The Natural Sciences, Neither Rulers Nor Marionettes

There are two big mistakes we can make when beginning to think about science. We need to try to avoid, not one error or the other — we need to avoid both.

For one thing, the natural sciences aren’t solitary and supreme. We shouldn’t see them as the only source of knowledge, and we furthermore shouldn’t treat them as unquestionable, or authoritative in every area, or able to give a full answer to every question. Science has limitations, which many seem either not to know about, or not to care about.

But at the same time, the natural sciences are not merely Rorschach blots. They aren’t fictions, or postmodern artwork onto which any sort of interpretation can legitimately be projected. They do give us a kind of knowledge, which is not available otherwise, and which it is sheer folly to deny or ignore.

The natural sciences might not give us the whole truth, but at the same time that doesn’t mean they are completely devoid of truth either.

The natural sciences do develop within a social context with social pressures and idiosyncratic characters and biases and mixed motives. That is true of every area of study, though.

We shouldn’t bow down and worship the sciences or scientists. The materialist or atheist who claims not to believe anything that isn’t proven by natural science lives in a small and strange world. Science doesn’t tell us everything, and doesn’t (cannot) claim to.

It is also the height of stupidity to assume that a contempt for science gives us greater insight into the natural world than is available to natural sciences.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the predictions about climate change aren’t quite right, but I’m no expert.” That might be okay. “Those scientists don’t know what they’re talking about! The climate isn’t changing! I mean come on. I’m not a climate scientist but even I know there’s powerful, obvious evidence that they’re completely wrong which is just being ignored or suppressed by the entire scientific community except for a few crackpots who are probably the next Einstein, since they happen to agree with what I wish were the truth.” That is not so okay. That sort of thing is generally the sign of an uneducated mind.

Let’s just aim to give science its proper place.

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