Avoiding the Pitfalls of Empiricism
Learn how this 17th century scientific philosophy is still leading people astray and affecting the political discourse of today.
In the Mystery corner of the Ask Finnian website we generally try to provide articles which offer insight into how the world works as we explore some of the greatest mysteries of creation. However, today we’ll be looking at the very nature of science itself! Recently, many people have become confused regarding the relationship between scientific mysteries and moral convictions.
Most modern intellectuals consider scientific facts to be completely objective. The mysteries of physics, geology, biology, and other scientific disciplines can be tested and deemed to be either true or false based on observable research. It doesn’t matter if a particular scientist doesn’t happen to like the idea that the earth revolves around the sun; scientific facts such as the heliocentric theory are objectively true or false regardless of an individual’s personal preferences.
This view of scientific research is all well and good; the danger arises when people people become confused regarding the difference between scientific truth and moral truth. In her book Saving Leonardo, Nancy Pearcey describes what happens when issues of morality become viewed as subjective and defined by personal preference. According to Pearcey, the elevation of scientific knowledge at the expense of moral truth is the result of a form of thinking known as empiricism. Following the scientific revolution, “many thinkers were so impressed by its achievements that they elevated empirical science to the sole source of truth. Empiricism is the doctrine that all knowledge is derived from the senses–what we see, hear, hold, weigh, and measure. Obviously, moral truths cannot be stuffed into a test tube or studied under a microscope. As a result, moral statements were no longer considered truths at all, but merely expressions of emotion” (Pearcey, 24).
Why does this view pose such a threat to our culture? Pearcey goes on to demonstrate how this strict separation between scientific facts and moral values is used to justify a relativist stance on a number of important social issues, including marriage and abortion. For example, pro-choice activists are eager to claim that although human life may biologically begin at conception, a fetus does not achieve the status of “personhood” until it has further developed. Predictably, the secular definition of what constitutes a “person” in this moral sense is disturbingly subjective. When the very concept of what it means to be a person becomes disconnected from any objective biological standard, the rights of unborn children become determined by one’s own individual preferences rather than moral standards based upon scientific facts.
As Christians, we must make sure we are aware of how the empirical worldview is operating in our society to undermine the reality of objective moral truths. In Pearcey’s words, we must “emancipate people’s minds from the debilitating fact/value dualism” created by an over-reliance on scientific empiricism (45). Only then will people be prepared to accept the Bible not as a collection of helpful moral insights, but as the factual account of a fallen creation and subsequent redemption, rooted in the historical actions of Jesus Christ.
The above article was written using information from the following sources:
Pearcey, Nancy. Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010. Print.
Saving Leonardo, 2010 Nancy Pearcey
Award-winning author Nancy Pearcey (Total Truth) has given to Christianity what may be the most important book of the century. Studied under Francis Schaeffer, Nancy has masterfully uncovered the worldviews of the past thousand years and exposed how they are still very much alive today, and how they have infiltrated and permeated our Christian culture. Every parent and serious Christian must read this book! Other than the Bible, I would place this book as the most important book to read this year. This is a book that should be required reading for every high school and college student. “What you don’t know will lead to ruin.” Mark Hamby