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Does science have all the answers? - Comments

Metamag's Avatar Comment 1 by Metamag

Does science have all the answers?

Why do people keep asking such absurd silly questions?

Science is simply a robust empirical application of reason...what else has produced anything remotely useful or of value for humankind? Religion aka nonsensical mental masturbation served and serves only as a huge obstacle to the overall human wellbeing.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 22:07:52 UTC | #604126

Neodarwinian's Avatar Comment 2 by Neodarwinian

Ill posed question. Science may not have all the answers, for instance, why Bay Area types are such smug and arrogant ignoramuses, but it has many answers that would surprise relativists, social constructionists, secular creationists, social scientists and any brand of religious nut bag you care to name.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 22:17:24 UTC | #604130

Stafford Gordon's Avatar Comment 3 by Stafford Gordon

If the answer is in the positive science would have no purpose; or am I just pissed again? Or pished pershaps?

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 22:24:31 UTC | #604132

Alan4discussion's Avatar Comment 4 by Alan4discussion

It is probable that we may never have ALL the answers, but science will have at least 99% more correct than creationists will ever have! The research tools are improving all the time, but only those who use their output scientifically will gain reliable knowledge. The others will make up what they like to hear as usual.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 22:29:51 UTC | #604134

The Alchemist's Avatar Comment 5 by The Alchemist

Does science have all the answers?

I think it depends heavily on what sort of questions we are asking here. I guess science cannot answer all questions, but it can surely ask questions --questions that are not unscientific so to speak-- and then attempt to provide answers to those questions that it had originally asked itself. In this way, yes, it can answers all questions.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 23:04:19 UTC | #604144

kraut's Avatar Comment 6 by kraut

The counter question: what answers does religion provide?

There are two set of answers: those that comfort, are not testable and are essentially fluff - relying on the say so of unquestionable authorities, opinion and hearsay. And those that rely on testable evidence.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 23:20:29 UTC | #604150

Ivan The Not So Bad's Avatar Comment 7 by Ivan The Not So Bad

Mary Midgley and RD have some history.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 23:24:47 UTC | #604152

Stevehill's Avatar Comment 8 by Stevehill

No, science does not have all the answers.

That doesn't mean that god did it. Or that Mary Midgley has an intellectual basis for reaching any such conclusion.

For a philosopher, she's a bit dim, actually.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 23:28:43 UTC | #604154

MumboJumbo's Avatar Comment 9 by MumboJumbo

Can't wait to read Prof. Atkins new book. He's one of my atheist heroes.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 23:43:43 UTC | #604161

HappyPrimate's Avatar Comment 10 by HappyPrimate

Science may not have ALL the answers, but without science there are no answers worth calling truth. Science allows for adjustments as appropriate with evidence. Nothing, no other ideology or system, allows for such and thus remains stagnant in an evolving universe. So -- for myself, I will turn to see what science has to say about anything before considering an alternative, if any.

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 23:44:40 UTC | #604162

pipsy's Avatar Comment 11 by pipsy

Of course science does not have all the answers. Yet science strives to find answers and then more answers. Science is constantly ongoing and changing, just as the universe is ongoing and changing and never going back.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 00:08:03 UTC | #604172

aquilacane's Avatar Comment 12 by aquilacane

But at the same time, she says, science does not tell people how they should live their lives.

I think, left to myself, I could do better than a slave owning, wife beating bigot with a sadomasochistic death wish bent on executing the word-for-word edicts of a poorly written archive of early man's most preposterous psychotic mental disorders and delusional tendencies.

My slave owner scribble

Good christian

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 00:52:57 UTC | #604191

desmilabius's Avatar Comment 13 by desmilabius

I came across this earlier today through Bryan Appleyard's blog. He'd written a short, bitchy article about it, comparing Atkins with murderous dictators, apparently all because he once refused to shake Appleyard's hand. It's entertainingly silly enough to bear a full quote:

Mary Midgley is a distinguished, humane and subtle philosopher. Peter Atkins is not. He has a hard, scientistic mind and he is one of those alarming people who does not know what he does not know. The two clashed this morning on the Today programme. Midgley pointed out, quite correctly, that the language he was using was largely meaningless and, in any case, not science. He emitted supercilious nonsense of the type that, in the hands of tyrants, usually ends up with piles of corpses – the prime nonsense being that there is one correct way of viewing the world and we, now, are in the uniquely privileged position of having that correct view at our disposal. All of history, in other words, climaxes triumphantly in the personality and opinions of Peter Atkins. Luckily, Atkins is only an Oxford professor. I met him once, soon after my book Understanding the Present came out. Lewis Wolpert, a funny, charming scientistic anarchist, introduced us. Atkins declined to shake my hand and just said, ‘I despise you.’ And that is all he said. He is a very poor advertisement for the scientific method.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 01:36:56 UTC | #604204

Daniel Schealler's Avatar Comment 14 by Daniel Schealler

Can science answer all questions?

