Sunday, March 27, 2005
Great op-ed piece in today's Washington Times by Jay Ambrose, critiquing over-reliance on science as the only measure of truth. Ambrose uses an excellent reference to a Dickens' story that really pulls together the editorial (follow the link for that), and he uses that story to emphasize the following point:
I am not against science. I love it. Part of the grandeur of humans, it seems to me, is our conceptual consciousness. We have an understanding of things no other creatures on this planet can rival. We are the universe aware of itself, as others before me have also said. Becoming increasingly aware is one of our chief purposes in life, in my view. Science helps us get there. It is a major tool by which we enlarge our awareness.
But science is not competent in all things. It is extraordinarily powerful in describing physical reality -- how things work, how the universe gets from A to B -- and because of this capacity, science enables imitation, namely technology that transforms how we live, for good and bad. At the same time, it is obvious there are more ways of knowing than what is gleaned from science and that science itself has severe limitations. It is not just a little obvious, but as obvious as the pull of poetry, the uplift of drama, the sway of music in our lives, the call of beauty in a painting or a sunrise -- and the sense of the sacred so many of us experience in worshiping that which finally is a mystery but one that lends us meaning.
I bring all this up now for two reasons: The first is that in ways both subtle and blatant, science permeates our society and our psyches. Though there are far more questions it cannot answer than it can, and though is based on presuppositions not themselves scientific, it tends to chase the nonscientific from the landscape of the validly believable, reducing the marvels of this life and universe to quantifiable calculation.
If we give in to scientism -- the intellectually disreputable notion science is the only legitimate arbiter on any topic you can name -- we will have mistakenly cut ourselves off from the possibilities of wisdom, of spiritual wonder and life's fullness .
The other reason is this is Easter, preceded by Holy Week. For Christians, it can be a stretch of days in which they immerse themselves in a reality beyond the here and now, but a reality that informs the here and now. They lose themselves in the story of a man of miraculous goodness who suffered an agonizing death and rose from the dead. From Scripture readings, hymns, prayers, sermons and ritual, they take a revivified understanding of forgiveness, redemption and selfless love. There is sadness and then joy in their encounter, and often the sure knowledge of moral obligation as they rise themselves from the dead parts of their existence.
None of this is scientific, of course, which is different from saying none of this is true. I have friends who don't get the difference, and have read countless articles by those who dismiss such religious notions as harmful nonsense.
I would add to that excellent point, that not only is science not the end all and be all, but by definition science can only be interpreted by humans, and as such it is subject to human errors and misuse. The odds are that a hundred years from now scientists will look back at many of the things we believe to be scientific "truths" today and laugh at our foolishness in believing such absurd things.

That has always happened historically, and there is no logical reason to believe that we are the generation that finally figured it all out. Only hubris supports that belief.
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I am an attorney in Chicago. Politically speaking, I am an indepedent that tends to lean conservative on fiscal issues and progressive on social issues. I try to remain as unbiased and open-minded as possible. Please email or post any comments, and especially criticisms. If something I say is wrong, or you disagree - let me know about it!



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