Beware of Blinding Nature Religion: Scientism

One of the most subtle and influential religions of America is "Scientism." Not the ever controversial "Scientology" or the so-called "Christian Science" of the "Christian Science Reading Rooms," but Scientism, the voluntary limitation of our beliefs and behaviors to only what is taught to us by the natural sciences. It is a non-supernatural religion as much as Taoism, animism, Botánica and some Native American spirituality. Nevertheless, it is often promoted as the whole truth in competition with broader understandings of the world, such as taught in churches.

Scientism often has the endorsement of the public school teaching – contrary to the establishment clause of the First Amendment to our American Constitution. Naïvely, the media often goes along without either understanding or communicating the limitations of scientific methodologies. A study of the history of scientific discovery would reveal the frequent role of dreams, prayers and revelations that help push the edges of physical knowledge. Science's content is physical knowledge

Spirit is the most distinct difference between a God-centered view and a God-absent view of the world and ourselves – including God's precious Holy Spirit and our own human spirits. Each of our spirits is related to the Holy Spirit, because at the beginning God breathed his Spirit into that engineered complex matter for us to become breathing images of him, living humans. Emergency "resuscitation" can be a wonderful life-giving reenactment of this divine original "suscitation."

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As a matter of method, the natural sciences are limited to examining only physical phenomena, and only in terms of other physical phenomena – considering both matter and energy. It is certainly not that any scientists have discovered that God did not make phenomena occur the way they do. The original causes or ultimate sources of the patters of nature are not proper concerns within any of the natural sciences. If you ask a physicist or astronomer who lit the fuse for the Big Bang, there is no scientific answer – even you and I know very well. And something or Someone had to cause it. The questions of ultimate Origin necessarily remain outside scientific focus. At the same time, any scientist, like any other human, can come to know the Creator and his awesome work – because any scientist is also a living, envisioning, breathing, believing human being, and much greater than his or her scientific role.

Unfortunately, what is a matter of method for natural science is often falsely and tragically promoted as a useful method for all of life. That is when good science morphs into Scientism. Ignoring the Spirit and our spirits when we do natural science helps us focus more carefully on natural phenomena when doing science. Ignoring the Spirit in our lives as whole people is a foolish disaster, a kind of dangerous blindness, a debilitating religion, pagan Scientism.

The splendid goal of inquiry in the natural sciences is to establish explanations of any natural phenomena in terms of other natural things – such as natural laws, fields, probabilities. Any explanations that make reference to supernatural beings or powers are properly excluded from natural science. For example, if I let go of my pencil and it immediately falls to the floor, how should we explain that phenomenon? It would be completely scientifically irrelevant to say, "God made it that way." Scientific explanation would be in terms only of gravitational forces, minor air resistance, and such like.

Similarly, scientists would not explain a particular rain storm in terms of a farmer's prayers or a Native American's rain-dance. We all know that rainstorms are explained in terms of natural factors, such as air pressure, humidity, wind and temperature – all factors that themselves depend on other natural factors. However, my wife and I personally lived through two severe droughts where 100,000s of people were desperate for rain, and in which we helped schedule and promote intensive prayers. In both cases, on those prayer days – in 1977 in Virginia and in 1995 in New York – the local TV and radio meteorologists insisted there was "no rain in the forecast." Nevertheless, we prayed earnestly. Then almost immediately – within ten minutes in one case, and within four hours in the other case – there were giant, many-hours-long, massive rainstorms. Each time our geographic region received much more rain that was specifically needed, and reservoirs were filled.

On their next TV and radio weather reports, the same meteorologists that had predicted "no rain in the forecast" now somewhat sheepishly explained that there were "surprising" cold fronts that caused the huge quantity of much desired liquid precipitation. I never doubted that there was a cold front that they had not noticed earlier (for some reason!), and that the cold fronts were caused by some other natural factor, which was caused…and so on. You get the idea. Nevertheless, in the bigger picture, not limited by meteorological methods, our prayers were clearly and quickly answered, and the farms, gardens and empty city reservoirs received their needed rain, in spite of hopeless "no rain" scientific predictions.

Therefore, freely use a naturalist method for natural science lab or class! And even more importantly, completely free yourself for the Spirit, and for your spirit, and for all the splendid aspects of your grace-filled life on earth. After all, at the beginning of humanity the Spirit made you a human when he breathed into you, when you were merely the complex physical matter, or protoplasm, designed and developed by God.

And today, the Spirit still makes all the difference. It is through the Spirit that we can utilize what we learn in science, and Spirit can direct us to new discoveries within creation, and that advance science. And as we approach "Earth Day," let us give thanks to the true Father of creation, and protect the endowment He gave us to manage.

And do not be deterred by those who refuse to take off their dangerous Scientism blinders. Their stubborn rejection of creation's God is a character flaw, not a cosmic fact.

Dr. Paul de Vries is the president of New York Divinity School, and a pastor, speaker and author. Since 2004, he has served on the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 million evangelical Americans.

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