Almighty science? We’ve given it far too much reverence

"Theologians and ethicists, playwrights and lyricists, therapists and politicians, historians and pundits—like everyone else in society—all could have their say. But more and more, each would have to face up ultimately to the supposed precision of the scientist, who among them all seems to have a lock on reality, or at least on the tools for discovering reality." - WORLD

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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Appreciate the spirit of this, but I think he mostly misses the point. The trouble with science today isn't that we overvalue it. It's that we ("we" as in western culture)...

  1. cherry pick from the facts it produces in order to back very unscientific agendas (abortion comes to mind, transgenderism)
  2. try to make it answer questions it cannot answer: such as "why" (another way to say it: trying to make science serve as philosophy, but it can't do that. The result is methodological naturalism... which, ironically, fails to answer to scientific evidence if it isn't assumed at the start)
  3. conveniently forget that it's the work of humans who never execute it perfectly, are always finite in their understanding, and will always -- when doing science -- replace findings with newer ones.

In short, science is completely reliable to do what it can do and completely unreliable to do what it can't do. It's a box of tools and it can never be the tool user or tell tool users what they ought to make with the tools.

GregH's picture

To me, there are two extremely limiting problems with science:

1) It is dependent on bigger philosophical decisions because it has certain metaphysical presuppositions baked in. In other words, science is currently based on only one out of several explanations through history for what matter even is. If it is the right explanation, science holds up pretty well. If not, much of that work is futile. 

2) It is hard to see how science can answer certain hard questions such as the one that Aaron mentions. Immanuel Kant alluded to this when he said that you have to limit knowledge to allow for faith. According to Kant, not only is not possible for science to answer all questions but it would not be beneficial. 

I like Kant's approach to drawing a line between faith and science. However, I am finding these days that I am disagreeing with many Christians on what goes on each side of that line.

Mark_Smith's picture

1) The article states "For now, probably all we need to know is that spiral galaxies, like our Milky Way, are the most common type of galaxy encountered in the known universe." This is simply not true on a couple of levels. First, the Milky Way is a Barred Spiral Galaxy, not a regular Spiral Galaxy! Yes, those are two distinct categories. Anyone who has told you the Milky Way is a spiral galaxy spoke out of ignorance. Second, for every Spiral Galaxy you see, and Barred Spiral as well, there are 4, 5, 6 or more, maybe even a dozen, dwarf irregular galaxies that pass your notice. These small galaxies orbit the larger spiral type galaxies, and even elliptical galaxies. The Milky Way has several of these, and more are still being found. So, the most common galaxy type is the Dwarf Irregular Galaxy. Not even close!

2) Second, to clarify, what Elon Musk does is engineering, not science. While similar, the two are not the same. The differences are critical. For example, the science of nuclear fusion is well understood. The science of plasma physics is less understood but still pretty well. You can combine these two, from the science perspective, to build a nuclear fusion power plant. It would work wonderfully and produce power. The problem is, it would be enormously huge and cost inefficient. Those are engineering problems! Engineers need to work, with scientists, to improve the feasibility of nuclear fusion power. That work is mostly engineering. The same goes for rocket ships, batteries, and fuel cells. The limitation is engineering... So when Musk envisions fleets of ships flying people anywhere on Earth in 20 minutes, that is engineering he is talking about, not science.

3) There is a difference between science and scientism. The article almost gets to this, but misses it. In fact, the article is pretty weak compared to what it could have been. Science is a tool to investigate and understand the physical world. It assumes that nature can be modeled, and hence its behavior predicted. This is generally valid and it works wonderfully. Scientism is a philosophical worldview that assumes the physical world is all that exists, and hence, science is the only tool that should be employed to understand it. Most scientists are drifting wholesale towards scientism without even thinking about it. They need to be challenged.

josh p's picture

Thanks for your input Mark. I have a limited scientific knowledge so I appreciate the added information.