The Problem with Modern “Science”

Today the word "science" is used narrowly to refer to subjects that use the scientific method, such as biology. But this is not the historical usage. The English "science" comes from the Latin scientia, which simply means "knowledge." Using this broad definition explains why the medievals considered theology the “queen of the sciences” with philosophy as her “handmaiden.” The modern conception of science that booted theology and philosophy (and other subjects) from the category took place after the Enlightenment. This should come as no surprise, as Enlightenment rationalism favored the senses and the scientific method. Many rationalists were anti-Christian and opposed to supernaturalism. 

Science Is Not Neutral

Today, science narrowly defined consists only of the “hard sciences,” such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Other fields are sometimes considered “soft sciences,” such as psychology and sociology. They still do research studies and rely on data, but they can be harder to measure and are thus not given the same place as the hard sciences.

There is nothing particularly wrong with using the word “science” today to refer only to chemistry and the like. However, there is a glaring problem regarding modern science, and that is its outlandish claim of authority over all other fields. We may call this “scientism." Science today is treated like theology was in the past—the foundational source of knowledge for all other fields of study. Scientists have even delved into the realms of theology and philosophy in the area of Darwinian evolution, though often denying that they do so. 

Many scientists are philosophical naturalists, in part because of their dependence on the scientific method. The scientific method says that something must be empirical and falsifiable in order to be “scientific.” The existence of God is not empirical or falsifiable. Therefore, God does not exist according to the scientific method. Of course, this assumes the premise that only that which is falsifiable is true. Herein lies the problem with the scientific method. The scientific method is a useful tool for studying the natural world. But it is a lousy tool for determining all truth. In other words, the scientific method is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. 

Yes, God’s existence does not meet the standards of modern science—but neither does the scientific method! The scientific method itself is not falsifiable. You cannot subject the scientific method to the scientific method. Rather, we assume an orderly world in which we can make observations and test hypotheses. This means not all knowledge can come from the scientific method. Science is only one field of study and is not foundational even for itself. It is dependent on some other philosophical grounding.

Science is not an independent field. Yet many scientists today claim it is an independent field. Then they add to their error by claiming that as scientists they are philosophically neutral! They fail to recognize that even when the scientific method is adopted, data and studies must still be interpreted. And those doing the interpretation are certainly not neutral. This is made clear when one understands the perverse incentives involved in science, as scientists will go to great lengths to "confirm" a hypothesis in order to get published.

Scientists are also not neutral in regards to religion and philosophy. Some of them are religious persons, and many of them are not. So while the majority of scientists today (or at least the loudest ones) are non-religious, it should not surprise us that many scientists come to secular and naturalistic conclusions. The problem is that they in turn claim to be neutral, and this is supposedly the final say on the matter.

But “Scientists Say . . .”

The major area where this becomes a problem is when discussing the origins of man. “Scientists say” the earth began 4.5 billion years ago and that humans descended from single-cell organisms on down the line (Darwinian evolution). But who are these "scientists" to which they always appeal? This appeal to scientists as an authoritative class is extremely problematic for several reasons.

First, not all scientists believe in Darwinian evolution. I know it sounds crazy, but some scientists actually believe in the creation story of Scripture. Some even go so far as to believe in a young earth and a literal six-day view of creation. (The horrors!) So the claim that "scientists" believe something does not speak for all scientists. At most, it is a majority and not the entirety of the group. And truth is not determined by majority vote (thankfully). 

Second, not all scientists are experts in the same subject. In regards to Darwinian evolution, biologists seem best qualified to speak with authority on the subject (though see the point below). This means 90% of the scientists counted in the “scientists say” claim carry no special authority on the subject. A physicist does not have specialized knowledge regarding Darwinism, at least not arising from his qualifications as a physicist. He may be well versed in evolutionary theory, but so may a non-scientist. 

Third, claims regarding the age of the earth and the descent of man involve more than just biology. They involve a massive amount of philosophy and theology, including arguments over morality and meaning in life. Further, no one can look at a scientific study that replays the history tapes. There are a lot of issues involved, and biologists are often out of their league here. Case in point, Richard Dawkins. A biologist, yes. A philosopher, no.

So this claim that “scientists say” is completely erroneous. It is a loaded phrase, and it commits the logical fallacy known as the appeal to authority. The take away from all this is that science is not a neutral field. Scientists are real people with religious and philosophical beliefs, and they are not all on the same page. Also, science as a field of study is not independent of other fields of knowledge. Science requires philosophical presuppositions. This is the problem with modern “science.”