(From Google Images)
Sometimes I read stuff that flips a little switch inside me. Usually I am old enough and wise enough to shrug and leave it alone. Not always though. This is one of those times. I have risen to the bait and chomped on the hook. Read on.
It was a weekend newspaper’s breathless account of a research project from someplace important. The report claimed it had found that scientists in the ‘hard’ sciences were more intelligent than everybody else, just as those who rejected religious faith were more intelligent than those who did not.
Well, amen brother! Reboot the laptops and pop the champagne corks. Science in action! It seems they were right all along! Now they know for sure that boffins who reject emotions, dismiss intuition, snort at things sentimental and mystical, and focus on facts, have all the answers that matter! It’s settled. They said so.
Give me a break!
I’m not going to get into a critique of science because it would bore you, and anyway, science is spectacularly and rightly successful in its own way. Our world would be unrecognisable without it. There’s no way I would want to do without medicine, engineering, the internet, or weather forecasting (oh. . . . ok . . maybe meteorology is a bit of overreach). It’s just that people occasionally can get carried away like in the above report, and make claims about which science can have nothing sensible to say.
Science is quite properly interested in things it can measure. What it can’t measure is (or should be) of no interest to it. To do science we need to assume that the only things that are real are those things we can measure with our senses. Fair enough and beyond debate I would hope. What remains debatable for some is whether science can say sensible things about what it can’t measure: Things like the meaning of existence, the value of a person, human spirituality, hope, love, and so on.
Take Grandma’s wedding ring for example. Science can quite properly make pronouncements about its shape, mass and composition. As far as I know there is no instrument that can measure its value and significance to me. Does this mean its value and significance to me are unscientific. Yep! Does this mean its value and significance to me are not real?
What do you think?
Get my drift?
When we reduce reality to those things we can measure scientifically a lot of stuff falls through the sieve. Important stuff. Stuff that is the fabric of life. Stuff that gives life its meaning and significance.
While I turn to science for answers about all sorts of things does that mean I would turn to it for all things? I wouldn’t consult it about the significance of my Grandma’s wedding ring any more than I would depend on it to explain to me why I matter in the scheme of things. It just doesn’t recognise these as valid questions you see.
Intellect and intelligence are indeed wonderful gifts. Used without empathy, care and love they lose their shine and become barriers to understanding and to living a full life. In this way, self important nerds who undertake scientific research without being aware of the limitations of their discipline miss the wood for the trees and simply confirm their own prejudices.
There are certainly circumstances I can see myself putting my life on the line for people I love, for my religious faith, and for things that give my life its meaning. None of those things has anything whatsoever to do with science or a scientific world view, as useful and as fascinating as they may be.
So to those intrepid researchers who set out to confirm what they already believed; go for it fellas! Put your faith in psychometric tests; in stuff you can measure. Discount and disparage the importance of stuff you can’t measure. Maybe scientists in the ‘hard’ sciences and also unbelievers do better on psychometric tests than everybody else. Who knows, maybe it means something.
I’m just not sure that it means what you think it means.
(Just for the record, I have a degree in Physics. I find science fascinating, however I worship elsewhere.)