A few months ago an acquaintance of mine expressed his exasperation involving a conversation he had with a young Christian. My acquaintance had asked the Christian why he so staunchly believed the Bible to be true, and the Christian had simply responded, “Because the Bible says so.” Of course, what made this conversation so exasperating was the circular reasoning in the Christian’s response. The fallacy he had inadvertently articulated, known in logic as “begging the question,” was assuming the validity of the premise in question. The Bible is true because it’s true.
What surprises me today is not how few Christians are schooled in logical fallacies nor how many take the Bible as self-evident, but rather how many atheists act as if their own worldviews don’t rest on the same type of assumptions. Seemingly the most vocal and active atheists in social media today tend to be those who ascribe to a set of beliefs known as “scientism,” defined as the attempt to universally apply scientific reasoning, the scientific method, and empiricism to the exclusion of all other viewpoints or systems of knowledge.
Many scientists, of course, don’t go this far and simply see science as a tool or means for learning more about the universe. In such cases they imply that non-scientific means of learning and experience, such as spirituality, may have validity in their own right. To say that science is the only tool for acquiring knowledge, as advocates of scientism believe, is thus an argument of exclusion. It challenges all spirituality along with any experience or knowledge eluding scientific analysis.
The problem with scientism is that its advocates must wrestle with the fact that science itself rests upon numerous assumptions which cannot be proven scientifically. Some of these most widely agreed upon assumptions include the theory that the world exists apart from our senses, the theory that there is an order to existence which is discernable in the form of natural laws, and the theory that scientific tools are useful in discerning these laws. As most scientists recognize, even though we act every day as if these theories are true and indisputable, no one is able to scientifically and irrefutably prove them. Every person who tries is disqualified by virtue of being a participant in the same reality and existence in question.
It is this questioning of the reliability of the senses that endeavors to bring down the whole basis of scientism. So long as we can trust the experience of our senses, which each of us does every day with little or no intention, scientific analysis proceeds normally. However, bringing doubt to one’s mind results in an unanswerable conundrum: no person can irrefutably prove the trustworthiness of his or her senses since any proof would be filtered through those same senses. As a result, we may only answer with the illogic of fallacy and circular reasoning. Much like the Christian who believes in the Bible’s self-evidence, we must choose to believe that the experience of our senses is trustworthy because we experience our senses in a trustworthy fashion.
Advocates of scientism will no doubt respond that such questioning of the basis of science is beyond anyone’s scope. Everyone should instead continue on as they always have and take reality “for granted.” The problem with this, of course, is that it sounds an awful lot like faith.