Two Ways

In my own attempt at balance, I turned from reading about the world of literary possibilities to a book on the inevitability of the scientific method. Robert Park’s Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud is an enjoyable jaunt through the distressing world of pseudo-science. The reader quickly discovers, however, that Park shares in the same scientific orthodoxy as Richard Dawkins (and many others) that claims since science works it is obviously the only way of demystifying our world. I admit that when I read of our government spending billions of dollars on projects put forward because our elected leaders know less about science than I do as a specialist in religion, I grow quite upset. More money than most of us will ever earn in a lifetime has been poured into projects that defy laws such as First and Second Thermodynamics. I learned those laws in Junior High physics and have never attempted to violate them. Even when scientists explain to elected officials in congressional hearings why these proposals simply can’t work, the pork barrels, once opened, are difficult to close.

Like many scientists, Park envisions a world where religion (same as superstition) is slowly losing its explanatory power and people will eventually have to admit that we are just acting out the role pre-determined by the laws of physics. We are fleshy machines, sometimes pretty flabby, but still machines. Ironically, when Park wants to express the seriousness of scientific review, he resorts to religious language. In explaining how peer review for scientific journals works, he notes that objectivity is a “sacred obligation.” Now, of course, one can argue that this is just a metaphor, language that non-scientists can understand. I wonder if it goes deeper than that. Reality, whether sought by scientists or religious believers, rests on the idea that there is only one truth. This, and not the incidental differences between theologies, is the reason for nearly all religious conflict and the “war on science.” There is, we are told in our Aristotelean world, only one possible Truth. Why?

Scientific theory, no less that superstitious theology, finds a unity of truth sensible and comforting. I wonder if the truth (and I use that word advisedly) is more complicated than that. No strict necessity exists for a single truth. (I am awake of Occam’s razor, but I don’t shave.) In fact, truth is a philosophical, not a scientific, concept. The problem is that societies tend to break down if they don’t share a view of the truth. There can be no doubt that science, done properly, works. The existence of the very internet where these virtual words reside is proof of that. That does not mean, however, that other truth can’t exist side-by-side, simultaneously with it. Scientists are duty-bound to declare a singular, physical universe because of the sacred trust of seeking the Truth. My bi-cameral mind just can’t see the necessity in that. But then again, I prefer a world with some mystery left in it. No thanks, I don’t shave.

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