Scientism Has a Problem — It Can’t Be Verified Scientifically
Science can measure some characteristics and reveal some physical structures, but it can never tell us what something is and why it was given the privilege of existing.
“Two blokes walk into a pub and say they’ve discovered the secret of life. Only on February 28, 1953, they weren’t joking.”
The two blokes? James Watson and Francis Crick. The secret of life? The double helix structure of DNA.
I came across this passage recently in a book about beekeeping, and I was struck by the casual, implicit assertion that DNA is the secret of life. Living things are certainly different from non-living things. The assumption of our age, so deeply embedded in our collective consciousness, is that the secret to understanding what makes living things alive, the determining factor that sets living things apart from other things, is DNA.
This idea is part of the wider, unquestioned and unconscious conviction of our culture that science has discovered and can discover all the secrets of existence. In the deeply religious and despotic philosophy of scientism (not science), such conviction is the paradigm of the virtue of faith: blind trust that the revelations made by the scientific method are the ultimate truths.
The twin to this conviction is that science will bring us salvation. The world is dying because of pollution, but scientists are going to come up with a way to scrub the atmosphere clean. We have eaten ourselves into disease and obesity, but medicine will create a drug to make us healthy and lean.
Theoretical physicists are the new metaphysicists, cellular biologists and psychiatrists are the new sages on the nature (or lack of nature) of man, and engineers are the new moral philosophers.
But the scientific method cannot verify that the scientific method works, and it is self-refuting for science to make a claim that it cannot be used to support: that science is the only way to know what is true. Science cannot test this statement any more than a hand can hold itself.
DNA certainly was a secret of life because it was something hidden that technology allowed us to uncover. It was a secret because it was unknown, not the secret because it was the single magic ingredient that brought life from non-living things.
One of the foundations of science is also one of the foundations of philosophy: the effect cannot be greater than the cause. Purely material things cannot cause life — a greater effect. No amount of one kind of thing can suddenly bring into existence a different kind of thing. A pile of matter, no matter how tall it gets, cannot lift itself off the ground without help from above.
Life is not just more material or a specific arrangement of material or an organized combination of material; it is a different kind of thing, a higher kind of thing, a new way of being.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there is a word for create (as opposed to make) that is used only a handful of times, and it occurs when God does something new, when a higher effect is introduced into the world, something that cannot be brought about by purely natural processes. Being from non-being, life from non-life, and intelligence from unintelligence (Genesis 1:1, 21, 27) are not possible without God.
The secret of life is simply that it is a different kind of thing. Living things have a different kind of essence. Theirs is a higher kind of existence.
If this seems like a letdown, it is because we have become accustomed to another modern lie: if an idea is simple, it must be false; if it could have been figured out and stated plainly by a farmer, it can’t be true. Personally, I would rather trust the farmer — if he loses touch with reality, his crops fail and he starves. It takes an education to make a living off of ideas that are plainly false. The more highly educated you are, the more insane the ideas can be, the more wealthy, popular and powerful you can become, and the more likely you are to achieve tenure.
Most of the important truths are hidden in plain sight. Another example of this is the secret of the universe: Being. This secret ingredient of the cosmos dances in our faces with every waking moment. The brute fact of reality as opposed to illusion, things instead of mere imaginings, is the reason there are things instead of just characteristics.
Science can measure some characteristics and reveal some physical structures, but it can never tell us what something is and why it was given the privilege of existing. That is a chain of cause and effect that leads us back (and forward) to the First Cause, the hidden Truth in all things, giving life and existence to what cannot give life or being to itself.