How Far Can You Trust Science?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN AUSTRALIA
MOST people really admire science, in view of its many accomplishments in medicine, engineering, communication, and other disciplines. Scientific discoveries have touched the lives of almost all people living today. Many scientists have devoted their entire lives to the cause of science, and honest scientific endeavors aimed at improving the quality of life should be applauded. In fact, author Tony Morton goes so far as to say that “science is undoubtedly one of the mainstays of modern civilisation.”
But in all areas of life, there is need for balance in assessing true worth, and the field of science is no exception. To help us keep such a balanced view, let us consider the words of another writer, one who is not so complimentary about the role that science plays in our lives. Lewis Wolpert, in his book The Unnatural Nature of Science, writes: “Surveys confirm that there is much interest in, and admiration for, science, coupled with an unrealistic belief that it can cure all problems; but there is also, for some, a deep-seated fear and hostility . . . The practitioners of science are seen as cold, anonymous and uncaring technicians.”
The Rise of Science
There is always an element of risk when scientific experiments involve breaking new ground. But as new discoveries prove the risk worthwhile, public confidence in science rises. To some extent, science, basking in the glory of past successes, has taken more and more daring risks, and many people in their awe and enthusiasm have come to view science as the panacea for mankind’s ills. The result is that many people associate the words “science” and “scientific” with absolute truth.
The publication American Studies makes the observation: “Beginning in the 1920s, and increasingly in the 1930s, the scientist in white lab coat provided objective assurance to consumers that one product was ‘scientifically’ superior to its competitors. A 1928 Nation editorial lamented that ‘a sentence that begins with “Science says” will generally be found to settle any argument in a social gathering, or sell any article from toothpaste to refrigerators.’”
But is science necessarily always synonymous with absolute truth? Down through history scientific discoveries have had their vigorous opponents. Some of the objections raised were unfounded; others seemed to have a good basis. Galileo’s discoveries, for example, raised the ire of the Catholic Church. And scientific theories on the origins of man drew hostile reactions on both scientific and Biblical grounds. So it comes as no surprise that each new scientific discovery attracts adherents and opponents.
An old Latin proverb says: “Science [or, knowledge] has no enemy but the ignorant.” This is no longer true, however, for science is under siege today as never before—and not by the ignorant. It now seems that though once considered unassailable by many, science is now beleaguered by some of its onetime supporters. A growing number of its followers could be said to have become its judge, jury, and executioner. The great temples of scientific learning are now often arenas of conflict. One reason for its woes is that past deceit and corruption by some scientific academics has now come to light.
Thus, the question is being asked more frequently than ever before, Can all science really be trusted? The following article outlines some of the reasons why increasing numbers of people are raising this question.
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Is science always synonymous with absolute truth?