Can Science Explain Everything?
I recently came across an article in Scientific American Entitled, “The Delusion of Scientific Omniscience”. In this well written and thoughtful article, John Horgan reminisces about the period of the late 20th century when science seemed on course to explaining literally everything about our universe — given time. The general opinion of leading scientists seemed to be that science would soon explain why our universe exists, all of its laws and motions, even what we are and why we exist.
Horgon asks the question, “Does anyone still believe that science can explain .. everything?”.
It is a good question. We have been taught that we should defer to scientists with superior knowledge and insight on some of the most important questions — such as the origin of life, how our bodies really work, and even the definition of consciousness. As a long time Christian, I was ridiculed on several occasions for my own beliefs by atheist friends — while being proselytized to by fundamentalists, and assaulted by cult members of various stripes.
I came to see that the seemingly limitless faith that materialists seemed to have in science was very similar to the other dogmatic believers I encountered. The atheist physicist I met in the workplace was a bit like the Mormon I dreaded seeing cycling up to my front door with a fist full of pamphlets.
The materialist believes that science will eventually explain everything. All things can be boiled down to equations and matter interactions. Now that is faith!
In the Scientific American article, Horgan admitted to holding onto this faith for many years, but said, “Lately, I’ve begun to look at the vision of total knowledge as a laughable delusion, a pathological fantasy that should never have been taken seriously, even though brilliant scientists propagated it.”.
Neither Horgan, nor I believe that the principles of science are unreliable. He is a scientist and I am an engineer. I make my living depending on the stability of mathematics and physics. But if there is any truism about modern science, it seems to be that the deeper we go — the more there is that is puzzling. Science has it’s limits.
Physics now tells us that our universe may simply be a bubble in the middle of a much larger universe with different dimensionality and properties than our own bubble. Quantum theory and string theory deny the order and simplicity of Newtonian physics. Phenomena like quantum tunneling, teleportation of particles, and particle entanglement seemingly defy reason and imply a non local connection between all things. Perhaps strangest of all, it turns out that at the elemental particle level — the presence of an observer changes the way particles behave(!).
While I rely on science each and every day for virtually every aspect of my life — I don’t believe we should replace God with Science. Science and religion both have their place and the irony is that they seem to be converging more than diverging these days on fundamental questions about life.
In the past couple of centuries, western civilization moved from a religious based society with very little understanding of science, to a science based and materialist society. Today, western society seems to be largely agnostic. Most people seem to be disenchanted, jaded, alarmed and skeptical of dogmatic religion or science.
Are We Machines?
The most adamant believers in the omniscience and infallibility of science claimed that we are simply organic machines — without actually being able to explain how those machines really worked — or provide evidence to support their proposition.
These devout believers said that our consciousness is a result of the activity of neurons, and that there is nothing beyond this physical and observable world. Again, the evidence for these ideas is missing.
These precepts were articles of faith.
Given the advent of 1) Quantum Mechanics and String Theory, 2) scientific proof of paranormal activities (see Dean Radin’s work at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS)), 3) the vast increase in near death experiences due to advances in emergency care (see Dr Eben Alexander), and 4) the documented cases of children recalling verifiable details of past lives (see the work done by the University of Virginia’s Dept of Perceptual Studies), it seems clear to me that there is copious evidence indicating that there is more to human bodies and consciousness than chemical reactions and neurons, and more to human existence that a short lifespan in this world followed by nothingness and decay.
We All Need Faith
I don’t meant to belittle faith. It takes faith to believe in God, and faith to discount Gods existence. Neither proposition has been scientifically proven. Faith is critical to our everyday lives: faith in ourselves; faith in our loved ones; faith that the economy wont melt down and ruin us financially; faith in the material world we live in; faith that the pipeline company will protect us from an explosive gas leak in that line buried under the swing set in the back yard; and faith in the countless people, organizations, machines, and systems we rely on to protect us from harm and meet our physicial needs each day. It is not, however, faith without reason. It is faith based on our personal experience.
I have faith that the electricity will be on in the morning so my alarm clock will wake me up. Do I actually have proof of that? No. My experience gives me faith. Faith is so important to us that when our faith in something important is broken it hurts. It is hard to move forward.
While faith is important, it must be nurtured by experience in order to avoid becoming faith in the status quo.
Being Human Is Seeking Truth
I think that all beings that choose to be truly alive should see a quest for truth as a primary mission in life.
Life is a journey full of people, relationships, events, experiences, and learning that help us understand who we are and what this world is about. Taking personal responsibility to process these data and decide what we believe is critical to being more than a biological machine. Sadly, my experience is that many do not share my enthusiasm for seeking truth, and abrogate their responsibility to find truth to others.
As the song said in A Star Is Born, “ Some folks just believe in the things they’ve heard and the things they’ve read”.
But is it that simple? Is seeking truth a choice?
Unfortunately, for many it is not as easy as that. To often, people are are shaped in their beliefs through violence or forms of emotional / psychological control. Possibly worse… some people just believe what is convenient for them.
Seeking Truth is Hard
It is hard to push beyond culture and indoctrination to seek truth. It isn’t comfortable — even in western countries where freedom of belief is codified into law.
For many who are struggling to meet the basic necessities of life, seeking truth is a low priority. And In far too many cases it is a dangerous pursuit, due to extremists bent on maintaining conformity to their political or religious ideal.
I have heard countless times that more people have been killed in the name of God than any thing else. That is patently absurd. People of religious faith have no monopoly on coercion. Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler were not men of religion — their faith was in a materialist philosophy. Combined they produced more misery, suffering and death than any religion by orders of magnitude. Lets not avoid spirituality in favor of materialism for such a bogus argument.
But whether we are a religionist or a materialist or something else — let it be a decision we make based on facts, data, experience, and our own cogitation.
Lets seek truth — wherever it leads — without reservation — and regardless of the cost.
Seeking Truth is hard, and sometimes almost impossible. But it is the key to becoming fully human, and fully alive.