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The Avengers, Scientism, and an Attack On Our World

Last week, millions of people worldwide enjoyed the blue-ray release of the movie Avengers: Endgame, and like almost every other movie, there existed an underlying philosophy beyond the storyline. I saw Endgame with my children, and immediately after the movie, we sat down to talk about the message that it presented.

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Spoiler Alert: The clear storyline of the movie is good overcoming evil through unity and the combining of individual powers into an overwhelming force. The greatest evil/villain is named Thanos—complete with his hoard of skeletons and a death squad, and the unified good are the Avengers, who consist of a group of people and gods who have come together to defeat evil and to restore life to the universe.

But the storyline deserves a closer look. As the movie develops, it becomes more apparent that there is a humanistic message behind the plot, and the worldview becomes most evident during the closing scenes. Looking back through the many Avengers’ movies, the message has been there all along.

The series of recent movies are centered around Thanos, who is the bigger than life villain trying to gain total power by accumulating stones from around the universe from which to wipe out half of the world’s living. But in Avengers: Endgame, Thanos declares that he will wipe out everyone and restart with newly created life in the universe.

In the final fight scenes of the movie, different Avengers take turns and work together in an attempt to take down and destroy Thanos. But the result is always a failure, and even the mighty Thor—the god of thunder—and Captain Marvel fail to defeat Thanos. However, a group of humans arises to the occasion—even possessing the power of gods and being declared worthy by them—to destroy the villain ultimately.

Captain America, Bruce Banner (Hulk), and Iron Man play critical roles in Thanos’ defeat, but all the Avengers must trust the providential plan of another human: Dr. Strange. Strange is a medical man who wields time, dimensions, and knowledge. In Avengers: Infinity War, viewers discover that Dr. Strange is omniscient and able to see all possible outcomes in the future, and at that moment he finds the one way in which humanity can be saved from Thanos.

Throughout the movie, Iron Man—who is an accomplished and highly revered scientist, questions Dr. Strange’s plan. But there is a significant point in the film where Dr. Strange looks at Iron Man and signals with his finger the number 1 as if to communicate that there is one plan that must be carried out to defeat Thanos, and it is now ready to be fulfilled. One might consider, however, that Dr. Strange was telling Iron Man that he was the chosen one predestined to defeat Thanos and bring those who had died back to life.

As Iron Man trusts in Dr. Strange’s plan, he is able to outsmart Thanos by using the creations of his own hands. Eventually, Iron Man (Tony Starks) defeats Thanos by sacrificially giving his life to save the life of all others in the universe.  In a nod to the Genesis account of God’s making man out of the dust of the ground, Thanos and all evil return to dust and blow away. Iron Man, the great scientist, had laid down his life for his friends.

It might be helpful also to learn that Thanos is a derivation of the Greek word for death or mortality: Thanatos. In the movie, there are several “I am” statements that are also significant. Three times in the film, Thanos is heard declaring that he is “inevitable.” In essence, he was sending the message that death is inevitable. But Iron Man, who is the Christ-type and who sacrificially offers his life to save the world, responds by saying his own “I am” statement: “I am Iron Man.” In a snap of his fingers and at the expense of his own life, Iron Man defeats Thano, and all evil, death, and war fade away.

Faith in Scientism

The humanistic moral of the story: Though the gods cannot save us from death and evil, science and medicine can; we must trust the medical man and allow science to deliver us from evil. This belief system is what is commonly known as scientism, and it is a dominant false religion that is overtaking many people in the church today. Many who claim to be Christians have chosen to prefer thus sayeth science over thus sayeth the Lord, and just as destructive, many Christians believe that God’s special revelation found in His Word and His general revelation found in nature (science) are antithetical.

For example, Marty Sampson, lead singer for the group Hillsong, recently denounced his faith in Christ for trust in science. He is quoted as saying,

I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.

Such a philosophical setup poses God against science. One or the other will save us, but these truths allegedly cannot coexist. This worldview has become the false mainstream thinking not merely in society but also in our churches. Instead of realizing that the natural world was created for us to both enjoy and utilize in the worship of the Creator God, many Christians have accepted the false notion that we must either view science as evil or view it as our savior.

