Some problems are difficult to solve. So many factors come into play, so many unknowns are…well…unknown. Private interests and preferences exert their influence. Entrenched social identities—class, race, gender, etc.—determine in advance which proposals get a hearing. Interminable arguments ensue with no obvious path to clarity and consensus in sight. Better to stay out of such quarrels.
However, some seemingly difficult problems have very simple solutions. And I want to deal today with one such a problem: Advocates of all sorts of causes claim that science is on their side. People on the other side are anti-scientific. They ignore the “facts,” and don’t follow the path charted by science. The solution to this problem is hiding in plain sight: in title of this essay. Science is not on anyone’s side! Because science has no conscience, no politics, no religion, no heart, and no soul. It supports no causes.
Allow me to use words I wrote a few years ago to explain why science doesn’t care about your causes—or mine:
Natural science seeks to make understandable the relationship of one set of empirical phenomena to another set of empirical phenomena by means of law-like generalization(s) or postulated causal relations or some other theoretical mediation. All of these mediating principles may be reduced to patterns of empirical phenomena. Or, if the theory refers to unobservable entities, these entities are still physical and manifest themselves in observable phenomena. This is the nature and the limit of natural science, whether physics, chemistry, biology, geology, or paleontology. Natural science studies the relationships within the created world among empirical phenomena, that is, the perceptions or sense data received through the five senses (The Faithful Creator, 2015).
Natural science does one thing. It describes and explains the empirical world in empirical terms. It speaks no other language and understands none. It adheres to no morality and supports none. It treasures no policy preferences and cares nothing for ours. It contemplates happiness or sadness, war or peace, and love or hate with equal indifference. Its methods and goals are the same whether studying the effects of poison or medicine. It can produce weapons of mass destruction or seek ways to feed the world’s hungry with equal efficiency. It doesn’t care. Science can count how many people die this year from infectious diseases and explain how, but it does not care in the least. It does matter to science how long you live, how happy you are, or how virtuous you become. Saint or devil, science makes no distinction. Why? Because it doesn’t care about anything! It can’t. Caring is not part of the scientific method. Its goal is to explain, not to heal or kill. comfort or torture.
So, get clear on this: whoever you are, whatever your cause, however passionate your devotion, science is not on your side. Because science doesn’t take sides! If you want to explain one set of empirical data with reference to another set of empirical date, science can help. But if you have a moral, political, religious, or esthetic question, don’t look to science for answers. It would be like asking a freeway sign whether you ought to vacation in Los Angeles or Miami. It won’t work, because…
Like freeway signs, science has no conscience, no politics, no religion, no heart, and no soul!
That is very well stated. It is similar to the old expression, “Figures do not lie, but liars figure”. If you have an agenda you may twist the numbers to support your cause. We are seeing this every day during this peculiar time we are experiencing.
Thank you. Having a productive argument depends on getting clear on the ground rules for productive arguments. Next time you are in SoCal, let’s all get together for dinner.
I like the lines “it contemplates happiness or sadness, war or peace, and love or hate with equal indifference” and “caring is not part of the scientific method”
Great to hear your “voice” if only in writing! I hope you are doing well.
There is something which jars our conscience, is often political sometimes satirical, historically religious and useful in that respect, it expresses deep emotions, and some would argue expresses the unique or intimate contents of our human hearts…
That something is what we call “Art”. It’s a big thing, an entity which may even betray our very existence and development.
Once i read a cosmic theory which pronounced that ” science and art were in a tangled dynamic equilibrium, the balance point of which points directly to heaven; their moderator is the thing we like to call Religion”.
And let me add, i got very mixed up with this cosmic theory, but in the end, realized that Art itself is a form of expression that is based on our subconscious’ need to emulate creation, that is to say it is a form of ‘worship’ in all of it’s guises, whether we admit it or not. Artists in particular do not always know why their beautiful art touches the souls of so many ( and may not be a conventional believer or a Christian), and yet there is no fooling God or your soul…
Science proper then, the opposite of art, or the antithesis of art, is not really embued with an entity-ness, and in my humble opinion, you unecessarily favour it by calling it an “it”. Science is a tool or a method or a process, by which we are free to investigate the natural world. It says in the Old Testament ” behold the heavens, and even the heaven of heavens cannot hold thee”, and so the abstract concept of space, time and the infinite is already there!
Money is also a “tool”, but is apt to be abused by just about everybody. Maybe science is the same? And can be abused. Certainly in these strange times, “statistics” belongs there too…