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Science is culture, autotuned

February 27, 2010

Feynman: “I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things.  I think it’s much more interesting.”

I’m flattened by the irony of Templeton Foundation types who say; “Well science doesn’t know everything”.  That’s exactly the point.  In science we can pursue the unknown instead of making up mythological answers about it.  We’re allowed, encouraged to disprove anything in science, if we can; each instance a course-correction toward better understanding the universe.

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  1. February 27, 2010 at 21:13 | #1

    Two points:

    1. Science is a fantastic tool, but there are things that science cannot answer objectively. That’s why there’s philosophy and religion. I think a lot of people on both sides of the implied question have misconceptions of what science can and cannot do.
    2. It strikes me as curious when people question the fact that I have a faith in something I cannot see when they then demonstrate that they have at least as strong a faith in science and the scientific method – something which cannot be seen, only demonstrated.

  2. February 28, 2010 at 10:47 | #2

    You are describing Stephen J. Gould’s “Non-overlapping magisteria”, or NOMA, which would be fine if religion would stay in its corner.  Call that corner “personal belief”.

    But religion doesn’t stay in its corner.  It insists on “overlapping”, making testable claims about the publicly observable world, trumpeting conceptual victory on the rare occasions when those claims are shown to be correct, and engaging in hand-waving exercises on the much more common occasions when they are shown to be simply wrong.

    In particular, religion wants to address matters of public law based on private beliefs, which is a pretty serious overlap.

    The Templeton Foundation gives financial awards to philosophers who babble about “other ways of knowing”.  But unless they can bring those alleged ways of knowing out into the light of day and make them testable and reproducible, they belong under the private magisteria, not the public.

    That’s “private” in the “private property” sense, not the “hide it from other people” sense.  Private beliefs can be discussed in public, but they place no obligation on other individuals or on society.

    Limitations of science?  You betcha.  Scientific theories have to explain the evidence, and where applicable predict phenomena, or they get unceremoniously dumped.  That limitation has propelled science to more understanding of the universe in 400 years than religion achieved in the previous 4,000.  Science does not depend on faith, it depends on evidence.  Everyone is perfectly welcome to knock down a scientific theory with a better one, if they can.  And when they do, their theory becomes the accepted theory.  As the saying goes, “You know what they call alternative medicine that’s been shown to work?  Medicine.”

    Philosophy is “the study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” This practice is open to everybody, including scientists, of whom some are Christian, Hindu, etc.

  3. EdK
    February 28, 2010 at 14:21 | #3

    @David – If you could concretely demonstrate God’s existence on a repeatable basis, without simply using magical-thinking type thought experiments, it would be science, not religion.  I think that’s the argument here.

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