It is crucial, therefore, that we come to realize that science is itself a construct that attempts to study and explain the natural world. Stated differently, “science” (the process of observation, measurement, and repetition) is foundationally a cultural belief system imposed upon the natural world. The natural world is objective, but no human can approach creation without a presuppositional faith/worldview. Acclaimed Harvard evolutionary geneticist Richard Lewontin explains,

We think science is objective. Science has brought us all kinds of good things…. At the same time, science, like other productive activities, like the state, the family, sport, is a social institution completely integrated into and influenced by the structure of all our other social institutions. The problems that science deals with, the ideas that it uses in investigating those problems, even the so-called scientific results that come out of scientific investigation, are all deeply influenced by predispositions that derive from the society in which we live. Scientists do not begin life as scientists, after all, but as social beings immersed in a family, a state, a productive structure, and they view nature through a lens that has been molded by their social experience (emphasis added).

Scientists are made through education, and education is a moral and communal endeavor. Atheist scientist Wilhelm Wundt, considered by most historians to be the “father of modern psychology and experimental psychology,” confirms this reality in his book, System der Philosophie: All psychological investigation extrapolates from metaphysical (spiritual) presuppositions.” One cannot approach “science” (even what is considered to be science is subjective) without a presuppositional belief system—a worldview. To claim that psychology and psychiatry are scientific fields as Wundt did, does not nullify the reality that presuppositional faith underlies psychology and psychiatry.

But Scripture establishes the universal truth that the natural world can only be approached through a metaphysical or philosophical system. Hebrews 11:3 states, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” To deny God as Creator does not dismiss the reality that faith is still required to approach observable things. Instead, it merely replaces the underlying faith. Believing in science—scientism—is believing in a presuppositional faith whether or not that faith is disclosed.

The Failure of Scientism

In one of my favorite movies, Nacho Libre (don’t judge me), a character named Escaleto responds to the question of whether or not he believes in a god, by stating, “I believe in science.” While scientism might seem like a failproof religion, it is actually one of the most disappointing and destructive faiths. Allen Frances, who was considered to be the most influential psychiatrist at the turn of this century explains how scientific conclusions cannot be trusted as immutable truth:

What seem now to be fanciful myths were once the best science of the time, and our current best science will itself in the not-too-distant future be seen as no more than fanciful myth.

Psychiatrist Z. J. Lipowski comments similarly in a psychiatric journal,

The words ‘science’ and ‘scientific,’ which we all revere and freely use to endorse our pet beliefs, are ambiguous and have at times been used to sanction man’s inhumanity to man.”

A recent article in Medscape Psychiatry notes how research and conclusions can and will be “spun” in favor of one’s faith:

More than half of clinical trial abstracts published in top psychiatry and psychology journals that were negative for the primary outcome exaggerated the clinical significance of a particular treatment, according to a new analysis. If doctors are being misled by researchers, it could lead to changes in their clinical practice that are scientifically unfounded and, maybe, a decline in patient care,” said Jellison.

Spin was defined by the investigators as the “use of specific reporting strategies, from whatever motive, to highlight that the experimental treatment is beneficial, despite a statistically nonsignificant difference for the primary outcome, or to distract the reader from statistically nonsignificant results.

Dr. Books later asserts, “Guild interests refer to the fact that any medical/scientific specialty group is vulnerable to implicit bias.” Cosgrove said, “It is part of the human condition to have implicit biases — and be blissfully unaware of them.”

Other psychiatrists, such as biomedical researcher and director of translational medicine-neuroscience at Novartis Institutes (the second-largest pharmaceutical company in the world) Nassir Ghaemi, describe well the scientism that sustains the biomedical model of mental illness:

By diagnosing patients within the DSM strictures only, we practice non-scientifically; we use hundreds of made-up labels for professional purposes, without really getting at the reality of what is wrong with the patient. Sometimes those patients have diseases; we don’t know what they are. Sometimes they don’t have diseases; we don’t know when that is. And, because the whole process is “pragmatic” and made-up, we make no gradual progress in identifying when diseases are present, and when they are not, and what the causes of those diseases (or non-disease conditions) might be (emphasis added).

Nassir Ghaemi is a power player in the scientific community and especially in the pharmaceutical industry, and yet, he admits that what is claimed to be science in mental health is fundamentally a pragmatic belief system. What we call science—especially when it comes to the human mind/psyche—is foundationally a belief system and not objective fact.

