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Further Reading


Organized Scientism

The American Association for the Advancement of Science

by Terrell Clemmons

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 35


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the largest scientific society in the United States. It was founded in 1848 as a professional organization of scientists and engineers. After World War II, it expanded its purview to encompass "the advancement of science and the relations between science and society." In the 1960s, it expanded yet wider to include "activism . . . on social issues such as racial justice, the environment, and the war in Vietnam." And in 1995, it extended its reach further still with a program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER), established "to facilitate communication between scientific and religious communities."

AAAS also publishes several periodicals, including the well-known Science magazine, one of the top scientific journals in the world, and it endorses certain political agendas, such as man-made climate change and Darwin-only science education.

Reason for Surveillance

AAAS holds the potential to foster thoughtful, open dialogue. In 2011, DoSER's Holiday Lecture featured two physicists' responses to the question, "Can science explain everything?" Dr. Ian Hutchinson of MIT answered No, and made a reasoned distinction between rigorous science and speculative scientism, which he called "a ghastly intellectual mistake." Dr. Lisa Randall of Harvard University, on the other hand, said, We don't know. What she did know, however was that "there is a problem with believing in a god who exists outside the human mind, as it conflicts with a proper scientific understanding of the universe." Or, in short, "Believing in an external deity is an unscientific way of thinking."

Unfortunately, AAAS thought is demonstrably more closed than open, and Dr. Randall's summation fairly well captures it. She doesn't know the extent of what science explains, but she does know how much it should be properly allowed to explain. It should be constrained to the confines of philosophical materialism. And a survey of AAAS activity confirms that AAAS consistently advances this materialistic worldview (and scientism, Dr. Hutchinson's refreshing talk notwithstanding) to the exclusion of other viewpoints. This is especially discernible in AAAS press releases concerning intelligent design theory (ID), issued as if they were edicts from on high.

When boards of education across the country considered exposing students to scientific evidence critical of Darwin's theory alongside evidence that supports it (which is the scientific way of thinking, right?), AAAS issued a statement declaring that the "ID movement has failed to offer credible scientific evidence to support their claim." AAAS furthermore called upon AAAS members "to understand . . . the inappropriateness of 'intelligent design theory' as subject matter for science education" and encouraged its affiliated societies "to endorse this resolution." Affiliated societies dutifully obeyed, and the message presented to the public was that the scientific community has rejected ID on scientific grounds.

But the scientific community did not reject ID on scientific grounds. Discovery Institute senior fellow John G. West wrote to AAAS's CEO and other board members asking them what specific books or articles by ID theorists they had read before adopting their resolution. No one named a single specific resource. "In other words," West justifiably concluded, "it appears that board members voted to brand intelligent design as unscientific without actually reading for themselves the academic books and articles by scientists proposing the theory."

They rejected the theory without looking at its arguments. And they don't want you to look at its arguments, either. Because materialism, ghastly intellectual mistake or not, is the proper scientific understanding of the universe. So has it been ordained by AAAS.

Most Imperialistic Reach

AAAS, and DoSER in particular, wax stirringly about fostering dialogue between science and religion, about the "perceptions" each holds of the other, and about "the public understanding of science." According to its website, AAAS's mission is to "advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people." Certainly that's a laudable goal, but by what authority do AAAS scientists and engineers deign to determine what is best for all people when it comes to such extra-materialistic realms as racial justice, public policy, and the "understanding" of science itself? To borrow an old wives' phrase, the AAAS has gotten a bit too big for its britches. This is especially true with respect to DoSER.

In 2013, the organization launched Science for Seminaries, a program aimed at equipping religious leaders with "a solid scientific foundation" from which to answer congregants' questions about science. Through Science for Seminaries, AAAS will provide funding for faculty, resources, campus-wide events, and guest speakers and will recruit local science advisors and mentors to insert science into core theological courses. Ten seminaries, a mix of mainline Protestant, conservative Protestant, and Catholic/Orthodox, are participating in the pilot.

The question faithful theists should be asking is, What is meant by "a solid scientific foundation"? And if "a solid scientific foundation" effectively means presupposing the materialist worldview—the one that holds that believing in a god who exists outside the human mind is not a proper understanding of the universe—what place does it occupy in core theological courses? How will that mesh with the mission of the seminary? And what purpose will it serve with respect to students and their future congregants? 

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