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True science is a great thing, for it honors God’s gifts to us, not the least of which is the intellect. Bill Nye and the Marchers for Science, however, are not really promoting science, but a utopian political ideology…

In a public spectacle reminiscent of an episode of The Twilight Zone, on this past “Earth Day” there was a massive March for Science in Washington D.C. featuring Bill Nye “the Science Guy.” As reported in the Washington Post, the “moment he emerged onstage in a black jacket and red bow tie, the crowd noise hit near-deafening decibels. A sea of iPhones appeared, everyone stretching and jostling for the best possible photo angle. They cupped their hands to their mouths, screaming his name.”* This scene brings to mind an image of a futuristic rendition of Lord of the Flies. Indeed, Mr. Nye has become a demagogue for the rising generation of techies devoted to the worship of science.  It would be comical if they weren’t serious. It might still be comical if material reductionism didn’t already have a domineering stranglehold on our universities and public discourse.

Ideological enslavement to material reductionism is the unifying principle of the multitude who came out in droves at the March for Science (held in Washington and some 600 other cities across the world ). They came out because they have been taught well by an educational system steeped in scientific reductionism. After we had been duped into believing that something like education ought to be “data driven” instead of principle-driven, how long could it have been before this terrible ideology was equally misapplied to our sensational media outlets, our courts, our politics, and most devastating of all, our public morals?

Education is the soul and formal cause of a nation; as our education goes, so goes our nation. As the material sciences gained hegemony in the Western academy, wisdom gave way to knowledge, and knowledge then gave way to information, as character gave way to rationalism, and rationalism then gave way to sentimentalism.

Those who marched aren’t marching for science: They are marching for a political ideology grounded in material reductionism. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world came out to march for this fainthearted cause. Why? Bill Nye explains: “We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and prosperity.” The emptiness of this declaration is lost on this newly-amassed army of ideologues.

This crowd is the offspring of the generation C.S. Lewis characterized as intellectually and morally castrated “geldings.” Their slogans are about “health and prosperity,” but both of these concepts are emptied of their real worth if they are reduced solely to their material constituent parts. Medical technology has been miraculously aided by the material sciences, but real health includes intellectual and moral health. We are the richest country in history—or at least we were—but true prosperity follows moral and intellectual integrity by the acquisition of virtue and the expulsion of vice, not by the accumulation of terabytes of data interpreted by “experts.”

A look at the March for Science goals is instructive. Their stated aim is to “contact our elected official, support science institutions in our communities, and hold our leaders in society and science accountable to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and fairness. And we work to bring science and the benefits of scientific research to those who need it most.”

Following this stated intention is a list of equally vague and unintelligible, if not outright inapplicable, desires. At the top of their list is “sustaining and strengthening scientific integrity.” Clearly, it is lost on them that integrity in science is found in a place most odious to the modern scientist: the philosophical integrity that undergirds empirical science itself. Philosophical first principles ground good science in truth, not the other way around. However, it might be quite amusing to ask the science people themselves what they mean by this abstruse statement.

Next, these aspiring societal architects suggest that we use “the best available science to make policy and regulatory decisions.” This is what we have been doing in the public schools, and the results have been devastating. In 1983, the Department of Education published the report “A Nation at Risk,” and in it they stated that America’s sworn enemy could do no more to destroy us than to foist upon us our current system of public education. I imagine that our sworn enemies would be very grateful if we focused exclusively on the material sciences to make policy, for the more we rely solely on “science” the sooner we will buckle under the increasing weight of our own hubris and error.

Flourishing and prosperous nations use philosophical principles of truth flowing from the philosophical anthropology to make policy and regulatory decisions. If our policy is not grounded in virtue, which it cannot be if science is our guide, then it will fail as quickly as it was dreamt up. There is no doubt that scientific data could play a supporting role in informing the nuances of principled decisions, but to use empirical evidence as the primary means of forming policy is dehumanizing at the least.

We also discover the science marchers’ stated desire to facilitate “open communication and collaboration between scientists and the broader public.” One of the attributes of ideological scientism is the desire to jargonize the field in order to heighten the value of the “expert.” Classrooms, airwaves, and public discourse are already over-saturated with jargonized scientific communications and collaborations with the “experts” in the white coats. It is nearly impermissible to speak of the philosophical anthropology or the natural law without derision. To facilitate even more communication and collaboration really means to indoctrinate in jargon, and this ushers us headlong into the dystopia of the Brave New World, a soft rendition of which we are already enduring.

Next, they encourage “scientists to take an active role in public life and policy.” Like any political underclass seen through the darkened lenses of the material dialectic, these people pretend they are oppressed, but by whom? The “cis-heteropatriarchal” Founding Fathers? Hardly a remnant of the moral capital amassed by our forbearers remains. The real oppressor is the material, reductionist, independent-minded herd dictating public policy for generations now. Clearly, the March for Science crowd is overreacting to what they perceive as offenses against their scientific agenda by a “rogue” president—which is highly ironic, given that President Trump is certainly no religious fundamentalist.

The Marchers for Science claim that they want to create “an environment that fosters a vibrant and diverse international scientific community.” Man long ago pronounced himself the measure of all things, and this is the first principle of materialism. Now he fancies himself the Creator and wills to create this vibrant and diverse international scientific community. This is a dreadful aspiration, but an increasingly prominent endeavor since Bacon exhorted us to conquer nature by applied science. Nature is the thing with which man ought to cooperate… not conquer.

