Science is a beneficial enterprise. Science has enabled today’s society to enjoy luxuries never dreamed about in past generations. Science does, however, have limitations, and we will attempt to discuss some of these in this article.
The study of science has made many things possible that were unthinkable just a few generations ago. We are now able to get to any destination in the world within a matter of hours, when previously it took weeks. We put a man on the moon. We have a world of information at our fingertips via the internet. Medical science has advanced greatly. These are just a few of the accomplishments that have been made possible through the application of science. Science is a valuable tool.
Considering all the ways science has enhanced our lives, it is no wonder so many people hold science (and scientists) in such high esteem. Some have even come to believe that the only way we can know anything at all is through science. This view has become more and more pervasive of late in today’s culture.
Scientism: an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities) (Merriam-Webster). This view, although now widely held, is easily falsified. First of all, the notion defeats itself. See the following dialogue.
Fred: Science is the only way we can know anything. If it can’t be proven scientifically, then I don’t believe it.
Joe: Really? Can you show me the scientific experiment that proves that statement?
Of course there is not and will never be an experiment to prove science is the only source of true knowledge. Here’s another defeater: science can not tell you what you are thinking right now. Note, I am not talking about mapping neural pathways to see which ones are lighting up as your thoughts process, I am talking about the substance of your actual thoughts. Science has no way to “read your mind”, as it were. Yet, you A. are actually thinking, B. are aware of what you are thinking and C. absolutely no scientific experiment has informed you of these facts. In other words, you have true knowledge of your thoughts entirely separate from the enterprise of science.
In fact, the scientist relies on several presuppositions before he can even attempt to engage the Scientific Method. Among these include knowledge that there is a world external to the mind that operates in an orderly fashion and which can be explored and understood; that the findings discovered through science can be intelligibly communicated to others; the existence of numbers and the operations of mathematics; the laws of logic; the principle of cause and effect… these are just a few of the facts that must be assumed to exist before any scientific experiment can be accomplished, and without which the scientific enterprise would be totally incoherent and useless.
Additionally, we must remain cognizant that the operations of science are performed by people just like you and me. People with varying degrees of talent, education and intelligence, people living in an imperfect world with pressures to perform adequately in their job, pressures to pay bills and support families, and everything else that goes along with being human. Just as in any other walk of life, there are biases that cloud judgment, there is dishonesty, and there are mistakes made in innocence but are not always caught.
Finally, science can not really speak to the things most people deem to be most important in their lives. Abstract and immaterial ideas such as joyfulness, satisfaction, freedom, love, right and wrong… these things are not discovered through science, but through our direct experience with the world around it.
So we see, a healthy respect for the enterprise of science is warranted, however we must be careful not to overrate its capabilities.
I’d love to discuss these things with you. Any questions and comments that are in line with this page’s Commenting Policy will be published and responded to (to the best of my ability).
For more information on how I keep my worldview informed please go to Cross Roads Church.