Image: Joseph Gruber / Shutterstock.com
On 22 April, in over 600 cities around the world, thousands of people joined the March for Science ‘because science is critical to our health, economies, food security, and safety’ and ‘to defend the role of science in policy and society.’[i] Much helpful commentary has been written, but I will highlight two points that may be of interest.
First, it seems impossible that the March for Science was, in fact, for science, because no one needs to march for science, either as an empirical method or a body of knowledge. Science won a long time ago. Science is the epistemological poster child for the Galactic Department of How We Know Stuff and everyone is looking to shelter under that umbrella. Young Earth Creationists hold firmly that science, done properly, confirms the truth of the Bible. Intelligent Design advocates believe the findings of science lead unequivocally to the existence of a designer. Even politicians want a piece of science. During the 34th Parliament (1985-1987), two Hansard documents out of 52,266 (0.0038%) contained the phrase ‘evidence based’, while during the 44th Parliament (2013-2016), that phrase was found in 832 of 89,073 documents (0.9341%)[ii] —a 245-fold increase in the desire for policy to appear scientific.
The March for Science is better understood as a march against growing populist movements and governments that refuse to act on certain prevailing paradigms of Science, such as common climate change trajectories. The title March for Adopting a Particular Ethical Stance Toward Certain Findings of Science may have been more apropos.
Second, if we are going to march for science, let’s make sure we don’t end up promoting science only for its modernistic, mechanistic value for solving problems and supporting the economy. Don’t forget truth, beauty, and goodness! Creation, and the knowledge thereof, has an intrinsic value because of its relation to God, beyond any utility to problem solving. Creation is valuable because God made it (Gen 1) and because it is a loudspeaker for the glory of God (Ps 19:1), which is the telos of history—its purpose and endpoint. The knowledge of creation is valuable because it both directs us to glorify God (Job 38-41) and is one means by which we fulfil our purpose to rule creation (Gen 1:26-28). Knowledge makes us better at being human the way God intended us to be.
The difficulty we face, however, is that ‘the progress of knowledge can be made of interest to the mass of mankind only by their being told that it will lighten their labors, cure their diseases, and so forth’.[iii]
Science does indeed promote itself largely for its ability to solve problems and create revenue; for example, the report commissioned by Australia’s Chief Scientist and the Australian Academy of Science entitled Economic contribution of advances in science. [iv]
This approach to promoting science, however, is like arguing for funding for the ABC on the basis that they produce a cooking show to teach healthy cooking on a low budget; a demonstrable good. Unless we can remember and articulate why we turn on Planet Earth II or Wonders of the Universe or, indeed, The Chaser or Clarke and Dawe, we should not be surprised to awaken one morning and discover every program on the ABC is now a cooking show.
Similarly science is in danger of becoming a solution-generating arm of increasingly technocratic governments, rather than the vehicle for discovery and wonder we believe it should be: a general public good that enlivens the spirit and points us to the eternal power and divine nature of the one who created it all and calls on us to respond.
[i] March for Science. https://marchforscience.com.
[ii] Parliament of Australia. http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Hansard.
[iii] David Stove, “D’Holbach’s Dream: The Central Claim of the Enlightenment” in Against the Idols of the Age, ed. Roger Kimball (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1999), 83.
[iv] Australia’s Chief Scientist. http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2016/01/reports-economic-contribution-of-advances-in-science/.
Comments will be approved before showing up.