What Can Science Tell Us? Reflecting On a Recent Dialogue with an Agnostic Friend

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I have an agnostic friend named Amani, who is currently pursuing her master’s in forensic science. We quickly became friends while we were both working as Resident Advisors at NC State University a couple of years ago, remaining close friends to this day. Recently, we had a conversation about science and whether it was the only avenue to obtain legitimate truth. I want to share a few points of disagreement that may shine a light on broader worldview differences between believers and non-believers.

Confusing Science with Scientism

During our conversation, Amani maintained that science is the only way to actually get to the truth. While she appeared to identify this view with science itself, former scientist and current philosopher J. P. Moreland points out that this view is not science at all; it is scientism.[1] While “science” concerns the study of the physical and material world through experimentation and observation, “scientism” is the worldview that the hard sciences are the only means of acquiring truth. These are fundamentally different terms, and conflating them is a crucial mistake.

Is Truth Only What Can Be Scientifically Proven?

We’ve established that the core assumption of Amani’s position is that science is the only way to truth. But this is clearly false, as the position is self-refuting since it undermines itself. The statement actually falls short of meeting its own criteria since it is a philosophical statement about science that cannot itself be tested by science.[2]

Scientism, in other words, has to be false. While science has many virtues, the idea that it is the only avenue by which one can get to the truth is simply inaccurate.[3]

Knowing Things Unscientifically

After discussing science and scientism for a bit, I expressed to Amani that I could think of a few different things one could know apart from scientific investigation. One such example would be memories of events in the distant past, such as childhood memories. I can know, for instance, that I played basketball on the driveway with my dad when I was ten, though it would be impossible to demonstrate this scientifically. Moral truths, such as murder being wrong and charity work being good, are also things one can know that cannot be tested in a laboratory.

Moreland identifies a few other examples of non-scientific knowledge, such as logic (science assumes it), math (science assumes it), and personal conscious states via introspection.[4] None of these areas can be tested scientifically, yet one is rationally justified in knowing them. Therefore, in light of the many avenues of non-scientific knowledge open to us, Oxford mathematician, scientist, and philosopher John Lennox is correct in his assessment that “reason has a far larger scope than science.”[5]

Exposing scientism’s weaknesses is often a good starting point in the process of getting someone to rethink their atheism/agnosticism and, through God’s providence and direction, ultimately lead them to the truth of Christianity.

Case Study: Rejecting Scientism

I’m sure Amani and I will have many more conversations on this topic (which will hopefully result in her rejection of scientism!). But for now, let’s look at a case study of someone who came to see the weakness of scientism as a worldview. Guillaume Bignon is a French engineer and philosopher who converted to Christianity due, in part, to ultimately seeing that scientism was not sustainable. He notes that for years, his mindset was “if truth was found in science, then faith could not affirm the opposite without committing intellectual suicide.”[6] To Bignon, science was the only way to truth.

However, Bignon notes that he came to realize that this view was merely a philosophical presupposition informed by his naturalistic, atheistic worldview. Second, he came to the difficult conclusion that if he was starting out presupposing naturalism and scientism, then his own atheistic view of reality was “not very interesting.”[7] For this reason and others, such as those mentioned by Moreland, Bignon says “I was thus forced to accept that it is possible to know things, even if they aren’t scientific.”[8]

Final Considerations: Worldviews

The point of this brief exploration of scientism is that one’s prior worldview will ultimately determine one’s views of things like truth, science, and knowledge. Thus, even though I am confident that scientism is false, it is important for not just myself but also all Christians to remember that worldviews are multifaceted. Refuting scientism won’t necessarily convince someone to convert to Christianity. That said, as we saw with Bignon’s story, exposing scientism’s weaknesses is often a good starting point in the process of getting someone to rethink their atheism/agnosticism and, through God’s providence and direction, ultimately lead them to the truth of Christianity.

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[1] J.P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2018), 23, 26, 29.

[2] Ibid., 51.

[3] Philosophers Steven Cowan and James Spiegel, in their chapter on the philosophy of science, agree: “It turns out that by its own standard scientism must be rejected as an object of knowledge. Even if scientism were true, it could never be known to be true!” Steven B. Cowan and James S. Spiegel, The Love of Wisdom: A Christian Introduction To Philosophy (Nashville: Baker Academic, 2009), 105.

[4] Ibid., 77-80.

[5] John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? (Epsom: The Good Book Company, 2019), 27.

[6] Guillaume Bignon, Confessions of a French Atheist: How God Hijacked My Quest to Disprove the Christian Faith (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2022), 81.

[7] Ibid., 83.

[8] Ibid., 89. Similar recent stories to Bignon’s can be found here: Tom Rudelius, Chasing Proof, Finding Faith: A Young Scientist’s Search For Truth In A World of Uncertainty (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2023); Denis Alexander and Alister McGrath Eds. Coming To Faith Through Dawkins: 12 Essays On The Pathway From New Atheism To Christianity (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2023).

Photo Credit

Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash.

  • apologetics
  • science
Eli Kunkel

Eli Kunkel

Eli Kunkel (BS, College of Education, North Carolina State University) is currently pursuing MA degrees in both Christian Education and Christian Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition, he teaches middle & high school courses in Apologetics, Cultural Engagement, and Competing Worldviews at Bethesda Christian Academy, in Durham, NC.

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