The Scientific Approach
Written by Dr. Nash Popovic
This is currently the dominant approach. At its best, it produces reliable explanations of natural phenomena through observations, experiments and theoretical or mathematical inferences.
Some Common Misconceptions About Science
Science is a modern Western invention – there is a widespread belief that science was invented in Europe and did not exist before the 17th century. In fact, science has thrived in various periods in the Arabic, Indian, Chinese and other cultures. The science of the present day is influenced by and partly based on their findings. Ancient and Middle Age Europe had science too – although, following a highly influential early Christian theologian, St Augustine (354-430), observation as a method of knowledge acquisition was rejected in the Middle Ages in favour of more abstract thinking. Modern science (starting in the 17th century, in the period known as Enlightenment) shifted the emphasis to empirical observation that could be tested and independently verified. Its aim was to dispose of speculation and place science on firmer foundations. However, this also somewhat narrowed its scope as only the physical world could be studied in such a way.
Science and technology are the same – although they may contribute to each other, science and technology should not be equated. Science is about increasing human knowledge and understanding, while technology is about producing tools, more often on the basis of trial and error than scientific discoveries (for example, Edison, one of the greatest inventors, was not a scientist). The following observation may be illuminating in this respect:
Up to [the mid-19th century] natural science had made no major contribution to technology. The industrial revolution had been achieved without scientific aid. Except for the Morse telegraph, the great London Exhibition of 1851 contained no important industrial devices or products based on the scientific progress of the previous fifty years. The appreciation of science was still almost free from utilitarian motives. (Polanyi, 1958, p.182).
Technology existed before science and thrived even when science was suppressed (for example, in Byzantium and occasionally in China). Science and technology have sometimes been in conflict even in the modern Western world. When the first commercial trains were produced, scientists warned that people could not tolerate travelling faster than 30mph. While the pioneers of air flights were struggling to make the first aircraft, scientists (and journals such as the ‘Scientific American’) stubbornly resisted the possibility that a heavy solid object could fly, and refused to acknowledge the success of the Wright brothers even after many demonstrations. William Preece (1834 – 1913), one of Britain’s most distinguished scientists at that time, declared Edison’s attempt to produce the electric bulb ‘a completely idiotic idea’ and rejected Bell’s telephone. There are many other examples of technology advancing not because of, but despite official science – and there are also examples of scientific discoveries that have much preceded their practical applications or technological devices that would ratify them. In practice, the difference between science and technology is clear. The patent law, for example, ‘draws a sharp distinction between a discovery, which makes an addition to our knowledge of nature, and an invention, which establishes a new operational principle serving some acknowledged advantage’ (Polanyi, 1958, p.177). The latter can be patented; the former is the property of all. Despite all this, for various reasons, the identification of science with technology persists.
Science is only compatible with materialist ideology – this is often taken for granted by many scientists and non-scientists alike. Yet a materialistic position is not innate to science. Science was linked to materialism in 19th century Europe to secure the supremacy of a particular method. The claim that all reality is physical and that ‘there is nothing in the world over and above those entities which are postulated by physics’ (Smart, 1963, p.651) only took hold gradually and never completely. Many of science’s greatest names were not materialists: Copernicus was a priest, and Mendel, the founder of genetics, was a monk; Newton was deeply religious (occasionally using theological arguments in science, such as when he suggested that the world has an atomic structure because it is most conducive to God’s purpose). Even Galileo never had a quarrel with God, only with the Church; astrophysicist Lemaître who first proposed the idea of the Big Bang in the 1920s, was also a priest. The inventor of the laser and Nobel prize laureate for physics, Charles Townes, had spiritual inclinations, as well as Faraday, Joule, Kelvin, Maxwell, Tesla and even Einstein. Science has neither proved nor can it prove that reality is only material. In fact, some branches of science (e.g. quantum physics) have already moved away from assuming that matter and the laws that govern it make up the basic fabric of the universe. There is nothing intrinsic to science that would preclude the possibility of non-material aspects of reality, although studying such phenomena might well require a different method.
