Recently, the Calbuco volcano in southern Chile erupted for the first time since 1972. The eruption sent billows of ash into the sky and painted the sun red.
The eruption and its intensity caught scientists and government officials by surprise, according to the regional emergency director. Chile is home to 90 active volcanos and Calbuco is regarded as one of the three most dangerous. Despite that fact, the volcano was not under active observation at the time of its eruption.
So why in the world would I even be bringing up this volcano? Volcanos is not really a subject that I talk about in blogs. In fact, I know for a fact that this is the first time.
The reason I mention this is because stories like this tell us something about the absurdity of scientism.
Scientism, according to Wikipedia, is the belief in the universal applicability of the scientific method and approach, and the view that empirical science constitutes the most authoritative worldview or most valuable part of human learning to the exclusion of other viewpoints. Huh? Put more simply, scientism is a worldview which says that science is the ultimate source of knowledge, our best authority, and is able to offer explanations for everything.
The day after the Calbuco volcano erupted, researchers from the University of Utah published a paper “Imaged the continuous volcanic plumbing system under Yellowstone.” What they found was big and scary. Yellowstone has enough magma to fill the Grand Canyon more than 13 times! That means that is has 1,000 times the eruptive power of Mt. St. Helens.
What the researchers pointed out is that a better understanding of the system doesn’t bring us any closer to being able to predict if and when the system will erupt. I think the Washington Post said it best when they said, “Yellowstone is unpredictable.”
Roberto Rivera noted, “For all of our pretense to an increasing omniscience, we are almost completely in the dark about the ground literally beneath our feet.” The amazing part is that Roberto is not even exaggerating.
A recent article found in the Washington Post talked about the “coming problem when our smartphones are smarter than we are.” So that makes me naturally ask the following question:
What do you mean by smarter?
For example, a computer can figure out the square root of 3721 a heck of a lot faster than any human can, but is that the true meaning of “smarter than us?”
The answer is yes if you define intelligence, as our culture often tends to do, as the ability to process information quickly. In the article, computer scientist Ray Kurzweil predicted that we’re only a little more than a decade away from software that can mimic human thinking. If you add that to the processing speed and internet connectivity with this software, it would seem likely that our smart phones may indeed become smarter than we are.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, we need to consider what is missing from this discussion. Kurzweil’s prediction is based on a particular “theory of mind,” in which the human mind, in all of its awesome complexity, is reduced to nothing more than a pattern-recognition machine. Most people, including neuroscientists, would reject this view.
Roberto says that the truth is that “scientism, is absurd on its face because ‘science’ isn’t nearly as smart as it claims to be. After all, settled ‘scientific fact’ today is so provisional that shaping a worldview out of it alone is about as stable as taking a prostitute for a wife without divine warrant.”
Roberto goes on to mention that scientism is dependent on the bogus “fact/value” distinction, that deeply embedded cultural assumption today that considers only what can be discovered through science and reason as facts, while everything else, such as moral judgments, is merely personal opinion. This distinction leaves us powerless to distinguish some moral behaviors as better than others.
My education was weighted very heavily in scientific based classes so it is very easy for me to look at science as the answer for everything, but it is not. The fact is that scientism is a very flimsy worldview. God has created each of us with amazing ability to understand things in our world, but our understanding of these things should lead us to wonder and worship or our Creator, not to a place of arrogance from our own abilities.
Science is a good place to start, but it never should be the complete picture because science does not take into account morality. It can be very easy to get blinded by science, but we all need to be careful to see science for what it really is …incomplete.