The term scientism is used to describe the view that natural science has authority over all other interpretations of life, such as philosophical, religious, mythical, spiritual, or humanistic explanations, and over other fields of inquiry, such as the social sciences. The term is used by social scientists like Hayek or Karl Popper to describe what they see as the underlying attitudes and beliefs common to many scientists. They tend to use the term in either of two equally pejorative directions:
- To indicate the improper usage of science or scientific claims. as a counter-argument to appeals to scientific authority in contexts where science might not apply, such as when the topic is perceived to be beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.
- To refer to “the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry,” with a concomitant “elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience”. It thus expresses a position critical of (at least the more extreme expressions of) positivism.
This is the fundamental mistake the New Atheists (and scientific atheists more generally) make. Science becomes a Procrustean bed that is exalted as the standard for any belief to count as true or rational. This ignores the fact that there are wide domains of intellectual inquiry that lie beyond science’s purview – for example, politics, history, philosophy, psychology, theology, and ethics, to name a few.
Science is good and beneficial in its own domain, but in our culture it tends to overstep its boundaries and attempts to force the rest of the academic disciplines to submit to its rule.