Science Matters

Do we, holding that gods exist, deceive
ourselves with unsubstantiated dreams,
and lies, while random careless chance
and change alone rule the world?
— Eupripides

Science matters. The benefits are tangible and obvious. They are also deep. The benefits of science have improved just about every aspect of our lives. Scientists better than philosophers and theologians understand the workings of the brain and the meaning of the human condition. But science is no substitute for love and relationships with other human beings, both as close as in our families and as faraway as in Iraq.

Science begins with belief the physical world or nature is all that exists or is real. The only two sources of knowledge are logical reasoning and empirical experience. Our knowledge of the world comes from scientific observation, experimentation, and rational analysis not by divine revelation. The scientific method, while not perfect, is by far the best way we have to understand the world. The belief that forces other than the sort known to science are responsible for the fate of individuals and Humankind as a whole is the basis of religion and superstition. The laws that govern the universe and Humankind are the physical laws of the universe and independent of influence by supernatural beings such as gods, demons, or spirits of any sort.

Verifiability is the key to the meaningfulness of our knowledge of the world. A statement has meaning if and only if it can be proved true or false, at least in principle, by experimentation or experience. We truly know something when we can precisely state the conditions under which it would be necessary for us to give up our belief in its truth.

Science is central to Humankind’s beliefs about its existence. Humankind is not sanctified by science. There is no justification in science, either from faith in it or through works. Because of science, there is no need for grace or either being sanctified or justified.

As well as the benefits of technology, science benefits Humankind by providing a view that allows human beings to see themselves and the world more accurately.

Despair is unnecessary because of the potential for Humankind to continue to develop communities that provide the greatest potential for individuals to create a meaning for their lives. I agree with Sartre when he discuses how existence precedes essence. We are here and we can do what we wish with our lives. We can find satisfaction from developing ourselves in interesting ways or we can try to follow scripts written thousands of years ago and passed on to us by parents and religious leaders. The choice is ours. The choice originates in science that shows us the universe and life evolves rather than having been created in some specific form and with some specific purpose.

Whether they “believe” or whether they “do not believe” in this or that scientific theory is important in people’s lives. Beliefs are fundamentally, structurally, relevant to the individual’s actual existence. Choices in planning for the future, deciding to what school to send their children, attending which church, are among the decisions based on one’s beliefs about the nature of the world. As are decisions about voting for candidates for public office, and deciding to which political causes and charities to give money.

Suppose you were in a crisis and wished to discuss your predicerment with someone. Would you go to someone who was current on the scientific literature – someone who knew about human psychology, interpersonal relations, and rational decision-making? Or, would you want to talk to someone who believed in God’s will, predestination, and justification through faith?

Science makes us wise. Science gives us information that makes it easier to know how to be good to our fellow human beings. The proper application of scientific findings has the ability to make us happy the misuse of science has the ability to increase human misery and kill.

The dramatic growth of science since the Renaissance has had positive and negative effects similar to those resulting from the discovery of nuclear energy. Science has killed some but enriched the lives of billions of human beings. Those with spiritual needs will have to have those needs fulfilled in nonscientific ways.

We do not need to worship, abandon, reject, refuse, or devalue science – merely recognize it as the surest guide we have to our world.

To keep science in its proper place one must know the proper place of science – and what there is in those realms that science cannot reach. There is no scientific way to compose or great symphony or write a great poem.

Science causes individual human beings to forget themselves and look at Humankind. Science causes individuals to become more aware of their roles in protecting the world for Humankind and other species. Nothing remains but seeing Humankind as a part of an ecological whole.

The findings of the biopsychosocial sciences have transformed modern psychiatry from a faith based practice to a scientifically based endeavor with ever increasing ability to help individuals with psychiatric disorders.

Ivan Goldberg