Some people make it their job to scrutinise the assumptions that scientists make, and check whether what they say matches up with what they do. What are the limits of science? What sorts of questions can it answer successfully, and what are the main features that define science? This sort of philosophy is a valuable source of critical thinking, and essential to any discussion of science and religion.
On exploring the philosophy of science I very quickly discovered that I was not going to get any easy answers. Philosophers love disagreeing with one another, and scientists do not always agree with what philosophers say. I suspect this disconnect happens partly because philosophers don’t always spend time in modern science labs as part of their analysis, and partly because scientists and philosophers speak different languages. Nevertheless, some insights are helpful in thinking about what science is. Continue reading →
I am becoming more and more convinced that the vast majority of scientists value what one could call transcendent realities. I’m not talking about ‘religion’, which for some has negative connotations*. By ‘transcendent’ I mean experiences and ideals that are consonant with but go beyond scientific evidence: that feeling of pure joy when you find yourself discovering something for the first time; delight in the beauty of nature or scientific data; the standards we set for ourselves; or the importance we place on certain relationships.
I think nearly everything that’s fun in life has the potential to get a scientist talking like a mystic. For example, a cell biologist wins a new grant to study a tiny protein involved in signalling pathways, and she starts speaking about getting closer to the truth. A neurologist studying a particular sensory experience understands the neural mechanism but not how the individual perceives it, and he becomes interested in the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness. Or a developmental biologist is expecting her first child, and suddenly embryology takes on a whole new meaning. Continue reading →