Science, like any other human affair, is indeed shot through with prejudice and partisanship, not to speak of ungrounded assumptions, unconscious biases, taken-for-granted truth, and beliefs to close to the eyeball to be objectified. Like religion, science is a culture, not just a set of procedures and hypotheses. Richard Dawkins declares that science is free of the main vice of religion, which is faith; but as Charles Taylor points out, “to hold that there are no assumptions in a scientists work which aren’t based on evidence is surely a reflection of blind faith, one that can’t even feel the occasional tremor of doubt. . .
There are . . . still a great many telescopes up which science is churlishly reluctant to peer. Science has its high priests, sacred cows, revered scriptures, ideological exclusions, and rituals for suppressing dissent. To this extent, it is ridiculous to see it as the polar opposite of religion.
Sometimes people in the faith community are accused of attacking science. To do so would be the height of foolishness. No person of reasonable intelligence would question the value of science. Problems arise, however, when science overreaches itself. What should be requested is for science to remain scientific.
Would it not go against all logic to ask a plumber to check our cholesterol level, or to request that the gardener tune the piano? These people are skilled in a particular field, and they would do well to operate within that field. Likewise, science functions best when it stays within its prescribed domain. Science is equipped to analyze natural phenomenon but is not in a position to address any others, or to pontificate that other causes could not possibly exist.
Science is capable of telling us how things can be done, but it cannot tell us what ought to be done. To expect science to answer philosophical questions is to go to the wrong place for answers. To mix science with philosophy is to confuse them both.
“It is our mistake to ask science to do something it can’t,” admitted Iain McGilchrist. “It’s like expecting your iPod to tell you whether you are in love.”
Christianity is not at odds with science. It has trouble with science that has become religious and has ceased to be aware of its limitations. Science answers a lot of questions, but to expect it to answer them all is not only an impossibility, it is also an absurdity.
Science has been the iron wedge by which the secular has penetrated the realm of the sacred. Science has been the sharp scalpel with which our most cherished ideas about humanity have been subjected to dissection and doubt. Those who suggest that religion is the primary source of human conflict and bloodshed are not looking closely enough. If we examine the history of violence in modern times we will often find rationales rooted in science.
The idea that all human lives are sacred and of equal value is not a product of science. The sanctity of human life cannot be proven in a laboratory. When it comes to this most profound and foundational moral insight, we in the West have only one source: the Judeo-Christian tradition. This idea was first expressed in the Bible and it has survived throughout the centuries because of the ongoing authority of the Jewish and Christian faiths. If some of the Enlightenment thinkers later embraced and reiterated the concept, they cannot be credited with an immaculate intellectual conception. It was right there in the Bible most of them read.
The Judeo-Christian tradition has built a wall between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom. It has placed man on a pedestal and put a crown on his head. Modern science, on the other hand, has consistently sought to tear down this wall and treat man as just another species of animal. Science has sought to take that crown off our heads—and measure the size of our skulls.
We are frequently warned these days about the great danger of religion expanding into fields where it does not belong. This concern is not without justification. There are areas of expertise, especially in the realm of science, where religion can contribute little. Religion cannot help us split the atom or map out our DNA. The Bible provides no clues that can help us cure cancer…
But we must also recognize that there exists an equal and possibly greater threat of science exceeding its proper boundaries. Especially when it comes to morality, science can confuse, but it rarely enlightens. Science can enable us to split the atom, but it cannot help us decide whether we are justified in using an atom bomb. Science can help us map out our DNA, but it cannot help us determine whether it is moral to clone humans. Science can help us cure cancer, but it cannot help us cope with cancer.
When science ventures beyond its core areas of competence into the area of morality, it often leaves corpses in its wake… With an air of authority to which they have no claim, scientists have called into question the key principles which protect humanity—especially the weakest among us—from annihilation. Before even grasping the danger, they could bring our whole ethical edifice crashing down. If religion does not belong in the science classroom, then it is equally true that science has no place in the ethics classroom. We need a wall of separation between science and morality every bit as much as we need on between church and state.
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.
Science is great, but only when we respect its limits to explain our universe. There are really three disciplines of study necessary to understand life: Science, Philosophy, and Theology. Just like a three-legged stool, the rejection of any one of these disciplines leads to imbalance. Unfortunately, we live in times when far too many think that Science is the ruler of all truth and many schools have dismissed the study these other disciplines…