This week, a bit of news that escaped the notice of many was a dust-up between Lila Rose and Dr. Phil. The topic? The definition of science and the definition of life. The exchange went something like this.
Ms. Rose: “The science is clear. Life begins at conception. This is simply a genetic and biological fact.”
Dr. Phil: “That’s not true. There is no consensus. Life doesn’t begin until we, the scientists, decide it does.”
And there you have it — mansplaining at its finest. No one decides anything other than smart men like the good doctor who clearly knows so much more than any silly woman who dares disagree with him, even when that woman obviously knows more about science than he does.
Welcome to the rise of feelings over facts. Welcome to a world where emotions trump reality. Welcome to the rise of scientism over science.
In the early 1900s, G. K. Chesterton observed that the “Dr. Phils” of his day were only too willing to use their arbitrary definitions of “science” to justify their pernicious philosophies and then impose their subjective worldviews on everyone else with a near-religious zeal. “I never said a word against eminent men of science. What I complain of is a vague, popular philosophy which supposes itself to be scientific when it is really nothing but a sort of new religion and an uncommonly nasty one,” Chesterton said.
Recognizing that science could never presume to compete in the moral arena, Chesterton went further. “To mix science up with philosophy is only to produce a philosophy that has lost all its ideal value and a science that has lost all its practical value. It is for my private physician to tell me whether this or that food will kill me. It is for my private philosopher to tell me whether I ought to be killed.”
Chesterton knew science could answer the questions of mathematics and medicine, but he was also keenly aware it had nothing to say about meaning. He warned that scientific “progress” unrestrained by sacred principles was fraught with dangers. Survival of the fittest, he contended, may be an interesting academic discussion when applied to a vegetable, an animal, or a mineral, but when practiced on people, its consequences are nothing short of horrifying.
Predicting the rise of what he and others labeled “scientism,” C.S. Lewis warned of a dystopia where public policy and even moral and religious beliefs would be dictated by professors and politicians only too eager to assume the role of our new cultural high priests.
In his novel “That Hideous Strength,” Lewis asked the reader to consider an obvious Dr. Phil question: “After two world wars in which scientism has brought us the ‘advancements’ of eugenics and the mass slaughter of millions of people via … ballistic rockets and atomic bombs,” how is your new man-made god working for you?
“The physical sciences, good and innocent in themselves, [have] been subtly maneuvered in a certain direction,” Lewis said. “Despair of objective truth [has] been increasingly insinuated into [scientism]; Concentration upon mere power [has] been the result.” Lewis knew that if those who fancied themselves the “fittest” were unhampered by any objective understanding of right and wrong, their quest for power would always lead to an Orwellian nightmare rather than the paradise promised by his peers.
The list of those warning of the inevitable consequences of scientism is long. Chesterton, Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell all warned of this brave new world where nothing was valued other than to “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.” They knew that when we believe in the god we see in the mirror more than the God we see in the Bible, little is left for us at the end of days but to join with Anthony Bourdain in singing with sardonic resonance and sad self-deception, “suicide is painless.”
The timeless lesson of Narcissus, who stood at the river’s edge gazing at his own reflection, is that those consumed with themselves, their emotions and their desires will inevitably slip, fall in, and drown.
While Dr. Phil’s hubris is palpable, who can deny that our entire culture now stands with him on the edge of the proverbial pool, mesmerized by our image as much, if not more so, than any Greek god? We deny the empirical and elevate the emotional. We boldly boast that our feelings don’t care about the facts and that our libido is our ultimate Lord. “Copernicus was wrong!” we shout. “We are all geo-centrists now!” Proclaiming there is no Son (yes, I spelled that right), we declare ourselves to be the center of the universe.
Science be damned! Today we all worship in the temple of scientism, and we are its gods. God help us.
• Everett Piper (dreverettpiper.com, @dreverettpiper), a columnist for The Washington Times, is a former university president and radio host.