All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight....But there is genuine science in this Aristotelian tradition, and then there is a kind of banal and vacuous scientism that looks to materialism as such, or empiricism as such, or reductionism as such, not so much as a tool for the discovery of knowledge but as a psychological crutch to be used both for the support of one's own impoverished worldview and for the whacking of one's intellectual opponents on the head.
It is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize; they wondered originally at the obvious difficulties, then advanced little by little and stated difficulties about the greater matters, e.g. about the phenomena of the moon and those of the sun and of the stars, and about the genesis of the universe. And a man who is puzzled and wonders thinks himself ignorant; therefore since they philosophized in order to escape from ignorance, evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end. And this is confirmed by the facts; for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another's, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.
This latter phenomenon is something that we find in such writers as Neil Mackay, the yob who is being kept off the streets by being asked to write for the Sunday Herald of Scotland. Here is an example of the sorts of things that an "intellect" such as his is capable of producing. You can read more about his stuff here--the man is obviously something of a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but even so, reading his stuff makes me feel much better than I used to about the comparative values of an American as opposed to an English education, since very few, if any, of my own students are capable of lowering themselves into the belly of incoherence to quite that extent. Steve at Speculative Catholic does an excellent job of debunking this crap here.
I have remarked before that it is not just the yobs who appeal to what they think of as "science" in an attempt to win what really amounts to a culture war. This is something that one can find among allegedly educated persons as well. Daniel Dennett comes to mind, Mr. Brighter-Than-Thou, who has spawned such silliness as this, the closest thing I've seen yet to a Cathedral of Nerdity. If the founders of the site are older than 16 or 17 I'll eat my hat. And I don't mean chronologically older, since Dennett himself is something of a dinosaur on the outside--it's only on the inside that he's still an adolescent.
Well, once people stop believing in God they don't start believing in nothing, they start believing in everything, as has already been remarked by brighter folks than I. One is tempted to compare scientism to fundamentalism, but in some ways it seems more dangerous, since it proceeds from a kind of ignorance dressed up as learning. Both depend on the arrogance of the adherents, of course, so they have that in common, but only scientism can sneek into a culture under the radar, passing itself off as somehow opposed to various fundamentalisms, even while it represents one of the most stiff-necked varieties around. Our culture is wide-open to such forces, sadly, because much of it is so vapid and uncritical. This is not true only of certain parts of our culture--you find it in just about every stratum of society. There are some very intelligent folks out there, of course, but there are morons everywhere, and unfortunately many of them, like Mr. Bright and Mr. Yob, have managed to secure for themselves a level of respect that they don't deserve. The man in the street, of course, doens't have any idea who Daniel Dennett is, a fact that Mr. Dennett no doubt regards as confirmation of his Theory of Luminosity. The respect that he gets comes from others of his own kind, a fact that is rather scary in its own right: he is a professor at Tufts. As Steve Allen used to say: "These are the jokes, folks!" Or was it Mike Wazowski?
Of course, when he said it, he wasn't talking about people and their ideas.