Science: likable, but limited

I like science. All through school, I got As in science classes. My book collection has several books on science.

Granted, some of those science books are old… nearly as old as I am. Back in the 1960s, my parents collected the Time/Life collection of books on nature and on science. I was later able to acquire a copy of the same collection. While their information is not up to date, the books are valuable to me for three reasons: they make an attractive display on the living room shelves, they bring back childhood memories, and they allow me to compare current scientific statements with those made a generation ago. The history of science can be as enlightening as its current status.

My library has more recent scientific books. When I see news stories about scientific topics, I click on their links to the source papers behind those articles and read the summaries that the scientists themselves published. I believe that my understanding of science is equal to—and probably greater than—that of the average American citizen.

I dislike seeing science (and accusations of being “unscientific”) used as a political weapon. I dislike seeing science (and accusations of being “unscientific”) used to control conversations about religion and about morality. Science observes the world around us, experiments with elements of that work, and seeks to understand what the world contains and how its contents work. Science cannot measure or evaluate anything outside the material world. Science cannot make ethical decisions about how data regarding the world is used. Science tells people how to create bombs; science cannot tell people whether they should use those bombs.

Science cannot tell us whether we exist in a computer simulation rather than what we would call “reality.” Nor can science tell us whether our lives and surroundings are elements of someone’s dream. Using the scientific method, people measure the world around them. They assess changes in that world. They seek rules to explain those changes. They make predictions about the future, based on those rules, and the accuracy of their predictions measures the accuracy of their rules. Science is based on observation, experimentation, and careful consideration of what has been observed. Considerations of what is right and what is wrong can be based on scientific observations, but those moral considerations are not, themselves, scientific.

Science changes. Scientific rules are adjusted based on new information, new observations, and new experiments. Flexibility is a strength of science. It allows knowledge and understanding of the world to grow and to become more accurate and more helpful. But flexibility is also a weakness of science. People cannot make science the foundation of their lives, the source for meaning of their existences, precisely because science is constantly changing, adjusting, and reacting to new information and new interpretations of information.

Therefore, calling a person’s religious beliefs or political beliefs “unscientific” is pointless. Using science as a measurement of truth or of value is unscientific—using science for those purposes is an act of faith, not an act of science. People who trust science to lead them to all truth have made science the center of their religion; they are no longer thinking and acting scientifically. People who judge the opinions and beliefs of their neighbors according to scientific measures of the world are not acting like scientists. Putting faith in science alone is the kind of intellectual suicide which some devotees of science accuse religious people of committing.

I like science. I enjoy technology, medicine, and other benefits that have come from science. I am grateful to have a scientific understanding of the world in which I live. But my faith is not in science. My faith is in the God who create those things that science studies. My faith is not limited by science; my faith transcends the limits that science cannot break. My world is larger than the world of those who limit themselves to what science and measure and observe. For that I am also grateful. J.

10 thoughts on “Science: likable, but limited

  1. great post – love the “separation” if you will of science and faith – they can coexist but science is the pursuit to understand what God has done (creation and the laws that govern it) Faith is the pursuit of God himself – BTW I have a complete set of Books of Knowledge I think they are from the 50’s – look great on the shelf but as science book they make a great historical record of what science thought back then!

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  2. Excellent words (and observations… because isn’t that what we do with science, we first observe?!)
    My parents had a similar set of books but it was a history set— they’re still in the basement of dad’s old house– the one our son now calls home. They were my go-to for writing reports— probably in part where my love of history came from, as there was always a delightful wealth of such always at the ready!

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  3. A nice explanation on your personal interest in science. I also had a scientific interest through life and along the way I had the Time/Life books on a variety of subjects at the time. Although I truly had no patience for math hence I never pursued a science major in college. what I did acquire was an interest in the human condition (my oldest is the one with the science degree, in physics and is in management at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago). During the “wonder years” I was raised a Lutheran… average affiliation with the church.. active in the choir, confirmation training, etc. but pretty much an average religious indoctrination. As you may recall having been a boomer, there were kids galore in all the neighborhoods and church was no exception and it was yet another place to gather socially. I do recall my early days in Sunday school where we would question how one might explain science vs religion.. and given my interests were more cerebral I quickly came to the awareness that human thought exists on multiple levels and there is no need to “choose” between science and religion. As a matter of faith, science is an extension of why we exist. I see no argument between the two. One believes, or one does not. It’s a matter totally of personal choice.
    BUT.. (and you knew there had to be a “but” in there)… politics vs science isn’t even in the mix.

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    • It appears that we have had parallel lives, although I excelled in mathematics–treated it as a game, never wanted it to be part of a career. My confirmation class remains the largest in the history of the congregation–nineteen of us; we filled two rows of pews. I agree with you on science and religion existing upon multiple levels; of course, one level will be chosen as primary and the others will find their place; no need for argument among them. Congratulations on having a son or daughter in management at Adler Planetarium. I always enjoyed my visits there, as well as the nearby Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. Please elaborate on your last sentence; I’m not sure where you are going from there. J.

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      • The point I was making was my opinion that this business where it’s important to discredit religion with science is just mindless posturing to no end. Oranges and apples. Religion exits because it is faith-based and science is the attempt to establish cause-and-effect relationships and explanations based on methodical processes regarding the physical world around us. I can extrapolate that the relationsionship between religion and science is simply drawing a line from the natural curiosity of man as a species, to the theology of faith in a Divine Creator who has created man allegedly “in His own image.”. Man was born with the natural instinct to reason through his environment.. and with that comes the extension of that reasoning being science itself. We are destined as a species to constantly question our origins and that questioning will expand as we use science to interpret the world around us. Not so distant a concept as an adopted or orphaned child wishing to find their parents for a bloodline connection. Until then we put the “why” of our existence into a faith category.
        Regarding politics vs science… well… for that we can attribute much to the variety of our human species being critical to our survival. It’s the old image of having ten people in the room seeing a certain event or situation and they will have ten different interpretations. I am sure if one digs long and hard enough there will be at least one scientist in this world that believes and affirms with scientific proof that the world is flat. If you had a certain political agenda that required a “flat world” interpretation of what you prefer as fact, this scientist would be your authoritative proof.
        We live during a political time where “science-denying” has become popular only because there’s such an increase in the distrust in government in general and belief in conspiracies to attempt to explain and assign blame to a broader distrust of authority… even those we intentionally elect to lead us. Politics vs science is not a religious argument or precept.

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