Scientism: a killer meme

Lloyd Robertson (
Thu, 08 Apr 1999 10:32:59 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 08 Apr 1999 10:32:59 -0600
From: Lloyd Robertson <>
Subject: Scientism: a killer meme
In-Reply-To: <>

No Chris, I am not interested in searching the web for sites on scientism.
I am interested in your definition because I am attempting to maintain a
communication with you and so I am particularly interested in your use of
the term. Thank you for your clarification (below).

My definition of the terms religion, quasi-religion and ideology includes
the concept of a collection of mutually attractive memes, representing a
coherent belief system and/or world view, that is transmitted thru some
form of replication to target populations. For example, you have
transmitted, partially, such a set of beliefs on this listserver based on
Zen Buddhism. Assuming that there are others that share the basic precepts
to which you subscribe, even if I had no previous experience with the
topic, I would have concluded that Zen is a religion, quasi-religion or

You used the term "scientism" to refer to those scientists and technicians
whom you describe as "mediocre" who use science to dismiss topics on which
they should, in your opinion, be more open minded (examples you gave
included parapsychology, homeopathy, astrology and telepathy). In short,
"scientism", by your use of the term, is not a quasi-religion or ideology
at all, it is simply a term you apply to people who, in your opinion,
misapply science. Under your definition the Roman Catholic Church could
have accused Galileo of "scientism".

My conclusion (always tentative, conditional on new evidence) is that your
use of the term "scientism" is similar to the Christian use of the term
"demonic". It is a killer meme designed to destroy external memes that
challenge basic precepts of a particluar kind of meme-complex called
religion. I wonder if this is why so many scientists are atheists?


(nothing new below)

At 10:22 PM 07/04/99 +0100, Chris Lees wrote:
>> On a related matter, I hope you bear with me, Chris, and explain to me more
>> about scientism as a "quasi-religion or ideology". I once discussed
>> Darwinian evolution with a local fundamentalist Christian and he accused me
>> of this thing called "scientism". I took it to mean that in his view
>> science was just another religion and I could choose to believe in science
>> or I could believe in Christ. So I reacted, perhaps hastily, when you used
>> the term on an earlier post.
>Oh dear. Well, I'm sure if you do a web search, you'll find far more eloquent
>accounts of 'scientism' than I can provide. I see Christian Fundamentalists
>in much the same light as R. Dawkins does. I don't like nationalism, nor
>fundamentalism, of any sort. And I don't like scientism either.
>> Is the belief that the scientific method produces results a
>> "quasi-religious" belief? Are there scientists who believe that thru their
>> science they have found all of the answers to those metaphysical questions
>> they have defined as essential? Is there a scientific dogma that must be
>> accepted on faith? Are people who descibe themselves as scientists or
>> supporters of science distinctive in terms of worship, rituals, dress,
>> etc.? Or are you talking about some pseudo-scientific beliefs such as those
>> that inspired the "Christian Science" sect?
>I thought I made it clear, I see a clear distinction between science, as
>exemplified by it's best practitioners, (e.g. Darwin, Faraday, Einstein,
>and scientism, which is something else. The latter tends to be a mind set
>of mediocre technicians, with a worldview deriving from Comte, Logical
>Positivism, a mechanistic universe, bla,bla, which is arrogant, dogmatic,
>and narrow-minded. It dismisses anything which does not fit neatly into
>its outdated paradigm, as being 'impossible', and considers all other world
>views as obsolete and inferior. For example, any mention of parapsychology
>or homeopathy or astrology draws sneers and derision. As if 'science' has
>already explained everything,and anybody interested in these subjects must
>be mentally impaired. That kind of blinkered outlook, I call scientism.
>True science, I consider to be based upon an attitude of wonder and awe,
>at the amazing complexity, weirdness, magnificence, of the universe and
>all it contains, no aspects are without interest, we are constantly
>I made somewhat unfair ad hominem remarks directed at Jake, re scientism,
>because I get annoyed when people attack other people's work when they
>haven't even bothered to read it. Another good example is telepathy. There
>are plenty of so called scientists who are incapable of conducting any kind
>of conversation on that topic, they get so enraged by the word. But the fact
>is, clear and unambiguous, that telepathic communication has been proven,
>by highly qualified responsible hard-headed physicists. Anybody can read
>the research papers, and perform a repeat experiment if they so wish. So
>why is it that some scientists get in such a sweat ? why do they feel so
>threatened ? why are they so bigotted in their attitude ? That's what I mean
>by scientism.
>As it happens, by the way, I'm not particularly interested in New Agey occult
>weirdness, dowsing, astrology, etc,etc. and I detest those who exploit
>gullibility, with lies and half truths. My attitude toward organised
>religion is probably the same as that of most on this list.
>This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
>Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
>For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)