Unsatisfactory answers

neil-postmanBut in the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require. Its story of our origins and of our end is, to say the least, unsatisfactory. To the question, “How did it all begin?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” To the question, “How will it all end?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident.” And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living.

–Neil Postman
Science and the Story that We Need


2 thoughts on “Unsatisfactory answers

  1. I think this is an interesting quote, if only because it subtly misrepresents the science and the author apparently thinks that religious supernatural explanations are more satisfying than scientific ones. I say ‘subtly misrepresents’ because, on the question of cosmic origins at least, we have yet to find the answer. Therefore, many scientists would be more inclined to say “I don’t know how the universe came to be, but here are some possible scenarios…” rather than “It came about by accident.” Whereas the former statement admits ignorance and the need for more data, the latter suggests a level of confidence that might not be warranted.

    I’m not sure why Postman thinks that religious explanations are more satisfying. In what respect? Are they *better* explanations? Does he find them more elegant? Without specifying what ‘satisfying’ means in this context, it’s not clear how religious explanations are ‘more satisfying.’


    • Postman did not say anything about “religious explanations.” What his religious beliefs were, I am not aware, except that he identified himself as a humanist. He said the scientific explanation was “unsatisfactory.” I understand this to mean that the idea that everything originating from nothing in some unplanned, miraculous, fortuitous manner (whether we can explain it scientifically or not) does not provide genuine help to humans on this planet who struggle to find meaning and purpose. That’s what I hear Postman saying.

      And I personally believe that, unless the answer to origins includes a “who” instead of just a “what,” it’s inevitable that real meaning and purpose will always elude us. It is not surprising that the wide acceptance of a merely scientific explanation of our existence has left the Western world awash in a tsunami of meaninglessness, heard in the voices of despair that now haunt our conversations, novels, poetry, stage, and screen. And it’s what you would expect. The chickens have come home to roost.


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