“What of the ‘why’ of the world? Of course the question has no scientific answer. It is the question beyond science, the question left over when all of science has been written down. It is a philosophical question.”—Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy.
Recently I have been exploring the phenomenon of “scientism”, a concept suggested by the quote above. There are several suitable definitions, but one by Kierkegaard is about as short and precise as it gets: “the inability of the mind in its thinking to rise above the absolute reality of time and space”. Two books have greatly expanded the issue for me. One is Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs, by Leon Kass, who served as George W. Bush’s Chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, and the other is The Restitution of Man: C. S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism, by Michael D. Aeschliman.
President Obama has said that he wants to “restore science to its rightful place”. We should agree that science certainly has a rightful place, although I am not sure that he and I would agree on exactly what that role should be. These two books explore that role, how it has been distorted by scientism, how it should relate to its counterpart in human knowledge, which Lewis calls sapientia, or metaphysical wisdom, and how to achieve a restoration of proper balance between science and philosophy.