Scientism and Secularism: An interview with author J. P. Moreland
(This is Part 2 of a feature on Dr. J. P. Moreland's new book, Scientism and Secularism. Please see Part 1, the Synopsis, here.)
We had a chance to ask Dr. Moreland some questions about the book:
RC: What is your most concise definition of “Scientism”?
JPM: Scientism is the view that the only knowledge or the vastly superior knowledge we have of reality is what can be empirically tested in the hard sciences. All other truth claims are mere expressions of emotion, blind faith and private opinion.
RC: How does science differ from scientism and why does it matter?
JPM: Claims of science—water is H20, electro-magnetic fields behave in such and such a manner—what science is limited to. But scientism is a philosophical claim about science, not a claim of science. Scientism is a theory of the nature of knowledge (it can only be obtained through physics, chemistry and the other hard sciences) and limits of knowledge (based on the nature of knowledge, it is limited to the the hard sciences and absent from all other fields, e.g. religious claims or ethical assertions). These types of claims are nonsense and we are free to construct our reality anyway we want to. So scientism leads to postmodern relativism in culture.
RC: As a grad student in philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, you made an unforgettable remark the first day of class. You said, “You all have been influenced more by Immanuel Kant than by Jesus Christ.” What relevance does that statement have with your book? (Kant - 1724 to 1804 - is still a central authority in Western philosophy.)
JPM: In a recent Barna poll intended to discover why Millennials are leaving the church and Christianity altogether for agnosticism or atheism, the top six reasons were all intellectual. For example:
- I am shunned when I express doubts.
- No one has answers to my questions.
- The teaching is shallow and the church does not help me relate biblical claims to those made by scientists.
This is hard evidence that the church has abandoned reason and changed the definition of faith from what it used to be (confidence or trust based on knowledge or reasons) to the current understanding (faith is a blind choice, based on feelings, where one arbitrarily chooses to accept something). Thus, we are more influenced by the ideology of scientism—even though most have never heard of it and could not define it—than by the Bible, solid Christian theology/philosophy/apologetics. We are teaching people what to believe but not why they should believe and this approach is one of the implications of scientism.
RC: How is scientism creeping into the classroom philosophies that are being taught at universities – and even high schools?
JPM: Science classes are considered as sources providing knowledge of reality. If a chemistry professor says “Be careful, there is hydrochloric acid in that beaker,” no one responds with "Hey dude, stop being an intolerant bigot and legislating chemistry.” But humanities classes—especially those that deal with religious, ethical or worldview/ultimate issues in life—are considered as sources that do not give us real knowledge of reality. Instead, they express critical theory, postmodern constructivism and so forth. They communicate that social relativism all the rage.
RC: Why did you match up Scientism with Secularism for this book - What do they have to do with each other?
JPM: Because scientism denies knowledge of God, or the truth of Christianity, of moral assertions, and so on, it inexorably leads to a secular society as in obvious in the shifts in Europe since WWII and now in North America. Scientism is the fundamental set of ideas that underlie what is happening is our society and in an increasingly anemic, marginalized church, even though people don’t know what it is.
RC: How has scientism influenced many people – including Christian professors – in terms of our religious knowledge and biblical interpretation?
JPM: It has influenced them to reinterpret the Bible so it fits with contemporary scientific claims and cultural norms so as not to be out of step with history.
RC: Scientific progress is an argument some make for relying so heavily on science. How can we tell people, if science doesn’t reliably explain everything - then what does?
JPM: Science makes progress because there are things it doesn’t know. But in some fields, like theology and philosophy, where we know there are a few options available on various topics and the issue is the evidence for and against those different viewpoints. So progress is not a marker of increased knowledge. No field explains everything. That’s why universities (or at least it used to be why universities) have different disciplines!!
RC: Why is it important for all Christians to understand scientism, its effect on our culture, and to intelligently be able to refute its claims?
JPM: In my book, I have three goals: To help the reader get clear on what scientism is so he/she can clearly identify it in the news, a book, a conversation and so forth; To help the reader understand the grave dangers to them, their loved ones, the church and society that follow from scientism; To help the reader know how to respond to scientism and show why it’s wrong. I do this at a level for the general reader. There are a few chapters that will be a bit difficult, but most of the book is accessible.
RC: You’ve said that this is one of your most important books to date. Is there anything else that makes this topic so urgent, beside what we’ve already discussed?
JPM: I want Christians to stop being bullied by expressions of scientism. I want them to have confidence that they can actually know the core claims of Christianity to be true. I want them to be bold, courageous and winsome in responding to this ideology.
RC: Given the speed of the secularization of America and especially in our universities, where do you think America will be 50 years from now?
JPM: It literally all depends on whether or not the church will start teaching people why they believe what the Bible teaches, how to engage the issues of the day, and how to enter into spiritual formation. So your guess is as good as mine.
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