Scientism Says "No Lives Matter"
Updated: Apr 28
“There are no natural rights – rights one has just by virtue of being human. To put it crudely, lumps of matter (and that’s all we are) can’t have natural rights just by virtue of their composition...”
“Scientism assures us that no one has any moral rights.”
- Alex Rosenberg
Alex Rosenberg is a philosophy professor at Duke University. He subscribes to a worldview called scientism and, because of it, he is a nihilist. To nihilism, nothing and no one really matters. Therefore, the concept of innate human value, natural rights or moral rights are meaningless. If this is true, those who seek to advance human rights are wasting their time because, to scientism, no lives matter.
What is scientism?
Rosenberg claims that all atheists share scientism as a worldview. Whether that’s true is debatable, but many do. So what is scientism?
According to Alex Rosenberg, scientism says “the methods of science are the only reliable ways to secure knowledge of anything.” It also believes that what science conveys is fundamentally correct. If true, this means science is the only reliable door to knowledge and truth.
It’s important to note that scientism is a philosophy; it’s not science. It actually goes beyond the methods and tools of science. Even many scientists don’t actually agree with it. Ian Hutchinson, a nuclear physicist at MIT, is one of them. He distinguishes science from scientism and actually repudiates scientism as a worldview.
The conclusions required by scientism
Alex Rosenberg says that, because scientism is correct, several conclusions are forced upon us.
> No purpose or meaning – Rosenberg says there is no purpose to the universe, no purpose in nature, and no meaning to life. We don’t even really have purposes and plans for ourselves (they’re illusions) so there is “no reason to go on living.”
> No soul, self or person – Rosenberg says “scientism makes us give up the self.” There is no soul, self or person. Our sense of self is just an illusion because there is no “first person point of view.” And, your consciousness can’t be trusted.
> No free will – Rosenberg believes we have no free will. Your decisions are determined by physics, nature and cause-effect. Therefore, criminals aren’t really culpable for their actions and people who work hard don’t really deserve their paychecks. To scientism, no one deserves anything.
> No real morality – While Rosenberg acknowledges “core” evolved morality, he sees no moral difference between right or wrong. In fact, he says, “Our core morality isn’t true, right, correct, and neither is any other.” And, the reason he gives for being nice is it makes you feel better – not because the other person has worth.
> No rights – Given that scientism dictates a world without meaning, purpose, personhood, or free will. We, like rocks, are just “lumps of matter.” So, Rosenberg says people have no real rights – natural, moral or otherwise.
> Nihilism – To scientism, nothing and no one really matters – things just are. To scientism, there is no such thing as intrinsic value. Therefore, no lives matter.
All of this makes Alex Rosenberg sound like a disconnected uncaring person, but he’s probably not. He seems to take pleasure in life, writes novels, and goes to work every day. His life seems to demonstrate purpose, meaning, personhood, free will, and morality, though he might claim these to be just an illusion.
Is scientism correct? Do human beings not matter?
Science deals with the physical – what can be measured, tested and empirically verified. It is silent on value, purpose, meaning, and morality. Does that mean value doesn’t exist or that we have none?
Great scientists of the past recognized that science is incapable of providing value and making moral judgments.
Science is not the source of our meaning, purpose, value and morality. It is a set of disciplines and tools used by people (who do possess meaning, purpose, value and morality) to learn about the universe and to accomplish objectives.
Science is merely descriptive. It doesn’t tell us anything about what we should do or how we should live. As Albert Einstein observed:
“For science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.”
So, if you want to be valued, don’t look to science or scientism.
What about other “isms” as a source of value?
Since scientism’s inability to value people is so depressing, we might want to look elsewhere for value. Perhaps we can find it in naturalism or humanism.
> Naturalism –Natural selection would suggest that the strongest, smartest and most beautiful have the greatest value. Friedrich Nietzsche, Ernst Haeckel, and a variety of other German philosophers and scientists bought into this idea in the late 1800s. A few decades later, the Nazis did too and murdered about 10 million people to “improve” the human race.
They passed laws that prohibited marriage between races, enslaved millions of people, and executed the mentally ill, gypsies, Jews, Poles and other non-Arian people whom they considered to be inferior. They saw it as helping natural selection to do its job.
Looking to nature as your source of value can be really scary.
> Humanism – After the Nazis were defeated and the horrors of naturalism were exposed, many atheists embraced humanism. Humanism says people have value because people say they do. However, if people can give you value, they can take it away. And, what if the value they give you is less than the value they give to others?
The only way that humanism can grant everyone on earth the same value is if everyone on earth agrees. Yet, for thousands of years, people haven’t. It seems that pride, greed, prejudice, selfishness, rage, lust and other flaws impair humanity’s ability to do so.
It seems that scientism, naturalism and humanism can’t guarantee us value – at least not the kind of value most of us want.
The kind of value we want
The kind of value most people seem to want is simple. We want to be highly, equally, universally and unchangingly valued. And, we want to be valued this way because of our intrinsic worth – not because we had to convince others or file lawsuits until they relented and started treating us well.
We want to be treated as though we have great worth. We don’t want our worth to be less than others. And, we want everyone to treat us this way everywhere and all the time.
Unfortunately, we can’t find this kind of value in scientism, naturalism or humanism. This kind of value can only truly exist if there is one universal, eternal valuer who doesn’t change. This valuer would have to possess the desire, the right, and the ability to grant everyone on earth the incredible value we long for. This kind of valuer could only be God.
Scientism may say “no lives matter,” but that doesn’t make it so. Naturalism says lives matter, but the strongest and fittest matter more than the weak. Humanism may say people matter, but it can’t give us the value we want. The only way we can truly possess value that is high, equal, universal and unchanging is if God exists.
Do you matter? Is your sense of intrinsic worth just an illusion, an opinion or a desire? Or do you actually possess real unchanging worth because a real unchanging God says you do?
About Alex Rosenberg:
Alex Rosenberg earned a PhD in philosophy from Johns Hopkins University. He is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Duke University and was the Chair of the Philosophy Department. He has also taught in the political science and biology departments and has been a visiting professor at several universities. Among them are the University of Minnesota, UC Santa Cruz, the University of Bristol in the UK and the Australian National University. He is the author of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality and two novels.
 Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality (New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2011), 288.  IBID, 296.  IBID, 18.  IBID, 6.  IBID, 6.  Rosenberg evidently holds to strong scientism. Weak scientism says scientific claims about knowledge are more credible than the claims of other disciplines. Strong scientism says only scientific claims about knowledge are credible.  Karl Giberson and Mariano Artigas, Oracles of Science – Celebrity Scientists Versus God and Religion (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2007), 39.  Ian Hutchinson, Monopolizing Knowledge, (Belmont, MA: Fias Publishing, 2011), 1.  Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, 2, 3, 205.  IBID, 165, 205, 280  IBID, 221.  IBID, 147, 221, 223.  IBID, 194, 219.  IBID, 18.  IBID, 195, 292.  IBID, 293 – 295.  IBID, 3, 109.  IBID, 109.  IBID, 3.  IBID, 288, 296.  IBID, 97-98.  Albert Einstein, Out of My Later Years (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1977), 25.  Christianity conveys that God values all people so highly that he entered his creation as a person. God in human flesh (Jesus) then demonstrated how highly he values us by giving his life for us – God values you as highly as he valued his own human life. (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:3-6, 2 Peter 3:9) Copyright 2020 by Patrick Prill.