Science is about collecting data, classifying and describing observable phenomena – this is only one form of science. An attempt in the 19th century to reduce science to such endeavours did not succeed. In fact, there are three distinct aspects of science:
- empirical research based on observation and experiments
- The interpretation of data
- theoretical insights based on rational principles and methods such as mathematics, geometry and logic
These three aspects do not always go together. Some landmark theories were based on incorrect data (such as Galileo’s work) – or no data. For instance, the theory of relativity is often associated with the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887, but according to Einstein’s own account, the experiment had, in fact, a negligible effect on forming his theory. The philosopher of science Polanyi claims that ‘its findings were, on the basis of pure speculation, rationally intuited by Einstein before he had ever heard about it’ (1958, p.10). Not surprisingly, Einstein was not in favour of reducing science to a data collection. He famously sad that ‘it is theory that teaches us what observations are and what they mean’ (Honderich, 1995, p.807).
Science is fully objective – scientifically objective means that a number of experts agree about the likelihood of certain claims. So, the objectivity of science is valid only within an already accepted framework that itself cannot be objectively justified. Polanyi (1969, p.73) concludes:
Ernest Nagel writes that we do not know whether the premises assumed in the explanation of the sciences are true; and that were the requirement that these premises must be known to be true adopted, most of the widely accepted explanations in current science would have to be rejected as unsatisfactory. In effect, Nagel implies that we must save our belief in the truth of scientific explanations by refraining from asking what they are based upon. Scientific truth is defined, then, as that which scientists affirm and believe to be true.
What sort of experiments are carried out, what is looked for in an experiment, how the data is interpreted and so on, are influenced by the experimenters’ presuppositions. Furthermore, ‘scientists often depend on patronage and choose their problems and their methods accordingly’ (Honderich, 1995, p.808). Even if this is put aside, an ambiguity remains: how do scientists know that an experiment has been done in the right way if they do not know the right outcome? Relying on stringent procedures may not be enough. For instance, experiments on gravitational radiation presume to establish whether these tiny fluctuations exist or not, but there are so many factors that can affect such experiments that any conclusion can be called into question. Scientific certainties are in some cases not so much the result of experimental method, but rather the way often ambiguous results are interpreted. And perhaps not surprisingly, scientists tend to dismiss interpretations of measurements or outcomes that do not fit with the established theories. When asked to comment on David Bohm’s ‘hidden variables’ the renowned physicist Robert Oppenheimer allegedly replied: ‘We can’t find anything wrong with it, so we will just have to ignore it’.
Scientific knowledge is proven knowledge – science heavily relies on and is biased in favour of the inductive method (generalisations based on a number of specific observations – see below for further details). However, in the 18th century, the philosopher Hume pointed out that the inductive method, though attractive and useful, was logically invalid. It is not only that the predictions one can make on the basis of induction are not fully reliable, but also that in many cases there may be more than one possible prediction consistent with the accumulated evidence. This is not to say that observation and experimentation are not valuable, but that relying on this method alone is not sufficient. In an attempt to get around this problem, one of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers of science, Karl Popper, argued that science is about challenging its claims and looking for evidence that might prove them false. This is called falsificationism – science progresses by attempting to falsify theories rather than by proving them to be true. Statements or theories that are not falsifiable in any way are deemed unscientific.
Science provides a coherent, unified perspective – no branch of science provides a complete picture of its field. There are still many fundamental questions that remain unanswered (e.g. how the physical forces relate to each other, the origin of the universe and life, how proteins unfold and how an embryo is formed, what is consciousness and how it relates to the brain, etc.). Some accepted theories are not even mutually compatible (e.g. the theory of relativity and quantum physics). Even within the same field certain phenomena are interpreted in contradictory ways (light, for instance, is sometimes considered a wave and sometimes a particle, although their properties are irreconcilable). Scientists often disagree among themselves, as the existence of many competing theories shows. In fact, according to philosopher and cognitive scientist, David Chalmers, there is no single category ‘science’ (1980, p.166). Attempts to apply the same method to all branches of human knowledge and all the phenomena within them have failed to produce a coherent picture of our world.
