Science articles often imply or blatantly claim that science is an irrefutable source of knowledge. Sometimes science is proclaimed to be the only source of knowledge. But these claims are more indicative of science advocate reach than science itself. Science is fundamentally a system of faith, not a system of knowledge.
The first faith aspect of science can be seen in the tentative nature of scientific information. Scientific research is an ongoing process through which the universe is redefined. Yesterday’s assumptions are modified or overruled by today’s discoveries. We expect and strive for more revisions tomorrow. Consequently, it is clear that no scientific knowledge is irrefutable. Science expects to refute itself. A claim that “This is the best available information,” may be an absolutely true statement, but it never means, “This is the final word,” no matter what the question may be.
The physical universe is shockingly, unrelentingly complex. While every scientific discovery adds to our encyclopedia of understanding, it is also true that these discoveries tend to unveil new problems. The lock science finally picks opens up a room, revealing nine new doorways. Questions multiply at a rate far greater than discoveries. To loosely quote Lewis Carroll: The faster we go the further behinder we get. Will scientific research ever settle on conclusions? Will any research ever reach an end so that people can say, “We’ve reached certainty on this question”? We don’t know. How could we know?
The second faith aspect of science is its presupposition of material immutability. For science to be meaningful/reliable, it is necessary for the universe to behave consistently. “Countless experiments have proved the universe is stable.” Well, there have been a lot of experiments and surely no one has kept track of the number. However, whatever the number, it is infinitessimably smaller than the molecules and events in the universe that could have had experiments run on them. So, we have taken samples, and these give us a deep confidence in that stability…but do our samples prove there are no exceptions?
Science, with a built-in bias about universal stability, is inclined to throw out data that contradicts the assumption. “Doctor, I ran the experiment and I did not get the result I was supposed to get.” “Son, the universe did not suspend itself for you today. Run the test again.” Yes, the professor was probably correct that his student had made a procedural error. But the presumption rules out the possibility of noticing exceptions (an ironic contradiction to scientific enterprise). The point is that the stability of the universe cannot be proved; it can only be believed. It is a presupposition upon which scientific study is utterly dependent. But it is a matter of faith. We cannot know what tomorrow will demonstrate. If an aberration happened yesterday, did we notice? If we noticed, did we decide it was a lab error?
The third faith aspect of science is fundamentally an issue of logic. The claim that the study of the material universe is the source of knowledge is a self-refuting claim. Where do we find in the physical universe the revelation that it is a source of truth? There is no rock, no amoeba, no DNA calling out from the microscope to proclaim the certain nature of itself, or the certain ability of humans to understand what they are observing. The physical universe is passive, not saying anything about anything. What it says to us is what we infer, based on our experiences, hopes, and hypotheses.
The idea that the physical world is a source of truth finds its genesis outside the revelations of the physical universe. The idea is not actual science. So, if truth can only be discerned through scientific study, the idea of it cannot be true because it is conceived outside of scientific study.
Does the fact that the idea of scientific truth is outside of scientific observation prove that science cannot be a source of truth or even the source of truth? No, it does not. These are still logical possibilities. But if either claim is true, it cannot be demonstrated through scientific study; it can only be believed.
The fourth faith aspect of science, though this one is not always assumed, is that science is the only source of knowledge. Clearly, if scientific study is limited to the physical universe, science can make no observations or make judgments about knowledge sources that have other origins. Is there a spirit world? Science may decide that such a sphere is outside its range of investigation, but that is no evidence that it does not exist. Such a view is akin to the small child who hides by putting his hands over his eyes. (If I can’t see them, then they can’t see me.) It takes considerable faith to insist there is no spiritual world.
Scientific study is fundamentally a faith system, established on layers of faith. Scientific truth is always tentative; the immutability of the universe cannot be proved; and the very claim of science as a source of truth is a faith proposition. Those who promote science as the key to knowledge are delusional. Or, worse, perhaps they are simply trying to delude the rest of us.
(End of Part One)