Catholic Bishop Debunks Bill Nye's Scientism

Contrary to the declarations of many adamant atheists, faith and science are not incompatible. A good Christian should not just explain this, but also acknowledge why many people think these two modes of knowledge are at odds. In a response to Bill Nye, “the science guy,” a Roman Catholic bishop does exactly that. Meanwhile an evangelical explains why Christianity is reasonable.

Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and founder of the Word on Fire blog, explains the philosophy behind Nye and other adamant opponents of faith, and why it falls short of the truth.

Barron describes “scientism” as “the reduction of all knowledge to the scientific form of knowledge.” This ideology trivializes all forms of knowledge outside of “the scientific method developed in the late sixteenth century.” It is particularly rich that, in the name of science — which was originally developed in the Christian medieval period — thinkers like Nye attack religion as baseless.

In any case, science and its accompanying technology has undeniably brought a great deal of human progress. Barron does not deny this, but he warns that “the very success of the sciences invites the distortion of scientism, an epistemological imperialism which consigns extra-scientific forms of rationality to the intellectual ash-heap.” Among these “extra-scientific” ways of knowing rank love, faith, history, literature, even the theoretical mathematics upon which science itself rests.

“How desperately sad if questions regarding truth, morality, beauty, and existence [in itself] are dismissed as irrational of pre-scientific,” Barron laments.

Besides the obvious economic value of science, he traces the rise of scientism to the fading of the humanities in schools. He referenced the philosopher Plato, who told of a cave where prisoners are chained inside, separated from true light and warmth, looking at shadows on a wall. The true philosopher escapes the cave, and seeks to free others from such ignorance. “If the study of literature, the arts, and philosophy is regarded as impractical and ‘soft’ in comparison to the study of the sciences, we will produce a generation of prisoners chained inside Plato’s cave,” Barron warns. Bill Nye insists on keeping the chains firmly on.

Those educated in this way “will know a great deal about the evanescent world of nature, but they won’t know anything about how to live a decent life, how to differentiate between the sublime and the mundane, how to recognize God.”

But they are also likely to overlook an even more important point: the rationality of faith.

Next Page: Why Christianity is based on a reasonable, not baseless, faith.

Rob Schwarzwalder, senior vice president for the Family Research Council and a longtime member of the Evangelical Theological Society, explains the rationality of faith, especially the Christian faith. Schwarzwalder responds to astrophysicist Ethan Siegel, who wrote that “faith, by definition, is the belief in something despite insufficient knowledge to be certain of its veracity.”

Schwarzwalder contends that “faith doesn’t require belief without evidence.” The evidence often isn’t exhaustive, but it is sufficient to lead us to truth.

The contention that the historic person Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, for example, is grounded in reliable accounts from eyewitnesses and persons informed by those who saw a formerly dead man alive. This is a phenomenal assertion, yes, but it’s no less credible for being old (the claim of a resurrected Jesus was made in the early first century). The documentary evidence is sound, and those bearing witness to what they saw made clear they meant what they said. As Jesus’s disciple Peter explained years later, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses” (2 Pet. 1:16).

Schwarzwalder reemphasizes a point Barron also presented: “Something materially unquantifiable is not necessarily false or unsure. Love is a prime example. But no doubt Siegel would say that religious faith, even if its content is true, is nonetheless unverifiable.”

But this is not the case. The evangelical admits that “there was no camera outside the garden tomb filming the resurrection,” but argues that Christianity is “rooted in assertions about events that happened in time and space and were observed, remembered, and recorded in texts asserting their own veracity.”

While it seems incredible to believe a man rose from the dead, “such faith is not fantastic but reasonable,” when based on historical evidence.

None of this is to denigrate science, which is a strong and fairly reliable way of reaching the truth. It just isn’t the the only way of doing so. Schwarzwalder explains that “science is about verifiable fact…at least reasonably verifiable fact. And in that way, science is a bit like Christianity.”

Truth is more than any one branch of knowledge, and scientists like Bill Nye need to acknowledge this. Only then can we really get to a reasonable dialogue about evolution, creation, and the interplay of science and faith.