In The New York Times on February 19, 2006, Leon Weiseltier called scientism “one of the dominant superstitions of our day” in a review of a book about religion. One devotee of scientism is Lewis Wolpert, author of a book published in 2007 also about religion. Wolpert may have been thinking about this quote when he wrote: “It is now asserted by some that science itself is the modern superstition.“ (Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief, p. 159) Perhaps Wolpert thinks scientism is an excessive love of science. As it is impossible to love science to excess, Wolpert might be reasoning, scientism is really an attack on science itself.

The scientistic fallacy, as scientism is sometimes called, occurs in different ways in different fields of study. The most maleficent form of scientism is the denial of existential truths. Existentialism and essentialism are two branches of metaphysics, which is a philosophical method of inquiry into the concept of being. Many modern philosophers proudly reject existentialism. This is what Sidney Hook says:

Metaphysics, then, can never tell us anything about the world independent of its relation to us, of what could be true of Being if there were no human beings (or would be if there were no human beings). (The Quest for Being, p. 150)
The question is, however, whether the word “being” has any meaning in a philosophical context, and by a philosophical context I mean any activity which inquires into the logic and the procedures by which knowledge is built up and described. (The Quest for Being, p. 159)

Wolpert and Hook are both atheists. Hook is open to existential reasoning, but Wolpert is only interested in scientific evidence, as the following two quotes show:

I am committed to science and believe it is the best way to understand the world. I am an atheist reductionist materialist. I know of no good evidence for the existence of God. (Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief, p. x)
I call myself a “God-seeker” because I am willing to go a long way, to the very ends of reason itself, to track down every last semblance of evidence or argument which promises fulfillment of the quest. (The Quest for Being, p. 115)

If it is true that reason and arguments leads to God’s existence, God’s existence is an existential truth and Wolpert and Hook are making an existential error.

An example of scientism is the following quote from cognitive scientist Merton Donald:

This book proposes a theory of consciousness that stays carefully on the functional level and does not to try to “explain” how awareness could have emerged from a material thing such as a brain. I believe that we might someday understand how this came to be. However, in my opinion, our present intellectual and scientific resources are not sufficient to give us even the beginnings of such a theory. (A Mind So Rare, p. 9)

Professor Donald has a whimsical and scientistic faith in science. In fairness to him, he is responding to philosopher Colin McGinn’s view that science cannot explain human consciousness as a matter of principle. McGinn’s argument, if I understand it correctly, is that there was never any evolutionary benefit to understanding human consciousness and, as a consequence, human beings—the result of evolution—don’t understand it.

The real scientism in the quote is Donald’s failure to acknowledge or grasp the truth of the existential proposition that human beings are conscious. The truth of this means an existential method of inquiry based on the premise that human beings exist is possible.

The following quote from molecular biologist Lee M. Silver is filled with implied and explicit existential propositions:

Free will is commonly interpreted to mean “the power of directing our own actions without [total] constraint by necessity or fate.” The conviction that human beings are endowed with such a power is pervasive, even more so than a belief in the human soul…As a philosophical concept, free will is like an onion whose skin has been completely peeled away: at its core, it ceases to exist. (Challenging Nature: The Clash of Science and Spirituality, p. 59)

Silver has in mind the existential concept of causality when he uses the term power. He is saying many people have mistaken ideas about free will but are sincere in their beliefs. In sum and substance, Silver is denying the existential truth that human beings have free will. An existential truth implied in his claim to superior understanding is the ability of human beings to create mental beings, which is what mistaken ideas are. Mental beings also include the past and the future, the content of dreams, abstractions, and mental constructs.

Silver’s denial raises questions about his own sincerity because he lives his life as if he had free will. When he does something wrong, he feels guilty, he apologizes, and he promises not to do it again. It is only in his philosophical writing that he denies human beings have free will. It is not clear what Silver thinks, when he thinks it, and what he means.

A clue to Silver’s motivation and meaning can be found in the following quote attributed to scientist Carl Sagen:

I, Carl Sagen, am nothing but a collection of atoms bearing the name, “Carl Sagen.” (The One and the Many by N. Clarke, p. 68)

Sagen’s motives and meaning can be guessed at. Like all human beings, Sagen has a drive to know and understand everything in the universe. Nevertheless, there are mysteries because human beings can’t know and understand everything. For example, if human beings exist in an existential sense, then the essentialist question of what human beings are comes to an inquiring mind. This question has no rational essentialist answer and is a mystery. There are, however, existential answers: Human beings are embodied spirits or indefinabilities that become conscious of their own existence. My theory is that Carl Sagen doesn’t get any satisfaction from the existential answers and doesn’t like mysteries so he denies the reality of his own existence. Reductionist materialists—to use Wolpert’s phrase—and devotees of scientism—as I would put it—wish the universe consisted only of atoms and molecules and make it so by thinking and saying it.

