The skeptic is never for real. There he stands, cocktail in hand, left arm draped languorously on one end of the mantelpiece, telling you that he can’t be sure of anything, not even of his own existence. I’ll give you my secret method of demolishing universal skepticism in four words. Whisper to him: “Your fly is open.” If he thinks knowledge is so all-fired impossible, why does he always look?
Science is a wonderful tool that helps us to learn about one particular subset of knowledge: how the natural world operates. Science functions well within its circumscribed area of expertise, but it fails miserably when it ventures beyond its limits.
Science is powerless to explain topics such as what constitutes knowledge or consciousness, what makes a meaningful relationship, or how to prevent people from doing evil. It can neither prove or disprove the existence of God. It cannot unravel the mystery of love, joy, wonder, beauty, and spiritual longing. It is incapable answering the biggest question: Why?
The remarkable breakthroughs of science have created the impression that ultimately it will explain everything. That is a false assumption. It has been stated the “best” of science can only explain 4% of the world’s mass and energy. Science has to “go dark” to account for rest. There’s a vast amount of room for humility. When science becomes arrogant, self-righteous, dogmatic and intolerant, it is bad science. Science has a tendency to forget that it is not the only show in town.
“It is our mistake to ask science to do something it can’t,” wrote Iain McGilchrist. “It’s like expecting your iPod to tell you whether you are in love.”
An unquestioning acceptance of ideas because “science says so” is unwise. Science doesn’t always get it right. Numerous writers have documented this fact, and lamented the “brokenness” of science (here, here, here, and here).
We have much cause to be grateful for the advances of science. However, not everything fits into a test tube or can be examined under a microscope. When the high priests of science postulate about topics that are beyond the field of scientific inquiry, it’s time to remind them that they are out of their depth. They have left science for speculative storytelling.
Ultimately, science and religion should serve rather than dominate the human societies from which they emerged. Each, I believe, serves best from a stance of awe and humility that assumes as little as possible. The best from both worlds — the greatest scientists and the most profound religious thinkers and teachers — have always practiced these two qualities. Childlike awe motivated Einstein. “All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren,” he accepted. “The real nature of things, that we shall never know, never.” Similarly, the German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner invoked both humility and awe when he asked, “Which do we love more, the small island of our so-called knowledge or the sea of infinite mystery?”
I think the important thing to realize is how little we know about anything — how flowers unfold, how butterflies migrate. We have to avoid the arrogance of persons on either side of the science-religion divide who feel that they have all the answers. We have to try to use our intellect with humility. –Dr. Joseph Murray, Noble Prize winning transplant surgeon