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Friday 21 April 2023

The Dangers of Blindly Trusting Science


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It is fascinating to read Christian thinkers of the past, whether recent or more ancient, and see how prescient they are. Whatever topic you can conceive of, there was very likely a Christian who spoke into that topic and gave wise words of warning. Amos speaks to something which can be applied to this in his short prophecy in the Old Testament. He tells us, “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). God does not work in this world without revealing to his servants what is going to happen.

The converse of this, if God is often opposing evil, and he is, then when the enemy or evil is going to do something, it stands to reason that God will reveal this in some way to his people, or at least in their wisdom they will see the potential dangers and speak in such a way that addresses many of the trials and tribulations which we will face. Those who spend a lot of time studying the ways of God in his word, and in history, will start to see consistent threads and see certain things coming before they do.

Here is a good example of this from M. Scott Pecks, The People of the Lie,

The danger of cloaking moral judgment in scientific authority.

This is a major pitfall. It is a pitfall because we ascribe to science much more authority than it deserves. We do so for two reasons. One is that very few of us understand the limitations of science. The other is that we are too dependent upon authority in general.

When our children were infants we were blessed by the very best of paediatricians, a kind and dedicated gentle man of great erudition. When we visited him a month after the birth of our oldest child, he instructed us to start feeding her solid foods almost immediately, because such supplementation was needed for babies being breast-fed. A year later, when we visited him a month after the birth of our second daughter, he directed us to delay feeding this one solid food as long as possible so as not to deprive her of the extraordinary nutrition in breast milk. The state of the 'science' had changed! When I was in medical school we were taught that the essential treatment for diverticulosis was a low-roughage diet. Now medical students are taught that the essential treatment is a high-roughage diet.

Such experiences have taught me that what is paraded as scientific fact is simply the current belief of some scientists. We are accustomed to regard science as Truth with a capital T. What scientific knowledge is, in fact, is the best available approximation of truth in the judgment of the majority of scientists who work in the particular specialty involved. Truth is not something that we possess; it is a goal toward which we, hopefully, strive.

What is worrisome about this is the possibility that scientists—specifically psychologists—will make public pronouncements on the evil of certain personages or events. We scientists, unfortunately, are little more immune than anyone else to jumping to unsound conclusions. Many psychiatrists who had never even met the man labelled Barry Goldwater in 1964 'psychologically unfit' to be President. In the USSR, psychiatrists systematically abuse their profession by labelling political dissidents 'mentally ill', thereby serving the interests of the state rather than the interests of truth and healing.

The problem is aggravated by the fact that the public is actually eager to be guided by the pronouncements of scientists. As was earlier discussed in relation to the issue of group evil, the majority would rather follow than lead. We are content, even anxious, to let our authorities do our thinking for us. There is a profound tendency to make of our scientists 'philosopher kings', whom we allow to guide us through intellectual labyrinths, when they are often just as lost as the rest of us.

In our intellectual laziness we forget that scientific thought is almost as faddish as taste. Since the current opinion of the scientific establishment is only the latest and never the last word, we must for our safety as a public bear the responsibility of being sceptical of our scientists and their pronouncements. In other words, we should never relinquish our individual leadership. Demanding though it may be, we should all attempt to be scientists at least to the degree that we make our own judgments on issues of good and evil. Although issues of good and evil are too important to exclude from scientific examination, they are also too important to leave entirely to the scientists.

Fortunately, in our culture, scientists love to argue with one another. I shudder to think of a time and place in which there is a 'scientific' gospel on the nature of good and evil that is not subject to debate. I use 'scientific' in quotes in this regard because debate is the cornerstone of genuine science, and a science without debate and exuberant scepticism is not a science at all. The best safeguard we have against the misuse of the concept of evil by scientists is to assure that science remains scientific and grounded in a democratic culture in which open debate is encouraged.”[1]

Isn’t this prescient? And also such simple wisdom.

Science is only truly science when it can be debated, because science does not deal so much with established truth, as with the quest for truth. Scientists look into the factual nature of all sorts of things, and then are required to put together a theory which explains these facts. This theory can be true or false, but in a society where people are to lazy to care about evaluating it, it can become considered as truth even though it is false. Humans have always idolised things that are powerful. 

Note how Peck shudders at the thought that their may be a day where science is no longer able to be questioned. We live in that. Those who question science are now called ‘science deniers’. Whether it is covid vaccines, or climate change, or something similar, those who question the science today are considered outside of the realm of acceptable people.

But Peck was spot on about the dangers of blindly trusting science, because those who do this are not blindly trusting the science, they very likely have actually not read the science and could not understand it if they did. They are actually trusting the scientist, politician, bureaucrat, or businessman who is pushing the "science"* for his or her agenda whether noble or evil. And to blindly trust people, especially people you do not know who have a vested interest, is foolishness. It is the height of foolishness. 

This is sage advice, and even more so for coming from a time before our modern societal ailments. Peck saw coming what we have just gone through. Those who pay attention from a godly and wise perspective generally do. It is foolish to just blindly trust science and many people today are regretting that they did.


[1] M. Scott Peck, 1990, The People of the Lie, Arrow Books, pp295-297.

*whether accurate or not. 

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