The scientific worldview is timeless – despite the tendency to present the scientific worldview as timeless and universal, it is in fact not. In the 1960s another philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn, famously proposed that science evolves through paradigm shifts – one dominant view is replaced with another, and this process does not depend only on scientific discoveries. An obvious example is a shift from the Maxwellian electromagnetic view to the Einsteinian relativistic view, but there are many other albeit less grand cases in every branch of science. The concept of paradigm shifts in its original form may be open to criticism, but the validity of its basic tenet is hard to dispute. This is not to say that there are no scientific findings that are universal or timeless. After all, some elements of the Newtonian mechanistic view and the Maxwellian electromagnetic view are still valid and likely to remain so. But, the fact that these elements may be timeless does not mean that scientific methods and its worldview in its present form are timeless and need not continue evolving.
The Relevance of Science
Although some technological advances that profoundly affect human life have happened irrespective of or even despite science, there is no doubt that science has drastically changed the world. Its pragmatic value is well documented in every popular science book, but the huge contribution of science to our 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 the philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994), to relativize its achievements in this respect 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 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 culture, tradition, 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 a great deal about the universality of scientific knowledge. This may not be surprising, considering that science deals with phenomena that are easier to verify than those traditionally associated with spirituality or philosophy. Nevertheless, science has managed to achieve what religions have aspired to for centuries.
The scientific approach also has a quality of concreteness – and not only because it deals with physical reality. This concreteness also transpires, for instance, in its ability to resolve conflicting perspectives experimentally, in a way that philosophers cannot. As a result, even the above mentioned paradigm shifts are often cumulative rather than completely different changes (e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity does not dispose of Newtonian physics, but reduces it to a special case). In contrast, for centuries philosophy has not been able to achieve a decisive resolution of the dispute between, to take just one example, Aristotelian and Platonic views.
Science and Materialism
Science is supposed to be free from prejudice, but in practice the majority of scientists harbour some taken for granted beliefs. As Brian Silver, a scientist himself (and an atheist), puts it: ‘There is more faith involved in science than many scientists would be prepared to admit’ (1998, p. xvi). This is how science gets linked to a particular ideological view. Consequently, it can sometimes become dogmatic and impede rather than further the evolution of human knowledge. Not surprisingly, materialism is the usual choice.
Pioneering scientists, however, did not set out to promote materialism. In The Ascent of Science Silver comments:
Many of the heroes of the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientific revolution were deeply interested in the occult, in the so-called Hermetic writings, and in magic in general; one only has to look at the lives of John Dee, Boyle, Bruno, Paracelsus, Kepler, and many others… Newton, the herald of the Age of Reason himself, believed firmly in the mystic aspects of alchemy and of Pythagorean thought’ (1998, p.495).
Materialism became the prevailing ideology associated with science only in the second half of the 19th century. Most misconceptions about science arise because of this link. Reducing reality to the physical world is not the result of science, but the ideology that appropriates science. Materialism (which, significantly, fits well with the dominant socio-economic system in the West) has usurped science and technology which can and have coexisted with other perspectives. This makes some scientists behave unscientifically: they adapt observations and facts to their views and method, rather than the other way around. What does not fit such a lifeless world is chased out and declared illusory. The following example may help clarify the difference between science and its ideological baggage:
De Duve states, a scientific approach ‘demands that every step in the origin and development of life on Earth be explained in terms of its antecedent and immediate physical-chemical causes.’ (Hazen 1997, p.157)
This statement may look scientific but it is in fact an ideological statement that contradicts good science. A true scientist studies the subject of his research with an open mind, and tries to find the most probable explanation for a phenomenon observed. So, a proper scientific approach cannot demand that phenomena fit into the presuppositions of the researcher. The quote suggests that the author is more interested in confirming his own views than providing the best possible explanation. Such a demand is not based on any evidence or reasoning, but it presupposes where to look for answers and where not, and rejects a priori any other possibility. This attitude relies on faith as much as any religious attitude. There is nothing more scientific in believing that life is only a complex chemical reaction than in believing that life is more than that. Not surprisingly, materialistic ideology share some similarities in approach with its predecessors. The agency of God is replaced by the deity of chance, but neither of them have a significant explanatory power, they are just an easy way out of difficulties. When a religious person cannot explain something, they invoke an act of God; when a materialist cannot explain something, it must be chance. Neither, in fact, explains much (in contrast, the notion of quantum indeterminacy, for example, does have explanatory power – some phenomena could not be understood without taking its probabilistic nature into account).
