Why Science Can’t Explain What Science Can’t Explain
Saints and Sceptics
Chairman Mao told a parable about an old man who lived at the foot of a mountain. Disliking how the precipice ruined his view, he and his sons set out one morning with chisels to whittle the mountain away. The other villagers came out to mock him; but the old man replied “Yes, I will never destroy this mountain in my lifetime, nor will my sons. But my grandsons can continue this work and their sons also, and so on to infinity. Once men have decided on a course, nothing is impossible for them.”
So the worshippers of scientific materialism assume that every fact will one day give way to the methods of science. It might take a lot more detailed experiments and novel hypotheses, but eventually even the existence of our universe, consciousness, morality and even the laws of nature themselves will be explained by science. Just like the old man at the foot of the mountain, they know that they probably won’t live to see science conquer all; but they have grad students, and those grad students will have grad students, and so on to infinity. Sooner or later, the mountain of mysterious facts will give way.
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This blind belief in the promise of the scientific enterprise puts the old man’s into shadow: he merely set out to level a mountain over many generations; he did not attempt to make a circle with four right angles or to prove that numbers taste like chicken. There are some questions that science cannot answer because it was never intended to. Galileo, Descartes and the other founders of the scientific method insisted that natural philosophy (what we call “science”) should only study what can be mathematically quantified and described in the third person. By narrowing their focus they made great bounds in understanding the material world.
They deliberately set aside first-person, subjective experiences. These could not be mathematically quantified; describing a feeling of grief or the meaning of beauty in words is close to impossible. Heaven help the fool who thinks that they can be captured by an equation! This is why we need art and poetry to communicate…
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