
would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important
implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that
everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate.
But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding
questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.
In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is
the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of
Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this
perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with
superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research.
Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are
inherently beyond its ability to answer.
Of all the fads and foibles in the long history of human credulity,
scientism in all its varied guises — from fanciful cosmology to
evolutionary epistemology and ethics — seems among the more dangerous,
both because it pretends to be something very different from what it
really is and because it has been accorded widespread and uncritical
adherence. Continued insistence on the universal competence of science
will serve only to undermine the credibility of science as a whole. The
ultimate outcome will be an increase of radical skepticism that
questions the ability of science to address even the questions
legitimately within its sphere of competence. One longs for a new
Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition.