Science will not heal your Heart. So who or what will?

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The Biologist PZ Myers said in 2010 that “science is what we do to stop us lying to ourselves”.

What a curious comment.

I like it because it acknowledges the capacity that we have to deceive ourselves. We don’t always want to find the truth.

But after further thought I started to wonder whether or not scientists had ever deceived themselves, or perhaps, if Myers was correct, the practice of science prevented them from doing so. Is it a process that remains immune to our vices? Some leading scientists remain skeptical of this.

Science makes significant discoveries. Think penicillin. I am astonished by some of the insights and findings that come from researchers. I have been and remain deeply impressed by such scientists. Think Professor G L Moseley’s work on Pain (1).

The progress of science, however, is not without its pitfalls. Sometimes scientific discoveries reveal only that which the popular scientists examine. When you’re a reputable researcher at a reputable institution, you get listened to. If you have no reputation and work at a non-reputable institution, you may never get a big audience. That is why Max Plank said “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it” (2).

Conversely, I wondered if those who don’t practice science (the historians, the musicians, the philosophers, the artists and theologians) are all peddlers of skewed truths who knowingly or unknowingly practice their deceptive trades while never fessing up to their own deception and never make progress with truth.

Then something dawned on me. I don’t think I discovered it, more that it discovered me. Myers’ statement is not a scientific one. It is an interpretation. It is hard to repeat. It is hard to measure. It is hard to observe. It is a conclusion. It is not, strictly speaking, a scientific statement.

If it isn’t scientific, then it is quite possibly, according to Myers’ own statement, a lie. As a result I shouldn’t believe him. So now the statement is not true at all.

I don’t want this to be a gotchya moment, but it is worthwhile pointing out the simplistic hubris of scientism when you see it.

Scientism is the belief that science through the course of time will reveal to us all truth, other ways of knowing are lies. But science won’t, not just because it is a process of discovery influenced by influential people who work at influential institutions, but because it doesn’t seek to answer all questions.

The Nobel Laurette Sir Peter Medawar said “the existence of a limit to science is however made clear by its inability to answer childlike questions such as: “How did everything begin?”; “What are we here for?”; “What is the point of living?”(3)

Science has real difficulty helping with these questions. Science addresses, putting it crudely but not misleadingly “How” questions. “How does it work?” is a really good scientific question. It is a method for knowing or moreover getting to know about some things, but not others.

“Who am I?”, “What is the purpose of my life?”, and “Why am I here?”, the sort of questions that Medawar refers to, are questions of the Heart and science is incapable of answering them. You will never find an answer to these questions in any peer reviewed Science journal. Never. Yet these are good questions, important questions that need to be taken seriously. They demand to be answered. Perhaps if we consider that Science may not be able to help us, maybe we could turn to the historians, the musicians, the philosophers, the artists and, just maybe, the theologians. Maybe they have some clues for us.

1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982208012591
2. Planck, M. (1968). Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. F. Gaynor;New York.
3. Medawar, P. (1979) Advice to a Young Scientist. Harper and Row; London. p 31

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