In Defence of Science

Science is not something you believe in. Science is something you do.

It is neither good nor evil, rightist or leftist, moral or immoral. And despite what certain news outlets claim, science is not a liberal conspiracy. Science does not seek to prove one man right nor does it care if another man is wrong. Science is a process, not an argument.  Science is a tool and it cares not how it is used. Science simply provides the ‘how’ and leaves the ‘why’ to someone else. Vilifying ‘science’ makes as much sense as vilifying a microscope.

Science doesn’t demand your allegiance nor does it demand your faith. What it demands is what makes it most offensive, for science demands challenges to established conventions. The paramount importance of science is the refusal to accept as answers, things that are not really answers at all. Science starts, and has always started with questions, not answers. The act of a young child asking ‘How?’ is the most basic act of science and from that repeated act, our species evolved civilization.

Whether this natural curiosity is a manifestation of humankind’s own ingenuity or an implementation of God from the Abrahamic tradition, or gods of the Hindu pantheon or any of the ten-thousand plus gods and goddesses that have ever been recorded in the annals of history across all cultures, is for someone more learned than me to debate.

Neither is long division and gravity.

Like all life, science is inefficient. We see only the concepts that worked and not the ones that didn’t. It is this labourious process of trial and error, of adaptation and extinction, of promoting ideas that work and culling ideas that don’t, that we have our modern world and all its conveniences. Conveniences that just decades ago, would be considered fiction and just a few decades earlier, heresy and witchcraft.

The first act of applied science probably occurred when a barely bipedal primate banged some stones together and noticed the sharp edges. That was followed by the first instance of theoretical science when he wondered if he can open a nut with it. Is this any different from building a 27 km particle accelerator in Switzerland to see if it can smash open a handful of protons? Every single advancement we have today is due entirely to scientists in all fields and everything that we will have tomorrow will be due entirely to scientists in fields yet created. Science has increased lifespans, reduced toil while increasing crop yields and democratized instantaneous global communications.

Science and the application of science has always been politicized for tribal control. The first rulers who reined in the great rivers with irrigation were engineers. Though a more powerful narrative would be that the gods imbued the engineer with knowledge and not surprisingly, only a select few have access to those gods. Today’s debates around genetically modified foods, stem-cells, vaccinations, global warming, women’s rights, and even something as basic and fundamental as evolution, have roped the myriad sciences into a fight it didn’t pick. These debates have made the process of science and progress the villain, the straw man of today’s political pied-pipers.

Carl Sagan. Less known to our world today than the dude who was last season’s Bachelor

Our children’s generation will be the first generation in the history of humankind to have instantaneous access to as much knowledge as they desire. A young person of ten years old can have more broad exposure to works of science and technology than a lifetime of study in any previous generation if their parents encourage their wonder. And encourage we must because the world needs more people who are groomed to constantly question and challenge.

Science is wonderful because it is humbling. It removes us from the centre of the universe and reminds us that we are just an infinitesimally small part of it. Science doesn’t claim to have all the answers because science only exists when there are questions. More importantly, science removes the fear of the unknown. Nothing is really quite frightening when put through the rigours of rational inquiry and a mind that is keen to ask questions is infinitely better at detecting bullshit than a mind that is conditioned to accept answers.

MM