Science and the Skeptical Mind

David Gelernter’s recent article on “The Closing of the Scientific Mind” in Commentary has been getting a lot of well-deserved attention. Most of the article deals with the conflict surrounding the topic of human subjectivity, but I was struck by a broader observation that Gelemter made near the end:

Power corrupts, and science today is the Catholic Church around the start of the 16th century: used to having its own way and dealing with heretics by excommunication, not argument.

Science is caught up, also, in the same educational breakdown that has brought so many other proud fields low. Science needs reasoned argument and constant skepticism and open-mindedness. But our leading universities have dedicated themselves to stamping them out—at least in all political areas. We routinely provide superb technical educations in science, mathematics, and technology to brilliant undergraduates and doctoral students. But if those same students have been taught since kindergarten that you are not permitted to question the doctrine of man-made global warming, or the line that men and women are interchangeable, or the multiculturalist idea that all cultures and nations are equally good (except for Western nations and cultures, which are worse), how will they ever become reasonable, skeptical scientists? They’ve been reared on the idea that questioning official doctrine is wrong, gauche, just unacceptable in polite society. (And if you are president of Harvard, it can get you fired.)

On the whole, science has proven to be a boon to mankind. Yet for all its contributions, science is susceptible to the same prejudices that have corrupted every other human endeavor—including religion. For science (or more correctly, scientists) to position itself as the final and absolute arbiter of truth is to assume an arrogance that will eventually tarnish its credibility.

Contrary to popular opinion, science does not have all the answers. A healthy dose of humility is in order for those who pretend otherwise.

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