Science and It's Limitations
This isn't a timely blog, just a response to a movement this year whose rhetoric worried me, and has nagged at the back of my head. There's apparently "anti-scientific" sentiment in the US, the concerning proof of which is found in the denial of global warming and other "scientifically settled" issues of humanitarian concern. I think it's less about not believing in science and more about some compelling self-interests that override scientific claims. More about competing ideologies, and a strong cultural echo chamber driving people toward a narrowly perceived 'good.' Nonetheless, there was a march for science this year and stuff like that. So, here are a couple thoughts several months late on science jotted down between meetings and not trying to be comprehensive because this is where my mind went.
I *believe* science as a body of reliable information produced by dialogue among experts striving to use a common pragmatic approach to arrive at empirical information about reality. I believe it is a crucial tool for deepening our understanding of reality and providing us with information to guide our search for the common good in a world whose increasingly complex and delicate social systems are imbricated with a fragile creation.
At the same time, I recognize that science is a constantly evolving conversation, mediated by presuppositional consensus and insider review boards, and periodically rocked by paradigm changing discoveries that call for a dramatic reorientation of our cosmology. Truth is rarely so settled as we wish it to be. Facts typically provide a shallower ontology than we think they do.
I do not believe *in* science, because this is a personification that distorts its nature as both a body of knowledge and a procedure for discovery, while at the same time obscuring the actual brilliant but flawed and limited human beings needed to perform its operations and implement its conclusions.
I do not *trust in* science, because while it can provide accurate information, it is an ethically relative discipline without any means to direct itself toward activities that support life and away from those, like atom bombs and chemical weapons, that bring death through cruelty. Science always functions within a presuppositional context that sets the practitioners aims and defines her or his imagination for what's possible. As a tool, it is amoral. Like Hume said, you cannot get ought from is. But it's products have been both good and evil, depending on the moral formation of it's practitioners. Trusting in science is flimsy idolatry, presuming that it contains some salvific quality it cannot possibly offer. Science is very unlikely on its own to solve problems that manifested during the scientific age. Only a civilization-wide reformation of character and redirection of desire that leads to a redesign of social systems (which can be scientifically informed), can offer these kinds of results. Which, I would say, is another way of saying: an act of God.
Science is best as a helpmate. On one hand, it can offer guardrails to protect against fantasy, and, on the other hand, the technical knowledge for achieving a community's concept of 'the good.'