I can now tackle the question of why Dr. Silver says free will doesn’t “exist.” Free will implies that human beings are capable of acting and have a center of action. Having a center of action means human beings possess a general or transcendental property of being called ontological unity. Ontological unity means a being is undivided with respect to itself, but divided from every other being. In other words, denying human beings have free will is necessary if you want to deny human beings possess ontological unity. Denying ontological unity is necessary if you want to deny human beings exist in an existential sense. Silver agrees with Sagen that human beings are “nothing but” collections of atoms. His statements about free will is just another way of saying human beings do not exist in an existential sense.

The following quotes are two examples of the mindless scientism of many non-philosophers and pseudo-philosophers. Richard Dawkins is discussing dualism and Daniel Dennett is discussing materialism:

A dualist acknowledges a fundamental distinction between matter and mind. A monist, by contrast, believes that mind is a manifestation of matter—material in a brain or perhaps a computer—and cannot exist apart from matter. A dualist believes the mind is some kind of disembodied spirit that inhabits the body and therefore conceivably could leave the body and exist somewhere else. (The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, p. 180)
In its scientific or philosophical sense, it [materialism] refers to a theory that aspires to explain all the phenomena without recourse to anything immaterial—like a Cartesian soul, or “ectoplasm”—or God. The standard negation of materialistic in the scientific sense is dualistic, which maintains that there are two entirely different kinds of substance, matter and…whatever minds are supposedly made of. (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena by Daniel Dennett, p. 302)

Dawkins and Dennett are apparently not aware of the philosophical progress made in the Middle Ages. Medieval philosophers, emphasizing the ontological unity of man, abandoned Greek dualism. Cartesian dualism is similar to Greek dualism because it implies that a human being consists of two separate beings or substances. René Descartes’s real contribution to existentialism is that knowledge of our own existence is the basis of all our knowledge (cogito ergo sum). In contrast to Descartes, Martin Buber’s existentialism is grounded in our interaction with other persons (Ich-du).

Dawkins’s and Dennett’s scientism consists in not realizing, or not admitting, there is a method of inquiry called existentialism. It is an existential truth that human beings are rational animals and essentialist questions about what it means to be rational are not part of this method of inquiry. Human rationality, of course, refers to free will and the conscious knowledge of humans, not the sense knowledge of animals.

Denying these existential truths are conscious acts of self-deception, if we take the following quote from Dawkins at face value:

F. Amstey’s 1882 novel Vice Versa makes sense to a dualist, but strictly should be incomprehensible to a dyed-in-the-wool monist like me… Like most scientists, I am not a dualist, but I am nevertheless easily capable of enjoying Vice Versa and Laughing Gas. Paul Bloom would say this is because, even though I have learned to be an intellectual monist, I am a human animal and therefore evolved as an instinctive dualist. The idea that there is a me perched somewhere behind my eyes and capable, at least in fiction, of migrating into somebody else’s head, is deeply ingrained in me and in every other human being, whatever our intellectual pretensions to monism. (The God Delusion, p. 180, emphasis added)

Dawkins is admitting the experience of the distinction between oneself and one’s body is so strong that it takes an act of will to reject the reality of it. He claims that he has “learned” to be a monist, but doesn’t explain how he came by this knowledge.

Believing in “monism” is not knowledge. It is an example of wishful thinking. Pierre Duhem, a philosopher of science, gave the following analogy to explain this kind of reasoning: Suppose a man is collecting minerals and arranging them according to their color. He builds a chest of drawers and labels the drawers one of the colors of the rainbow. When he finds a blue mineral, he puts it in the blue drawer. A red mineral goes in the red drawer, and so on. One day he finds a white mineral. He goes back to his chest of drawers and says, “White minerals don’t exist.”

Hook, Dawkins, Dennett, Wolpert, and Sagen all are in error, not because they question existential truths, but because they don’t know or don’t admit that existentialism leads one logically and reasonably to the existence of the infinite being called God. The existence of God follows from the existential truth that human beings are finite beings. If finite beings exist, whether human or not, then an infinite being must exist because a finite being needs a cause. A finite being is a metaphysical composition of two correlative principles, called essence and existence. An infinite being, however, is a pure act of existence and can be its own reason for existing. If an infinite being does not exist, the universe is not intelligible.

Trying to understand and explain the meaning of existential propositions and trying to determine the truth content of such propositions is a pointless philosophical exercise if such propositions do not lead logically to the existence of an infinite being. Hook is wrong to say “metaphysics can never tell us anything independent of its relation to us.” The existence of an infinite being is something independent of the existence of human beings. It is also important knowledge because people of faith are summoning everyone to believe the infinite being has communicated itself to mankind and has given human beings a meaningful life.