Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, J.P. Moreland

The modern era, with all its conveniences and luxuries, is an increasingly strange period. Many authors have traced the current climate (my favorite must be Francis Schaeffer’s, “How Should We Then Live“), but suffice it to say that we can find ourselves in the predicament (depending on whom you ask, it’s less a problem and more of a good thing) of modernity thanks, in large part, to the Enlightenment ideals. The term “modernism” refers to the Enlightenment man: one who see’s the universe and all its properties as a giant clock that has been wound up; where all things can be reduced not to an intelligent designer, but to their naturalistic conclusions. And thus the modern man was born.

With the rise of evolution in the 20th and 21st century, this issue has become even more convoluted. It wasn’t that science changed, but rather the philosophical undergirding of science changed. Instead of being purely objective in scope, there was an agenda: to prove that God did not exist; that people no longer needed a deity because they had science, which ultimately could answer all the questions you could have. Indeed, in some instances, science became the primary modus operandi to which truth was determined. There are some who believe that science holds the keys to how to obtain that whimsical and fleeting concept of “truth,” particularly in our post-modern time.

That’s why it is not only refreshing to have a resource to combat this system of thinking, but we must be even more grateful that J.P. Moreland, philosopher and scientist at Talbot Seminary, wrote this volume, “Scientism and Secularism.” I have come into contact in the circles I have been in with this shattered thinking. In reading this book, I had a conversation with a co-worker of mine who proclaimed that you can only know something is true when you are able to test it. He used this as a means to say that in this way, it is difficult to assume God is true. I was able to venture the waters as well as I could given the circumstances, but it made me relish the opportunity I have been given in drinking deeply of the concepts of this book that I might be able to respond in kind to those who have similar objections to Christianity.

To begin, Dr. Moreland defines “scientism” as: “the view that the hard sciences provide the only or at least a vastly superior knowledge of reality compared to other disciplines.” In other words, because science is testable, quantifiable, and measurable, it is tangible; because it is tangible and academic in scope, it provides a more logical and reasonable way to truth than the contrary. In this book, Dr. Moreland begins to dismantle this thought process. In chapters 1, 2, and 3, Dr. Moreland lays out the landscape: what Scientism is, why it matters, and how it changed the universe. In chapter 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, Dr. Moreland approaches the subject by bringing down arguments from both a logical perspective and by the reason that scientism is actually the enemy of science (chapter5). For example, in chapter 4, Dr. Moreland demonstrates how scientism is self-refuting (the only truth is in what is testable, a contingent truth that can’t be tested). Chapter 8 provides the reader with a case study of how science reaches beyond its stated goals. Chapters 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 examine scientism from a philosophical perspective. Why do the arguments of scientism fail when put under the microscope of philosophy? Lastly, chapters 13, 14, 15, and a final plea in chapter 16 all fall under the auspice of how the Church can respond correctly to the blight of scientism.

Overall, I learned most from the beginning chapters 4-7. These were my favorite of the book because they gave me tools that I could use (and have already started using) to combat this errant thinking. For those who, like me, interact with a populace that condemns religion as superstition and yet worships at the altar of science, even reading these first few chapters will make this entire book well worth the money, energy, and time. The arguments that Dr. Moreland present are so convincing that they gave me much comfort even though I do not agree with scientism in the first place.

But a word of caution: the last few chapters, particularly 9-13, are very technical. I believe I will have to re-read these sections to grasp the nuance of the argument (particularly of “first philosophy” and its implications about scientism, chapter 9).

To Christians, skeptics, or scientists, this should be a book that you purchase, read, and think deeply upon. It will challenge you in ways that you cannot imagine; further, it will equip you with the necessary tools to combat harmful, and wrong, ideologies in your schools and work places.

I was given this book for free by Crossway Books in order to provide an honest review.

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