The above does not imply that proper scientific findings should not be taken seriously, far from it. However, it is important to realise that much of what is stated in the name of science is interpretation that fits a particular ideological view. Geneticist Richard Lewontin summarises this position:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. (1997, p.31)
The likely reason why so many scientists are prepared to accept materialistic ideology without much reflection is because it is convenient. Reducing all phenomena to ‘solid’ matter makes their lives much easier. Otherwise, scientists would be forced to concede that their method is not always adequate or sufficient, which they are understandably reluctant to do. A systems theorist and writer Ervin Laszlo concludes:
With the Einsteinian revolution at the turn of the century physicists had moved irrevocably beyond the mechanistic paradigm. Then, some two decades later, with the advent of quantum theory, they abandoned the last vestiges of classical mechanistic thinking. Yet many scientists, especially in the human, social and engineering fields, remained fascinated by the simplicity and power of the Newtonian formulas (1993, p.35).
However, as with other rigid frameworks, materialism is not only restraining, but becomes restrictive, which limits science itself. The guardian (against superstition and prejudice) becomes a jailer.
 Materialist beliefs, of course, had existed before (e.g. the atomists in Antient Greece) and in other parts of the world, such as the Carvaka doctrine in India.
The Limitations of the Scientific Approach
The limitations of this (and other) approaches can be grouped in three categories: extrinsic ones (the result of factors extraneous to experience), limitations of common sense as a social practice (ensuing from the way knowledge is shared and communicated) and intrinsic limitations.
Some limitations of the present scientific approach are imposed, as it were, from the ‘outside’. They are a result of materialist beliefs, not science itself.
Determinism – it is fair to say that determinism is not something that only materialists adhere to. There is a long history of this belief that includes thinkers from very different perspectives. Materialism has only defined determinism in terms of natural laws. But this not only precludes the possibility of purposeful causes, but also of choice as well as creativity. Ironically, modern science itself has come to the conclusion that determinism does not fully reflect reality, and yet many disciplines, especially in human sciences, are reluctant to give it up (most psychology textbooks, for example, still recognise nature and nurture as the only factors that affect human behaviour).
Reductionism – one of the most stubborn beliefs of modern science is that complex phenomena can always be reduced to simpler, more fundamental ones and the laws that govern them. Mind can be reduced to biology, biology to chemistry, chemistry to physics. This is the essence of reductionism, adopted in the 19th century. However, this belief appears to be a dead-end even at the most basic level. It is already recognised that, for example, ‘the macroscopic behaviour of a large ensemble of particles cannot be deduced from the properties of the individual particles themselves’ (Silver, 1998, p.19). Many eminent scientists are prepared to admit the improbability of reductionism. Laszlo paraphrases the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking:
Although the goal of physics is a complete understanding of everything around us, including our own existence, physics has not succeeded in reducing chemistry and biology to the status of solved problems, while the possibility of creating a set of equations through which it could account for human behaviour remains entirely remote (1993, p.48).
Insisting on material evidence – a position that insists only on material evidence and automatically dismisses any argument not based on observable data is somewhat naïve. Even hard science inevitably operates with phenomena or principles for which material evidence does not exist (e.g. time or causality) and is sometimes based on stipulations that cannot be empirically verified (some aspects of the theory of relativity being an example). Furthermore, many scientific concepts, like gravitation, cannot be known directly but only through their effects (such as an apple falling down or the motions of celestial bodies). Neuroscientist Karl Pribram writes:
…we think of the force of gravity as a thing. Actually, of course, all we have are the observations of actions at a distance… this means that we are inferring gravity from our observations: gravity is not an observable; as in the case of field concepts, gravity is inferred (in Laszlo, 1993, p.12).
The exclusivity of the publicly observable/repeatable is still prevailing, although there are certain phenomena (from cosmology and quantum physics to life science and consciousness studies) that cannot satisfy these requirements. An attempt to fit them into such a straitjacket severely impoverishes understanding. The very existence of atoms was derided as metaphysical nonsense until barely a century ago. Leading scientists argued that it made no sense to talk of entities that could never be observed, which drove one of the most talented scientists at that time, Boltzmann, to suicide. His struggles against scientific orthodoxy illustrate the dangers of rigidly imposing methodological limitations to the quest for knowledge.