Scientism is not Valid

Fundamentally, humanists are those who desire to esteem humanity above God, and science seems to be the best means of accomplishing this end. But what empirical evidence exists to trust in science? Should not scientists hold their own beliefs in scientism to the same rigid requirements of validity and reliability? Biblical apologist John Haught remarks,

If faith in God requires independent scientific confirmation, what about the colossal faith our new atheists’ place in science itself? Exactly what are the independent scientific experiments, we might ask, that could provide ‘evidence’ for the hypothesis that all true knowledge must be based on the paradigm of scientific inquiry? If faith requires independent confirmation, what is the independent (nonfaith) method of demonstrating that their own faith in the all-encompassing cognitional scope of science is reasonable? If science itself is the only way to provide such independent assessment, then the quest for proper validation only moves the justification process in the direction of an infinite regress.

While it appears that materialism is science-driven, it is, in truth, a belief system of circular reasoning; it is an attempt to dismiss necessary faith in God and place faith in man’s wisdom to explain and remedy human nature. Essentially, scientists have become the new omniscient and omnipotent savior that we are to place our trust in without any empirical evidence to justify the theory.

Dr. Lewontin expounds further on why humanists must fully commit the underlying faith that secular science—including the construct of mental illness—is built upon:

It is not that the methods of and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence (presuppositional faith) to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door (emphasis added).

Materialism (the belief that we are only physical beings and our spiritual nature only exists as an effect of our physical nature), is a fundamental philosophy underlying the vast majority of “science” produced in the field of mental health. Secularists have placed their faith in the hope that science and not God, in the end, will deliver humanity from death, impairment, disease, social injustice, violence, distress, and even God himself:

Some of the wonder-workers and their disciples see even beyond the major causes of death and disease. They have an image of social peace and order emerging from the DNA data bank at the National Institutes of Health. The editor of the most prestigious general American scientific journal, Science, and energetic publicist for large DNA sequencing projects, in special issues of his journal filled with full-page multicolored advertisements from biotechnology equipment manufacturers, has visions of genes for alcoholism, unemployment, domestic and social violence, and drug addiction. What we had previously imagined to be messy moral, political, and economic issues turn out, after all, to be simply a matter of an occasional nucleotide substitution. While the notion that the war on drugs will be won by genetic engineering belongs to Cloud Cuckoo Land, it is a manifestation of a serious ideology that is continuous with the eugenics of an earlier time.

When Christians hear the claims of science, they should realize that an underlying faith has formed those conclusions. Scientism is a religion and not an objective amoral field it is often pretended to be.

Practical Applications

So what are our practical applications?

  1. God and the natural world (“science”) are not in conflict. Secular beliefs that draw conclusions about the natural world, which are based upon a secular faith, are in conflict to God’s grace. Throughout Scripture, men and women of God both studied God’s natural world and drew conclusions based upon empirical evidence. But these conclusions were always based on divine truth and promoted intimacy with God. Romans 1 explains this process well, and King David was a man that constantly observed nature to know God more fully and worship Him in truth.
  2. The things which can be observed should always be filtered through the things which are not (Hebrews 11:3). We must base our decisions and faith in God’s Word and not on fallible conclusions based upon a faith that seeks to oppose God. “scientific conclusions” are never neutral, objective findings, and are always based upon presuppositional beliefs.
  3. God’s conclusions are immutable, reliable, and validated, whereas human conclusions about the natural world are fallible and untrustworthy. If we are continually trusting in the FDA to tell us what to eat, for example, we will be changing our diets every two years or so, and the diets we had previously could be shown through “scientific research” to be destructive rather than healthy. We are all trusting in something as we make decisions in life.
  4. Ignorance may be blissful to some, but we are to go to the natural world and view it through the lens of Scripture. Proverbs 6:6, for example, says, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” The result of pondering the natural world as God intends is that we walk away understanding spiritual truths that can provide us with wisdom and encourage us to explore God’s supernatural revelation. These mindsets are lessons that we must teach our children too. Seeing God in His creation and His divine Word should not be viewed as separate exercises. Whereas secularists might go into nature to worship the creation, Christians should be those who go into God’s created order to worship the Creator and to grow in His wisdom.
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