No. We all know science doesn't have all the answers. If science had all the answers, it would stop.

Silly question.

Better question: Can religion answer the questions that science can't?

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 01:43:36 UTC | #604206

Pom's Avatar Comment 15 by Pom

For a philosopher, she's a bit dim, actually.

Wrong, Steve. For a philosopher, she's VERY dim.

But then, most (although certainly not all) philosophers haven't a clue either. As Hawking said, philosophy is dead. To comment on the universe, you need nowadays to understand serious mathematics, cutting-edge physics, deep science, advanced biology . . . Any fool can make pronouncements from a position of ignorance, and regrettably, most philosophers today are adept at spin, but deviod of understanding.

It is true that in the past, many scientists were also involved in philosophy. It is similarly true that many years ago, it was possible to know a great deal about almost everything that was known on the scientific front. Alas, this is no longer so. Just have a look through Roger Penrose's 'Road to Reality' - and that's just ONE discipline to master before venturing into unfruitful philosophical discussions.

And please, don't confuse political or social commentary with philosophy, as so many people do.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 02:08:03 UTC | #604215

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 16 by Steve Zara

I came across this earlier today through Bryan Appleyard's blog.

Appleyard is a soggyist. Everything he writes drips with the moisture of liberally applied relativism. Science is nasty. It's tasteless. It's a pursuit of the lesser intellectual. If such people are coarse and vulgar enough to insist on talking about facts, they should know better.

Midgley is wrong. Atkins is wrong. But, Atkins' wrong is a far better position than that of Midgley. Atkins is wrong because there are questions which science can't deal with, questions about abstractions such as mathematics, and about things that seem to hover between reality and abstraction such as morality. That is not a failing of science. Science searches for what is real. It's the only way to do that.

Midgley is just all over the place. It's not to do with her age, she has always been like that. It seems that in her field producing as many words as possible containing as little meaning is possible is considered an achievement.

What does irritate me is Atkins dismissal of philosophy. Philosophy is the easiest way to deal with the Appleyards and the Midgleys. It's powerful if it's kept free of fluff and nonsense.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 02:10:59 UTC | #604217

Callinectes's Avatar Comment 17 by Callinectes

No, science does not have all the answers. But there's no reason to believe that any enterprise has all the answers, and certainly no alternative to science is able to provide more answers tomorrow than it does today.

"Why" questions are, almost always, the wrong questions. The answers they seek do not correspond with any phenomenon or process in reality. Just because you are able to assemble words into the form of a question, that does not mean that it is both coherent and has an answer.

I don't see what being put at ease or comfort has to do with answers. Science could progress to the point when it can know about an afterlife, and discover that our souls go to the Warp where they are devoured by the Ruinous Powers of Chaos. That would be unsettling, but in the context of that scenario, no less true because of it. We have no reason to believe that the universe is amenable to us, in fact every reason to believe the opposite.

I have never read anything by Mary Midgley that was coherent, rational or indicated any sort of appreciation or understanding of science. It is true that ignorance of a topic increases one's confidence in one's knowledge of it.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 02:11:28 UTC | #604218

Starcrash's Avatar Comment 18 by Starcrash

Perhaps the wrong question is being asked. How about "does science need all the answers"?

You remember the doubts surrounding the Large Hadron Collider. Sure, it didn't tear the universe a new one... but it had the potential to do it, and all in the name of "getting answers". At what point is our thirst for knowledge quenched? Can it be? What dangers will we risk just to find out more?

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 02:14:08 UTC | #604221

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 19 by Steve Zara

But then, most (although certainly not all) philosophers haven't a clue either. As Hawking said, philosophy is dead

I'm afraid I would consider anything Hawking has said on this matter. He's not a philosopher, and it shows - his latest book 'The Grand Design' is all over the place when it comes to dealing with questions about what is real and what isn't.

He's a truly brilliant mathematical physicist, but that doesn't make him qualified to pass judgement on philosophy. Philosophy is hugely important when it's focussed around science, as Daniel Dennett would confirm.

I'm sorry if this sounds a bit arrogant - criticising Hawking's views on philosophy. If anyone has any good counter-arguments, I'm quite happy to change my mind.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 02:22:06 UTC | #604224

Metamag's Avatar Comment 20 by Metamag

Comment 17 by Callinectes :

Science could progress to the point when it can know about an afterlife, and discover that our souls go to the Warp where they are devoured by the Ruinous Powers of Chaos. That would be unsettling, but in the context of that scenario, no less true because of it.