We ought to yearn to cultivate a vibrant cultural community, not centered on empirical science, but on the norms and values discovered by the objective truth, which flows out of the natural law and has been recorded and bequeathed to us by tradition. Only respect for an authentic education has the potential to lead our communities to flourish in the arts and the sciences. The vibrant scientific community for which they are calling, and despite its calls for diversity, excludes the liberal and fine arts. These would-be Creators have decreed that there is no survival value to the arts, and therefore that this is not the kind of diversity they desire in their international community. And yet, without the liberal and fine arts, there is less value to survival.

Lastly, these marching purveyors of utopia clamor to build a “capacity for science education that draws on the best-available knowledge and instructs students in scientific practices.” Here they completely saw off the branch on which they are sitting. The tree of education is rooted in the liberal arts known as the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The trunk of the tree is made up of the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The matrix of all learning, the earth and sky of an education, is theology. The soil out of which all learning grows is philosophy. Although the sciences are important, they are merely the branches sustained and nourished by the liberal arts whose nutrients are communicated by the soil of the intellect. The roots and trunk are essential to an authentic education, and the branches are specializations not intended for general audiences, but those special folks suited for such pursuits.

Never before have so many clamored for the authoritarian dystopia of material reductionism. The trends suggest that more and more will join in a March for Science the further we get from the sources of real truth. The Marchers for Science, with the delusional fervor of a cult, claim that “united as one movement, and with the support of our leaders, we can take a step forward into a future where science can do its job; protecting and serving the health of our communities, the safety of our families, the education of our children, the foundation of our economy, the freedom of our imaginations and the future we all want to live in and preserve for coming generations.”

This statement is monstrously dehumanizing, for it is not science that protects the health of communities, but human doctors. Science doesn’t keep families safe; men do. Science doesn’t educate children; teachers do, not with scientific techniques but with philosophical principles of truth conveyed by the liberal arts. Science is not the foundation of our economy, but sound principles of the household law grounded in natural law. Science doesn’t free an imagination; it imprisons it if science becomes a tyrant that cuts man off from the immaterial realm of the intellect and soul. Science truly has a job to do, but that job is servant, not master.

The March for Science is not really about science, but a utopian political ideology. It is, in essence, a “March for Pseudo-Science,” which is to say, science untethered from its proper guiding principles. Science has its etymological roots in the word which means “to know.” True science is a great thing, for it honors God’s gifts to us, not the least of which is the intellect. As John Henry Newman said, philosophy is the “science of sciences.” It ought to be the lens through which we see and order all the other sciences. We must recover the right order of things and return the empirical sciences to their proper place, subordinated to philosophy and the moral law, before it’s too late. The ideology propagated by the March for Science does not lead to health or prosperity, but further sickens and impoverishes our great nation.

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*Gibson, Caitlin “The March for Science Was a Moment Made for Bill Nye.” The Washington Post (April 23, 2017)

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Published: May 9, 2017
Author
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and holds a degree in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. A school teacher, he is also a writer and speaker on matters of faith, culture, and education. Mr. Rummelsburg is a member of the Teacher Advisory Board and writer of curriculum at the Sophia Institute for Teachers, a contributor to the Integrated Catholic Life, Crisis Magazine, The Civilized Reader, The Standard Bearers, Catholic Exchange, and a founding member of the Brinklings Literary Club.
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6 replies to this post
  1. Irving Babbitt, Christopher Dawson, C.S. Lewis, and many others have warned for decades of things being in the saddle and riding mankind, as Emerson wrote, and only a Christian humanism can put the human race back into its proper place. These marchers need to sit down and read Stanley Jaki’s The Road of Science and the Ways to God and gain a better perspective of just what is the foundation of the science they extol.

  2. The marchers don’t strike me that much as material reductionists. They do ostensibly take the Lamettrian view of man as machine-like matter in motion, with a rejection of the possibility of theological and divine knowledge. But they employ this very selectively, usually in arguing for secularism. They react with bitter hostility to sociobiological determinism, even though it’s a logical implication of such a view. Hence, there’s a strain of subjectivist idealism involved when it comes to discussing political and civil affairs, overriding the materialist aspects.

    The devotion to Science with a capital ‘S’ is part of their devotion to the pseudohistorical conflict thesis about modern rational society being a revolt against supposedly barbaric medieval superstition.

    • This is an interesting response and I very much appreciate it- it must not be so monolithic as I suggest above, but the thing those who support this movement have in common is that they find empirical “science” to be the highest way of knowing so as to be engaged to some degree in the fallacy of scientism. I am sure each individual has a unique combination of fetid influences coming from such sources as family of origin steeped in the errors of modern education, the scientistic propaganda of the media, the corrupt and bankrupt rhetoric of our anti-statesman politicians and many other places. This march for science is the default position for the lukewarm and the idle of mind. It is sad and striking that these folks who hold this position are from all walks of life.

  3. I stumbled into the March for Science in Boston and was half-amused and half-annoyed by the “forget politics – support science!” and “Impeach now!” signs side-by-side (also: without science, there is no civilization!). Science, to many of my friends, has come to represent the totality of reason-based critical thought and truth, especially with the popular revival of logical positivism (while religion represents blind belief and irrational sentiment). Unfortunately, they fail to realize that all these assumptions are really philosophical in nature and increasingly find no justification in the modern conception of the universe. Thank you for the thoughtful article.

  4. A good read with thoughtful comments.

    It’s hard not to see just another Balthasar-Voegelin described gnostic promise of salvation belief system, bowing to the altars of scientism with this sect.

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