The Power Of Science And The Danger Of Scientism


I have previously written on the power of science and the dangers of scientism.  Adam Frank, Astrophysicist and Professor at University of Rochester has an outstanding blogpost at NPR’s 13.7 blog titled “The Power of Science and the Danger of Scientism”.

I will not do an analysis of the article as it hits on many of the same points I made in the two posts linked above.  I encourage you to read the entire article here but a summary of the key quotes is informative:

“Can you be a strident defender of science and still be suspicious of the way it is appropriated within culture? Can you be passionate about the practice and promise of science, yet still remain troubled by the way other beliefs and assumptions are heralded in its name? If such a thing is possible, you may be pro-science but anti-scientism

* * *

The efficacy of science generates a powerful attraction for advocates of (often unspoken) philosophical assumptions. These are people who seek to cloak their beliefs in the legitimacy of the scientific enterprise. This is where scientism raises its ugly head.

* * *

[A dismissal of attackers of scientism] misses the point that science gets used within culture for more than just legitimate purposes. In fact it’s the very efficacy of its tools that allows cultural misappropriations of science to go unnoticed.

Part of this misappropriation comes from thinking that, since science is so good at providing explanations, explanations are all that matter. It’s an approach that levels human experience in ways that are both dangerous and sad. In discussions of human spirituality and science, for example, it leads to cartoon arguments between Richard Dawkins and fundamentalists about who started the universe.

* * *

Scientism is an unfortunate consequence of the success science has had explaining the natural world. It would, in fact, be useful to clarify how scientism manifests itself. That would help us understand the damage it does to the real project that lies ahead of us: building space for the full spectrum of human being in a culture fully shaped by science.”

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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4 Responses to The Power Of Science And The Danger Of Scientism

  1. ptero9 says:

    The science community, through the popularized notions of what science is, is the latest unquestioned authority. What people miss about unquestioned authority is how easily it comes into being, or is transferred from one idol to the next. There is not much coercion needed to convince people that science has brought them many creature comforts, while demanding very little of the individual in return.
    Every authority that grips the heart of a culture, does so because of being in the right place at the right time, offering something that people either need, or can’t say no to. Once a community, whether it be the science community or a religious, or politcal one, has a strong enough hold over the collective imagination of a culture, there becomes the risk of blind allegiance and trust that discourages individuals from questioning.
    Science because of technology, I think is enjoying that position of authority now. In turn, society does no favors for science by ceasing to question every achievement as if science were a god. People often make the mistake of claiming that religious leaders of the past had to brain wash and manipulate people into belief, but people want to believe,and usually give themselves over to any belief that offers relief from the suffering and anxiety of the human experience.
    Science, if its only gift is that of technologies designed for distraction and creature comfort or a new way of imagining ourselves as genes with an agenda, will only appeal to those who acquire the bad habit of intoxicating themselves with themselves.
    Okay, now I will catch up here and read your older posts on this topic!

  2. Amyclae says:

    Great find! I’m afraid I stole it from you.

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