Oh man, don't tease me, I'm a huge fan of WH40K.

Emperor protects!

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 02:27:15 UTC | #604226

yhummo's Avatar Comment 21 by yhummo

I find that the realm of science - which can grow and deviate at any point of discovery - will prove that it can supply all answers. The true crux lies within the current human capacity to solve and better understand these hard questions utilizing both the science we know and the science we shall learn. I suppose we shall never hit a point when knowledge stops (unless we are wiped out) to progress forward. As their shall always be new questions that arise. However, I feel that given enough time, science as it would be perceived in the future, will never cease to answer them.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 02:39:07 UTC | #604235

lynda's Avatar Comment 22 by lynda

Does science have all the answers? Yes, yes it does! If we want to move beyond speculation into the realm of hard facts, scientific investigation is the most reliable and fruitful method we have. I have complete confidence that if we're sincere in our quest of understanding the universe, the earth, and its inhabitants, it will be through science that we'll find the answers. I'll go so far as to say that if there's a god, it'll be science that finds him/her/it. Not religion.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 03:40:26 UTC | #604243

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 23 by Schrodinger's Cat

Science may not have all the answers, but it's the only system I know that has all the questions.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 03:44:54 UTC | #604244

Pom's Avatar Comment 24 by Pom

I'm afraid I would consider anything Hawking has said on this matter. He's not a philosopher, and it shows - his latest book 'The Grand Design' is all over the place when it comes to dealing with questions about what is real and what isn't. He's a truly brilliant mathematical physicist, but that doesn't make him qualified to pass judgement on philosophy. Philosophy is hugely important when it's focussed around science, as Daniel Dennett would confirm.

I think you meant to say 'not consider anything Hawking has said' Steve, but let it pass.

You knock Hawking as not being a philosopher, citing Daniel Dennett. Now I have huge respect for Daniel Dennett, but by the same argument, he is not a mathematical physicist, no more than Hawking is a philosopher. You can't have it both ways, Steve. Dennett is a philosopher and a cognitive scientist, so it is surely highly unlikely he would admit that his craft was dead.

I did not find 'The Grand Design' to be 'all over the place' Steve. I found it to be a very reasonable assessment of the state of mathematical and physics thinking today - it is where modern concepts, particularly M and string theory, logically lead. I have seen several comments similar to yours, basically claiming that Hawking must somehow be wrong, but I have yet to see any argument supported by evidence, or writtten by anyone who knows their mathematics. Reminds me a little of the Bohr-Einstein argument, where many people, uninformed about either quantum theory or relativity, were offering cock-assed opinions and expecting to be taken seriously.

That is NOT to say that M or string theory is correct - there are dozens of other theories floating around, many with excellent mathematical support. It IS to say that Daniel Dennet is NOT the person to pass philosophical judgment on Hawking's ideas.

You will have guessed, I hope, that I have a great respect for mathematics, and for logical argument. Much more respec than I accord the musings of 'philosophers'.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 03:56:03 UTC | #604249

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 25 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 8 by Stevehill

For a philosopher, she's a bit dim, actually.

What can one expect of a philosopher who seems to be named after a 1970s children's program.

http://www.thechestnut.com/mary/mary.htm

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 03:59:33 UTC | #604250

Michael Fisher's Avatar Comment 26 by Michael Fisher

Comment 18 by Starcrash :

Perhaps the wrong question is being asked. How about "does science need all the answers"?

You remember the doubts surrounding the Large Hadron Collider. Sure, it didn't tear the universe a new one... but it had the potential to do it, and all in the name of "getting answers". At what point is our thirst for knowledge quenched? Can it be? What dangers will we risk just to find out more?

A link to cracked.com starcrash ? Now that's what I call science. I also see from your blog that you believe style preferable to original content

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 04:03:31 UTC | #604251

Schrodinger's Cat's Avatar Comment 27 by Schrodinger's Cat

Comment 24 by Jollyroger

I did not find 'The Grand Design' to be 'all over the place' Steve. I found it to be a very reasonable assessment of the state of mathematical and physics thinking today - it is where modern concepts, particularly M and string theory, logically lead. I have seen several comments similar to yours, basically claiming that Hawking must somehow be wrong, but I have yet to see any argument supported by evidence, or writtten by anyone who knows their mathematics.

The onus is on Hawking to show that he is right. Much of 'The Grand Design' is speculative, insofar as M theory has next to nothing in the way of testable predictions and is strictly speaking not a full scientific theory for that very reason.

