The Place of Science in our Society

Science has a prominent place in our society, based upon its historical contribution to the technological and epistemological developments especially of the last 500 years or so, but actually going back even further. It has been incredibly successful in enabling us to control nature and manipulate it to our own ends. Just as important, it has encouraged political changes. From a situation where the vast majority of people throughout the world were illiterate, unschooled, without a political voice, and living a subsistence existence, the rise of the scientific method has enabled us (in the West at least), to become literate, schooled, enfranchised, and able to devote time to activities other than producing food. It has democratized us, because science is based upon evidence and reason. And you don’t need to be rich or privileged to be able to think and use your senses.

Perhaps what should be surprising is that given its importance to the way we live today, many people misunderstand its importance, inflating its worth and deflating the worth of other forms of human knowledge.

Much is made of how science is secular, has no place in it for ethical judgments, and does not rely upon religion or any form of non-rational understanding of the world. Scientists and others often display an almost palpably hostile view of any non-scientific explanation of the world. They tell us there is little or contradictory, or even no evidence to support such views, they are unscientific, and therefore have no validity. Examples could include holistic health methods such as acupuncture, or perhaps belief in the paranormal.

They have forgotten that science is an analytical tool for the intelligence to understand and explain the world, and a method for manipulating the world. Science is not the truth. That really just begs the question, but it is a tool for discovering aspects of the truth. Other views can allow us adequately to understand and manipulate the world also, in different ways, enabling us to understand other aspects of reality. But they too are tools, and should not be seen as the truth.

It is like looking at the moon, and thinking that the only part you can see is all you can see. Yet we all know that the moon has a bright side, illuminated by the sun, and a dark side, that we never see whilst it is in the dark. Thinking science is all there is to understanding the world is like this, looking at the bright side of the moon and thinking there is nothing else to see.