Friday, August 16, 2013

Is Science an Enemy of Humanity?

There is an interesting debate going on, on the virtual pages of the New York Times. It's a rather standard creationism vs. science/evolution exchange of ideas, started by an article "Why I'm a Creationist", written by Virginia Heffernan, that attracted some well-deserved criticism, and was answered by Steven Pinker in an article titled "Science Is Not Your Enemy". I have to confess that I find myself much more attached the Pinker's side (obviously):
In other words, the worldview that guides the moral and spiritual values of an educated person today is the worldview given to us by science. Though the scientific facts do not by themselves dictate values, they certainly hem in the possibilities. By stripping ecclesiastical authority of its credibility on factual matters, they cast doubt on its claims to certitude in matters of morality. The scientific refutation of the theory of vengeful gods and occult forces undermines practices such as human sacrifice, witch hunts, faith healing, trial by ordeal, and the persecution of heretics. The facts of science, by exposing the absence of purpose in the laws governing the universe, force us to take responsibility for the welfare of ourselves, our species, and our planet. For the same reason, they undercut any moral or political system based on mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, struggles, or messianic ages. And in combination with a few unexceptionable convictions— that all of us value our own welfare and that we are social beings who impinge on each other and can negotiate codes of conduct—the scientific facts militate toward a defensible morality, namely adhering to principles that maximize the flourishing of humans and other sentient beings. This humanism, which is inextricable from a scientific understanding of the world, is becoming the de facto morality of modern democracies, international organizations, and liberalizing religions, and its unfulfilled promises define the moral imperatives we face today.
than to any of his opponents, especially, the religious and the politically motivated ones. Like the one from Ross Douthat:
Because we know the universe has no purpose, we must imbue it with the purposes of a (non-species-ist) liberal cosmopolitanism! Because of science, we know that modern civilization has no dialectic or destiny … so we must pursue its “unfulfilled promises” and accept its “moral imperatives” instead!
Ouch... do I smell "ad-hominem" attack? Call Pinker some names, and disregard his stance that only rational analysis and scientific thinking has been proven to better the human race for ages.

There is also a typical "science requires faith too" gibberish:
But this belief in science collapses on itself: there is no scientific evidence to prove that science is the only reliable way to discover truth. Once we take unproven hypotheses and dogmatize them, we have moved beyond scientific evidence into philosophical reflection on truth and the scientific method. Naturalist or not, when it comes to the world’s origins, we are all in the realm of faith.
Nope... there is no faith in science. Not in the way you would want to. It's just about simple rational thinking and understanding that, only via this avenue, we can learn anything useful about the world that surrounds us.

It's good to see that there are some, who understand it:
We need not, however, enter into simplistic debates that lead to endless conflict. Rather, we can bring science and the humanities together to explore a new synergy of scientific fact and human values. Recognizing that we are now understanding these evolutionary processes through science and appreciating them through art, poetry, literature, music and spirituality gives us an opportunity to discover our own role in this unfolding story.
Science does not invalidate humanism, poetry, art, and countless other "soul-based" activities. It enhances them and makes them work pursuing, especially when we realize we have very little time to do it.