This is a fun chapter! It takes a dominant worldview (at least in the West) head-on. Andy addresses scientism – the belief that only science can provide knowledge – in a witty and thought-provoking way.
From the opening illustration of attempting to answer why the Mona Lisa was painted by analyzing the chemical composition of the portrait we immediately see holes in the scientism line of reasoning. Diagnosing the material makeup couldn’t possibly answer the question of why. And, that’s precisely the point. There are a host of questions this worldview is ill-equipped to handle.
The chapter continues and raises questions of ethics – why is it good for humans to flourish? Why should we report our findings honestly and accurately? After all, Andy reasons, we’re just a collection of atoms like a coffee table and it couldn’t hurt in the long run, right?
Answering questions of why force us to seek revelation to attain knowledge. In the chapter Andy shares that he loves to hike the summits in the Lake District – a revelation. However, we don’t have to simply take him at his word as he points out. We could investigate his home and we would find all sorts of hiking gear, see his library full of mountaineering literature, and inspect his Facebook page to see photos of him on hikes. This evidence points us to the fact the he does, indeed, like to hike. Similarly, the evidence around the universe can and does point us to God – a revelation in Scripture.
The chapter moves on to point out that scientism is self-defeating. Why is it self-defeating? Well, if there isn’t any other “stuff” in the universe besides atoms and chemicals, humans must only be a collection of atoms and chemicals too. The problem is that’s exactly what trees, cars, and buildings are, and we certainly don’t ascribe rational thought or the ability to reason to them; and we are no different under this view. Additionally, the claim “only science can provide knowledge” isn’t a scientific claim. You cannot scientifically test this assertion and therefore it fails its own test.
Lastly, Andy brings clarification to the position he is pushing for. He isn’t saying that science isn’t any good and should be abandoned. Look at all the good and advances in society we enjoy because of science, we don’t want to turn away from that. Rather he says he is arguing for “science and.” We should use science and many other fields in our quest for knowledge. As pointed out, it’s difficult to build a home only using a hammer; you’ll need more tools to accomplish the task.
Do you run into people who hold to this view? How do the typical interactions go?
Which part of the chapter jumped out at you the most? Why? Was it like a situation you’ve encountered or did the information hit you in a new light?
How is this book overall, not just this chapter, effecting your conversations? Is it moving you towards more fruitful and winsome engagement? If so, could you share with us?