Bias – those phenomena for which the established scientific method is suitable are studied in great detail, while those for which it is not are ignored or declared illusionary. The Oxford Companion to the Mind (1987), for example, has entries such as ‘Frankenstein’ but not ‘will’. The consequence of such an attitude is a distorted and impoverished picture of reality. Even if some phenomena or events cannot be explained, they need to be taken into account and acknowledged. Polanyi writes:
Objectivism has totally falsified our conception of truth, by exalting what we can know and prove, while covering up with ambiguous utterances all that we know and cannot prove, even though the latter knowledge underlies, and must ultimately set its seal to, all that we can prove. (1958, p.286)
Limitations of Science as a Social Practice
Besides the above ideological limitations, present day science also has limitations that are the result of the social milieu within which it operates.
The inertia of science has been criticised by a number of scholars (such as Kuhn, Feyerabend and Lakatos). It comes about in a stringent demand to adhere to certain views and self-imposed methods and criteria. Physicist Max Planck allegedly said that a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents, but rather because its opponents die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. This is not conducive to scientific progress. As Chalmers points out, ‘we cannot legitimately defend or reject items of knowledge because they do or do not conform to some ready-made criterion of scientificity’ (1980, p.169). The best scientists have always been on the front lines, prepared to challenge their presuppositions for the sake of better understanding. However, there is another, inevitably larger group of scientists that prefer to maintain the status quo. Both of these groups, progressive and conservative, may be necessary, the former to prevent the solidification of science, and the latter to prevent chaos in the field. However, dice seems to be loaded in favour of the conservative camp. Science writer John Horgan comments that ‘the scientific culture was once much smaller and therefore more susceptible to rapid change. Now it has become a vast intellectual, social, and political bureaucracy, with inertia to match’ (1995, p.137). In this context, it is not surprising that advancing careers can take priority over advancing knowledge. The conservative stream may support and perpetuate particular views in order to maintain their status. According to Chalmers, scientific ideology that involves the dubious concept of science is used usually in the defence of conservative positions (1980, p.169). Perhaps it is not a coincidence that ‘those who feel most certain of their grip on scientific method have rarely worked on the frontiers of science themselves.’ (Collins and Pinch, 1993, p.143).
Specialisation can only provide a fragmented picture of reality, which leaves out the possibility of an overall view. This leads to ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’, and can have highly undesirable consequences. The one who looks through a microscope all the time may not notice an elephant standing next to her. James Burke, a scientist himself, concludes that ‘the reductionist approach, forcing people to be specialists, has got us into the mess we are in’ (The Sunday Times, 01/01/1995). Historian Theodore Zeldin proclaims:
…around the beginning of the eighteenth century… the ideal of encyclopaedic knowledge was replaced by specialisation. Withdrawal into a fortress of limited knowledge meant one could defend oneself on one’s home ground; it gave one self-confidence of a limited kind… Now that the silences produced by specialisation have become deafening, and now that information fills the air as never before, it is possible to reconsider the choice, to ask whether many people might not be better off if they began looking again for the road which leads beyond specialisation, if they tried seeing the universe as a whole. (1994, p.197)
Authoritarianism – to secure their special status, priests used to perpetuate a belief that their vocation made them somehow closer to God, so the best way for ordinary people to be informed about spiritual matters was through them. Scientists have never gone that far, but they do sometimes acquire an aura of an unquestioning authority. In all fairness, many try to break out of this mould, but it is still common (especially in popular media) to make claims without referencing or explaining the research behind them. This can not only be misleading, but ultimately alienates science from ordinary people.
Scientific detachment was introduced to ensure a higher level of objectivity and is often justified (e.g. to enable independent verification). However, this detachment is sometimes taken so far that it becomes an impediment and, in fact, leads to bias through the back door.
The above ideological and historical limitations are contingent, and should not be taken as detrimental. After all, they can be overcome in the future. However, there are some limitations of science that may never be overcome, which is why the scientific approach cannot be sufficient on its own and needs to be combined with other approaches. However good the scientific method is, it cannot provide answers to everything.