The trouble with Hawking is that he's very fond of asserting that science is on the brink of knowing everything, when in fact a whole series of fundamental questions remain unanswered. Not least of which is the question of why anything exists at all. And its's all very well asserting that the universe complies with the standard model of particle physics, but that in turn begs the question of why that model and not some other. There is a huge difference between saying 'this is the way the universe is'....and 'this is WHY the universe is the way it is'.

Science is nowhere near answering the latter.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 04:18:40 UTC | #604254

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 28 by Steve Zara

You knock Hawking as not being a philosopher, citing Daniel Dennett. Now I have huge respect for Daniel Dennett, but by the same argument, he is not a mathematical physicist, no more than Hawking is a philosopher. You can't have it both ways, Steve. Dennett is a philosopher and a cognitive scientist, so it is surely highly unlikely he would admit that his craft was dead.

Just watch me have it both ways! I'll have a good go anyway. Hawking can't say that philosophy is dead unless he comes up with answers to the questions that people like Dennett are dealing with. Dennett could not say that physics is dead unless he could come up with answers to the questions that Hawking is dealing with.

It's a good thing that Dennett and many other philosophers aren't saying physics is dead. They would look foolish. So why is there a tendency to nod in approval when physicists and other scientists say philosophy is over?

I did not find 'The Grand Design' to be 'all over the place' Steve. I found it to be a very reasonable assessment of the state of mathematical and physics thinking today - it is where modern concepts, particularly M and string theory, logically lead.

I didn't say it was 'all over the place'. That would be very arrogant, and also wrong. I said it was 'all over the place' when it comes to dealing with questions of reality.

Let's look at one of those questions, a question that is highly relevant to whether or not science has all the answers. The question is - is M-Theory a Theory of Everything? What is a Theory of Everything? It's generally considered to be a relatively simple mathematical and physical model that can explain where all the particles and forces of nature come from and how they interact.

Hawking has made a bit of a leap. He has said that M-Theory will do as a Theory of Everything. He also says that if two or more theories come up with the same predictions then we might as well assume that reality is whatever the model we wish to use says.

That is rotten philosophy. It throws away the core of science, which is about finding out what is real. Hawking is putting limits on science. That's one objection I have to his book.

Now, let's go back to M-Theory. Is it a possible Theory of Everything? I would say of course it isn't. M-theory assumes that certain (usually) extremely minute strands or membranes of... something.. are the ultimate reality. These things obey certain rules, and that gives rise to particles and forces. It says nothing about why reality consists of these structures. M-Theory also says nothing about why quantum mechanics exists. It's ontologically empty. This doesn't mean that it is wrong, but it means it isn't a candidate for a final theory - it doesn't say enough about reality.

What I'm doing there is discussing theories and hypotheses. Scientists do a lot of that. That discussion is called philosophy. Part of philosophy is about finding out what are the right questions to ask. Perhaps Hawking considers philosophy dead because he thinks that with M-theory there are no more questions that need asking. I would imagine very many scientists would disagree. There are also deep questions that need asking about subjects such as consciousness. Philosophy can clear out a lot of muddy thinking here. I'm a hard materialist as a result of philosophical arguments.

The time of philosophy is far from over. As long as we want to think about the right questions to ask, we will need philosophers.

EDIT: I note that Schrodinger's Cat has said much the same thing, only more concisely!

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 04:35:27 UTC | #604257

Sample's Avatar Comment 29 by Sample

Catchy title. Provocative to be sure. But one thing detractors would do well to notice is this: whereas faith commands complacency, science works to emancipate. And in the meantime, while people of faith hurt one another, the pursuit of reason continues to make all our lives better.

Commercial reasoning helps you live better.

Mike

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 04:37:47 UTC | #604259

bethe123's Avatar Comment 30 by bethe123

Oxford seems to be hurting in the philosophy department these days. First we have to listen to Grayling's nonsense on non-valid god hypothesis, and now Atkin's nonsense.

I do have Atkin's "Atkin's Molecules" book (which I note is published by Cambridge, not Oxford -- what's the matter, Oxford press not good enough (lol)), which has been called the most beautiful chemistry book ever written...and I must also mention that Atkins has been fairly prolific in his career. He therefore is a moron when he makes the statement

Being bleak is part of the pleasure of being alive -- Atkins

I submit that a person who has been so prolific, and published the most beautiful chemitry book ever, has very likely known tremendous creative and personal satisfaction is his work, and has never known 'bleak'. Let's take away all his work, lock him in a gulag somewhere, make him do forced labor, so he understands what bleak is, and see if he is able to find pleasure in being alive...So, Atkins is an idiot. To survive such an existence, it would be useful if in addition to his scientific pursuits, he had studied some philosophy and psychology...so that he was able to find a meaning in such a bleak existence and have a finite chance of survival.

Fri, 18 Mar 2011 06:21:11 UTC | #604269