A Certain Flaw
Many folk out and about in the high and mighty halls of academia today, and a handful here and there not quite so educated but willing to throw their lot in the same communal pot, have come to the conclusion that Science is the be all and end all of Humanity, and that it shall eventually solve all human problems. They claim that it needs no aide from any other school of thought to accomplish this goal. I will not bother to discuss whether this is actually possible or not, there are many lengthy arguments for or against this concept, and none of them have any bearing on what I am about to say.
There is a problem present in this worldview that is not readily present to the eye of the public, or even the eye of those men and women, myself included, that consider themselves students of the School of Scientific Thought. There is a potential and potent danger in removing Science from the constraints of Philosophical or Religious Ethics. Now, one could easily turn this argumentative thrust aside by remarking that many scientists do not desire the removal of Philosophy, or even Religion from the minds and hearts of the human race. I would be happily inclined to agree, as I am one of those people, despite my “in-training” status. Yet there is a growing faction within the Intellectual Community that holds this to be true. Part of what these men and women have forgotten is that Science is a wonderful tool, but that from its conception was never intended as a master. There is a very strong reason for that.
Who are Scientists, anyway? The general public today thinks of several things when that word comes to mind. It conjures up images of staunch, possibly socially awkward and shy men in lab coats and glasses, pontificating on various subjects with a cold, alien self-assurance that they know exactly what it is they speak of. On occasion, they are envisioned as hyper-critical, rationalist men with a flair for keeping absolutely calm and detached positions even in the most heated debates, sometimes stoically like the stone-faced Mr. Spock, or with a face painted in some sort of clever little smirk and a dash of twinkle in their eye. Very rarely, they are cruel and unforgiving folk with an acidic tongue and a distinct hatred for any kind of thought they find wanting in intelligence, lacking in wit, or from someone who dares to oppose their intellect. The general idea of all of these conceptions boils down to extreme intelligence and a nearly absolute knowledge of their field, almost to the point of infallibility.
This is not only false, it is dangerous. When you give any one group of men, or any school of thought, for that matter, total domination over a society’s way of thinking, history shall show you that bad things will most certainly happen. What I am willing to bet that a large portion of the world, America included, has forgotten, is that Science is not an absolute. That Scientists are not perfectly logical machine-men who only serve Humanity or Science or Truth itself. We have this problem of image where we see the men of Science as people who live austere lives, almost as separated from the rest of us as Trappist monks are in their monasteries. We look and find a supreme superhuman dedication to rational thought and the betterment their own field which consequently betters the lives of our species. The title PhD has become as significant and respected as the title Rev. or Fr., which, in itself, is nothing wrong. What is wrong is awarding those possessing such titles the same sort of confidence and devotional respect. What is wrong is that to many I have met, the white lab coat a Professor may wear is viewed in a like way to the raven cassock of the Roman Catholic Church.
At this point you might begin to feel that I am taking things a tad too far; I assure you, I am not. As a man of Faith myself, I can recognize it quite clearly in others, even others who are so wrapped up in their own thinking that they fail to notice where they have left rationality behind for, strangely enough, the sake of rational thought. I can guarantee that those of the secular mindset, especially those raised in that manner of thinking, have a much harder time recognizing their own pseudo-religious behavior or thought. We, who live and breathe such things, can see it as plain as the nose on their faces.
Any man who has attacked Religion or expressed the dangers that come with it, and even as a practicing Catholic I assure you that I acknowledge some of those dangers myself, for they do exist, can tell you that such a view of men in the sort of financial, political, intellectual, and governmental positions is no good thing. Like Priests, and Bishops, and even Popes, contrary to what some Protestants would have you believe, Scientists are flawed, fallible, and human. Unless guided by some outside source (I.E., in the cases of Church Council or Papal Infallibility, which relate only to Church Teachings and not personal thought or behavior, basically, no Church Council or Pope can order me to jump off of the Empire State Building, or shoot a heretic, for that matter, and claim that it is the direct Will of God that I do so), they will continue to be flawed, fallible, and human. And still, I cannot count the number of times I have voiced a disparate opinion or hypothesis regarding some bit of evidence or data and been told that Science has decreed that this or that Theory is absolute and final. Any proper Scientist should scoff and deride such madness. The very way Theories are given life is by the interpretation of data. All because we have begun to view Science and its practitioners as a strange sort of secular priesthood.
Scientists are subject to great pressures in their daily lives, which increase or decrease depending on their field. One such pressure which remains ubiquitous for all of us is the need to find funding for research, or even just to support ourselves. We are not humble hermits working in secluded labs for the betterment of all, while what we do might involve that. Like any other lay (as in not of a religious order) person, we work to feed ourselves and keep our families afloat. Now, because I am a Papist, I will take this moment to congratulate the Church for creating a class of men and women freed from that grind by providing them a reasonable amount of food and shelter while removing their need to provide for a family. It was a stroke of immense brilliance, though part of the celibacy issue is Divinely given and the credit belongs to God, not us. You see, Priests and Nuns and all the rest can go about their work completely out of a desire to help others, as opposed to worrying over keeping themselves and their loved ones taken care of.
I have already witnessed firsthand the sort of jockeying that can occur over funding. I have been edging closer to it as my undergraduate research becomes more important and meaningful to the field of Paleontology at large. I have not liked what I have seen, and had several ugly realizations that shattered my own false imaginings of who and what scientists were. We are anything but intellectual ascetics. My experiences, I am told, are still not fully what “things are really like” in Academia. Aside from all the ego-fanning, fame-mongering, and political jockeying within the Universities and other institutions that put clothing on our backs, food in our mouths, and our names into magazines and newspapers, there is even the monetary angle to consider. I am a mere meddler in things long dead that at best bring media attention, that, while valuable, can also be drawn in by other more lucrative research. Can you comprehend the pressure placed squarely upon the shoulders of researchers in genetics, pharmacology, or any number of other fields where they are by nature part of a multi-billion/trillion dollar industry? Especially in an environment where the University has in many ways become more of a business than a place of learning, such things are rife with temptations and all manner of corporate espionage/backbiting/assorted treachery. Or consider yourself as a member of the American Psychological(or Psychiatric) Association, both of which have ties to our Government and the Pharmaceutical Industry. The point is, just because a nice man with the looks expected of his profession says something, you should not immediately consider it to be the truth and nothing but.
With all of that said about those who are in the Sciences, it is time to move on to Science itself. I would say that the best description of the purpose of Science is to explain the how the Universe works through Empirical study. This is a good and wholesome thing. However, left unshackled, what was once a blessing can become a curse. The logical progression which leads to the End Goal of Science is one very few have bothered to give more than a cursory glance at. This End Goal is Omniscience. For man to understand the Universe, completely and with certainty, man’s knowledge must become virtually Omniscient. And it follows that man would then be virtually Omnipotent. The other “Omni’s” follow as part of that first goal, likewise in a virtual manner. Plain and simply, Science with no outside guide is the pursuit of ultimate knowledge and therefore ultimate power. It does not take a Religious man to feel a bit of trepidation when confronted with the idea of Man attempting to become as many view God. This has even more weight to it when you consider that by many philosophical definitions, mine own included, it is impossible for Man to reach that state of perfection (hence the use of the word virtual). What horrors would a demi-god race wreak upon the stars and themselves in their search for ever-more growth and perfection? Considering our own herky-jerky chaotic advancement thus far in our history, we have little to hope for and much to fear as far as this is concerned.
In closing, Science is one of the greatest tools of Man. But any object or tool pursued for its own sake becomes an unforgiving slave-driver of a master, one more likely to consume its wielder than bring about anything good.