Dealing with complexity – the scientific method is essentially analytical, which enables the simplification and generalisation of certain phenomena. Yet reality is complex, and if that complexity is disregarded, some important qualities can be missed. One of the world’s most distinguished quantum physicists and a philosopher, Werner Heisenberg, warned: ‘…the scientific concepts are idealizations… But through this process of idealization and precise definition immediate connection with reality is lost’ (1958, p.200). More heuristic methods are better suited to deal with complex systems. Human beings could not operate in the world if they only relied on science and excluded the common sense that is capable of intuitively grasping this complexity. Psychologists, for example, are not yet nearly able to provide the profound insights about the human psyche that can be found in the works of novelists such as Shakespeare, Dickens or Tolstoy. This is a statement from mathematician Srivastava:
… science is basically handicapped or limited in its capabilities. It is not possible by a series of experiments and related analytical reasoning to fathom the depth of the universe. To fathom the universe, man has another tool: direct perception, direct experience of reality (in Singh, 1988, p.177-178).
Incompleteness – there are certain phenomena or questions that are beyond the reach of science. For instance, one of the dogmas of the present scientific ideology is that all the processes in nature are governed by physical laws. However, science seems at a loss to explain where these laws come from. It is not only a question of why there is one set of laws rather than any other, but more fundamentally, why there are laws at all, why the universe is orderly, rather than chaotic and disorderly. Physicist Paul Davies speculates that attaining full knowledge through science is unlikely, given the limits imposed by quantum indeterminacy, Gödel’s theorem, chaos theory and the like. Mystical experience might provide the only avenue to full truth, he concludes (in Horgan, 1996, p.261).
A lack of criteria for interpreting facts – Henri Poincaré, one of the greatest mathematicians and physicists in the 19th century, wrote: ‘Just as houses are made of stones, so is science made of facts; but a pile of stones is not a house and a collection of facts is not necessarily science’. What sort of structure is created depends on the way scientists play with or interpret facts. Interpretations are important. Human understanding would be very limited if it was based only on descriptive statements. The laws do not have much explanatory power; they leave many questions unanswered. However, interpretations are not obvious, they are extrapolations that necessarily involve mental operations, not solely based on observations. As already highlighted, many observable facts can give rise to a number of different interpretations, of which some may not be accurate even if the facts behind them are. A different set of criteria is needed for interpretations than for observations, but the scientific method does not provide them. This is why it is easy to hijack scientific findings and present one’s own interpretations as scientific truths. This happens all the time, and influences our lives through various polices that hinge more on a political bend than the science behind.
 Quantum indeterminacy is the apparent necessary incompleteness in the description of a physical system; Gödel’s theorem demonstrates that there are always undecidable elements within any formal system; and chaos theory sets the limit to the ability to predict future states from initial conditions.
We should sing praises to science but also recognise its limitation. The scientific approach is undoubtedly useful for examining natural phenomena, but it is not sufficient to explain reality as a whole. At its best, it can offer an incomplete account of reality. This is not the fault of scientists. Very few have ever promised to provide a full and coherent picture of the world. There is little doubt that a more comprehensive understanding requires a more comprehensive approach. A professor of Computer Science and Engineering, Joseph Weizenbaum summarises this point well:
… some people have the same type of very deep faith in modern science that others do in their respective religions. This faith in science, grounded in its own dogma, leads to defence of scientific theories far beyond the time any disconfirming evidence is unearthed. Moreover, disconfirming evidence is generally not incorporated into the body of science in an open-minded way but by an elaboration of the already existing edifice (as, for example, by adding epicycles) and generally in a way in which the resulting structure of science and its procedures excludes the possibility of putting the enterprise itself in jeopardy. In other words, modern science has made itself immune to falsification in any terms the true believer will admit into argument. Perhaps modern science’s most devastating effect is that it leads its believers to think it to be the only legitimate source of knowledge about the world… This is as mistaken a belief as the belief that one cannot gain legitimate knowledge from anything other than religion. Both are equally false. (in Singh, 1987, p. 281)
In short, science is great, but we need more and will always need more than science. Let’s consider what that ‘more’ could be.