The relevance of science

Although some technological advances that profoundly affect human life have happened irrespective of and in some cases despite science, there is no doubt that science has drastically changed the world in one way or another. Its pragmatic value is well documented in every popular science book, but the contribution of science to knowledge and understanding should not be underestimated either. Not only has science in many cases stimulated inventions such as telescopes or microscopes, but it has also managed to utilise creatively the data produced by such instruments (e.g. using the ‘Doppler effect' to determine the movements of distant stars). The attempts of some scholars (such as Paul Feyerabend) to relativise science are undue exaggerations.

There is another aspect of science that makes it so relevant. The scientific approach provides procedures rather than only end-results. The transparency of the way particular results are obtained is important because it means that most of the findings can be tested by repeating the process, which enables greater objectivity, minimises reliance on authority and stimulates change. Such a practice makes science more progressive than those approaches that demand the acceptance of certain claims without any way to verify or (even more importantly) to refute them independently. This has not only a profound effect on understanding the natural world but on the human psyche too, because it enables everybody (at least in theory) to make informed judgements.

Focusing on the procedures also prevents science from being attached to a particular tradition, culture or nationality, so it is in a better position to attain greater universality. Unprecedented cross-cultural recognition is one of its significant achievements. Science classes throughout the world are remarkably similar, which says much about the universality of scientific knowledge. This may not be surprising, considering that science deals with phenomena that are easier to verify than those that are traditionally associated with spirituality or philosophy. Nevertheless, science has managed to achieve that to which religions have aspired for centuries.

The scientific approach also has a quality of concreteness, an ability to resolve problems experimentally, in a way that philosophers for example cannot. In other words, although science goes through so-called paradigm shifts, they are often accumulative rather than completely different changes (e.g. the Theory of Relativity does not dispose of Newtonian physics, but reduces it to a special case). In contrast, philosophy has not been able to decisively resolve the dispute between, for example, Aristotelian and Platonic views for centuries.