Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Can Science Explain Everything?

Science rules in our culture. If you’re a scientist people have to listen to you, and if you are not—well, no one wants to be dismissed as “unscientific.” Scientific discovery is the crowning jewel of human progress. Our society’s position: science can tell us everything we need to know; or if it can’t right now, just give it some time and it will eventually solve all our problems. This understanding represents an inflated view of science. As useful as science is, its explanatory scope is not universal. Only a little reflection shows that there are other areas of knowledge in our world: philosophy, ethics, religion, literature, economics, poetry, art, and music (just to name a few).

Not only is the notion that science can speak to all of life clearly false, a common formulation of this view is also incoherent. To see this, examine the following statement by famous atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell: “whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” Initially, this sounds very sophisticated and intelligent. The only problem is that if it is true, we couldn’t know it to be true. Why? Because the statement itself is not testable by the scientific method and is therefore, by its own standard, unable to be known. This fallacious view is called scientism.

What we need is a robust philosophy of science that recognizes the limits of the discipline. Now there may be implications in other disciplines--but science cannot and will not ever-in principle- be able to give us the elusive "Theory of Everything."

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