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The Arrogant Mistake that Is Scientism

Jonathan Witt
Photo: Wesley J. Smith, in a scene from The War on Humans, via Discovery Institute.

On a new episode of ID the Future, philosopher Jay Richards hosts bioethicist Wesley J. Smith to discuss a tweet from Physics-Astronomy.org. The tweet reads, “Imagine a world is ruled by scientists, not by politicians.” The drift of the tweet appeared to be, wouldn’t that be wonderful! Smith immediately threw up a great big “Don’t go there” sign.

As Smith and Richards emphasize in their conversation, such an approach to governance would be disastrous, and would actually be anti-science. It would tend to corrupt the practice of science, thrust scientific specialists into positions calling for generalist skills, and further the arrogant mistake that is scientism — the view that nature is all there is, and science the be all and end all of human wisdom.

Genetics and Eugenics

As Smith points out, science gives us genetics, but a twisted form of scientism posing as science gave us eugenics, the movement to treat the human population like a prize herd of cattle and choosing who gets to reproduce and who doesn’t. Another example Smith gives: Science can tell us that a gestating human is a human being. It can’t tell us whether aborting that gestating human is evil. Answering that moral question requires fields such as philosophy and theology.

As Richards and Smith go on to emphasize, political leaders definitely should have the humility to take into account scientific insights; it’s just that they shouldn’t stop there. They also have to factor in insights from economics, law, ethics, and other fields. Smith and Richards use the response to the coronavirus pandemic as a case in point. Richards, a Discovery Institute Senior Fellow, is co-author of The Price of Panic. Smith is chairman of Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. His latest book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine. Download the podcast or listen to it here.