Questions for non-Christians #9

I’m not the kind of person with whom you’d want to see any film not firmly based on a true story. You would have to endure me repeatedly and loudly whispering, “That would never happen” at every unrealistic scene or plot twist. I wouldn’t be able to help myself. Even as a child watching cartoons I could not fully appreciate the subtle, comic overtones of Wile E. Coyote being suspended in mid-air long enough to look over at the Road Runner smiling at the edge of the cliff. That would never happen, I would think. There’s nothing for him to be standing on. My innate sense of factuality would spoil the fun.

That untenable, unsupportable position the coyote often found himself in because of the road runner’s deft cunning and skill is an apt image that can be applied to a lot of things you hear people say nowadays. So it’s known as the Road Runner tactic and it’s very useful in exposing faulty thinking or self-defeating statements. Get the person to follow his own assertion to where it must lead until he finds himself off the cliff with nothing but prairie wind under his feet.

For example, if someone says, “There’s no such thing as objective truth” you respond with, “Is that objectively true?” If he says yes, he just contradicted himself. If he says no, then he’s acknowledging that his statement carries no weight and is basically meaningless.

Or, “That may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” The person is asserting something they believe to be true, to which the logical response is, “Is that statement true just for you or is it true for everyone?”

These self-defeating claims are commonly held in our relativistic age but there’s another pervasive view being uncritically accepted lately that also can’t meet its own standard, and I’ll present it as question #9 for the non-Christian:

Do you believe the only truths that can be known are those that are empirically testable?

Ever since the widespread embrace of Darwinism, many who doubt or reject the existence of God have found validation of their spiritual skepticism in the claims of science to be sufficient to account for all that is. And some have gone so far as to maintain that knowledge of reality is only attainable through the hard sciences, like biology or chemistry. But read the previous sentence again. Is that truth claim about knowledge of reality one that can be attained through the hard sciences? Is there any kind of experiment providing empirical, observable evidence which could validate it?

No. The truth claim that only the hard sciences give us access to what can legitimately be called knowledge is not one that can be empirically tested. It doesn’t meet its own standard and so is self-defeating. It is actually a philosophical statement, but philosophy is not an empirically testable discipline.

This unsupportable, self-defeating, philosophical view is known as scientism and it has been very influential in undermining religious viewpoints like Christianity. On college and university campuses in particular, young people are being indoctrinated in unscientific scientism and taught to consider suspect or outright reject any truth claim unsubstantiated by verifiable, natural evidence. This has contributed to major shifts in our culture away from reliance on moral and spiritual truths to whatever works for you, and we are reaping the rotting fruit of a belief system disconnected from the root of transcendent reality.

Philosopher J. P. Moreland exposes in detail the harmful effects of scientism on our culture in his book Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology, and I highly recommend it. Just to be clear, exposing and opposing scientism is not an attack on science itself. The hard sciences are no threat to theism nor Christianity. But embracing the self-defeating substrate of scientism is a threat to all disciplines claiming a valid route to acquiring knowledge…including science.