The Enlightenment Idol of Science

Before I share this quote, I need to set the proper perspective. I am nuclear engineer. I love science and benefit from science every day. Science has an important place in Western thought and culture, but it does not stand supreme.  I refuse to idolize science. People who build the houses of their lives on a foundation of scientific studies and scientific consensus are building on shaky ground.

“The Enlightenment idol is science…Science sells. Neil Postman likes to tell stories about how he can get people to warm up to absurd ideas just by suggesting that some large university has produced research on the topic. Attaching ‘produced at Berkeley, Harvard, MIT’ to a ridiculous argument immediately makes it cogent to many. That’s part of life, but let’s not pretend that it’s rationality.

The odd thing is that science has a rather ridiculous track record to serve as such a powerful veto-house of truth. If we think in terms of centuries and millennia, few other disciplines turn inside-out so flippantly and quickly as the natural sciences. Nothing can take the puff out of the scientific chest more than a study of its history. Perhaps that’s why it’s so rare to find science departments requiring courses in the history of science. The history of science provides great strength to the inductive inference that, at any point in its history, that day’s science will almost certainly be deemed false, if not laughable, within a century (often in much less time)…If the history of science were a single person, we certainly wouldn’t let that person drive heavy machinery or carry sharp objects…he could serve some useful functions…But to set him up as the premier standard and priest of rationality is a bit too much to ask.”

~Doug Wilson, Angels in the Architecture



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