Book Review – J. P. Moreland's “Scientism and Secularism”

Image of Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology
by J. P. Moreland
Crossway 2018
Paperback 224

J. P. Moreland is a seasoned Christian philosopher who has provided the Church with some very good tools in defense of the Faith and the Christian Worldview. He has been Professor of Philosophy at Biola for many years. This timely book is most welcome as it engages one of the most pernicious false ideas that has arisen from man’s innate hatred of God (Rom. 1:18-25).

Scientism is essentially the belief that only science, especially the hard sciences, can give us solid knowledge of the world. Although many of its advocates do not come right out and say it in such blunt terms, that is their faith.

Moreland refers to “hard scientism” and “soft scientism,” the difference between them being that the softer variety allows that other fields of study may have something to say, but nothing as authoritative as the pronouncements of “science” (29-30). This belief in the magisterium of the lab coat has come about because of a shift in the “plausibility structure” in the society (32-33). The organized and heavily guarded groupthink that permeates school and university curricula and the media. Behind this is the ever-potent force of people not wanting God to be there (191-194).

In the third chapter the writer relates how the universities were transformed into bastions of secularism, and this was chiefly done by the acceptance of scientism. This shift did not occur because of evidence. “Rather, it was merely a pragmatic sociological shift” (48. Italics are the author’s).

The short fourth chapter is entitled “Scientism Is Self-Refuting.” This little chapter is important because it not only shows that self-refuting statements are necessarily false (51), but that scientism is ironically not even a scientific position. Scientism is “an epistemological viewpoint about science; it is not a statement of science” (52, cf. 57). From this position Moreland shows that philosophical presuppositions (say, about the nature of truth) are necessary before any science can get underway (ch. 5).

Unsurprisingly, Moreland spends time on the matter of consciousness and mental states. Consciousness is and always will be a first-person phenomenon. Neurologists depend upon the honest reports from the subject to gather their data (86-90). But of course many neuroscientists have bought into physicalism, wherein the human being is viewed simply as the accumulation of active molecular parts—a machine (90-105).

Further chapters engage the Hawking/Mlodinow thesis that everthing came from nothing (ch. 10). He takes several shots at methodological naturalism (121, ch. 13), includes a fine section on Fine-Tuning (143-149), and near-death experiences (92-94), and useful chapters on the integration of Christianity and Science (chs. 14 & 15).

The book does not analyze secularism as such. Its main aim is against the rampant scientism in our culture and to help Christians understand and critique it. He rightly inveighs against “using watered-down, intellectually vacuous, simplistic preaching that is always applied to a parishioner’s private life while failing to deal from the pulpit with the broad cultural, intellectual, and moral issues facing us all” (39-40). There is a helpful bibliography of recommended books at the end.

Scientism and Secularism sometimes seems to lack the cut and thrust of more polemical works, but it is recommended reading for anyone who wants to be conversant with a culture saturated with the canons of irrational scientism.

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There are 3 Comments

josh p's picture

Excellent review Paul. I’m particularly interested in this one as it gets to the heart of the incessant discussions between my son and I.

Paul Henebury's picture

I am very glad it helped Josh.  For me the most important rung of his sustained argument is that scientism is bad philosophy

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I read most of it a few months ago. Very helpful. A bit deep in some patches. I don't find philosophical approaches to most things to be helpful or interesting ("If you take the assumption of 'if xy then not y, then therefore p' [etc., etc.]). Parts of the book were a delight. Others were a chore. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

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