The limits of science

Jerry Coyne has a post about the NCSE enabling woo, but there’s one part near his introduction that really stood out to me.

This accommodationism is most annoying when the NCSE assumes its science-has-its-limits stance, a stance designed to show that beyond those borders lies the proper and goodly realm of religion. Yes, of course science has some limits—it can’t (yet) explain why I love the paintings of Kandinsky and others find them abstract and boring. But how on earth do these “limits” somehow justify belief in the palpable nonsense of faith?

Going by his use of the word “yet”, it sounds like he doesn’t see science as being limited in theory. His post doesn’t focus on this point, so it isn’t entirely clear if that’s his position. However, it is my position.

Science is not limited in and of itself. It can tell us absolutely everything about the Universe. That includes telling us why we think something is beautiful or moral or why we love someone. Science is not theoretically limited in any way from being able to tell us all these things. The problem, however, that arises here is the whole “yet” thing. It causes confusion. Let me explain.

Science is limited in telling us a vast majority of things we might want to know. Right now it cannot tell us why we make all the choices we do or why some of us might find the ocean beautiful. But that is not a matter of science being limited in and of itself. In actuality, the limit comes from human ability, a lack of technology, a lack of necessity, the short span of time in which one person will live, the short time the entirety of the human race has and will exist, etc. We limit science; science does not limit us.


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