Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Science's Rightful Place


In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said something that many might have missed or skipped over. He said that his administration would restore science to its rightful place. The point, of course, is that after an eight year period where science was put under a partisan microscope, he was going to set scientists free to do their work. This is especially true of foci such as climate change and energy and maybe stem cell research. But it has broader implications, because science education is part of the equation. The ID and Creationist movements have done much to damage the credibility of science education and the scientific method.

Dennis Overbye has written a most interesting essay for the New York Times. It's entitled: "Elevating Science, Elevating Democracy." He challenges the ideas that science has no intrinsic values or that it teaches no values to society. Indeed, science and democracy go hand in hand. China has tried to embrace science without democracy, but that the lack of democracy has crimped its science. America's attempts in recent years to clip the wings of science, may have crimped our democracy.

What I thought was interesting was his discussion of the values that emerge from science:

But this is balderdash. Science is not a monument of received Truth but something that people do to look for truth.

That endeavor, which has transformed the world in the last few centuries, does indeed teach values. Those values, among others, are honesty, doubt, respect for evidence, openness, accountability and tolerance and indeed hunger for opposing points of view. These are the unabashedly pragmatic working principles that guide the buzzing, testing, poking, probing, argumentative, gossiping, gadgety, joking, dreaming and tendentious cloud of activity — the writer and biologist Lewis Thomas once likened it to an anthill — that is slowly and thoroughly penetrating every nook and cranny of the world.

Nobody appeared in a cloud of smoke and taught scientists these virtues. This behavior simply evolved because it worked.


I am of the belief that all truth is God's truth, and that we should seek truth -- always knowing that we don't have a complete handle on the truth and that our understandings of truth can and will be challenged every day. These values, that Overbye lists, do have a great attraction for me -- as a Christian!

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