Friday, February 20, 2009

Science can explain everything

(This was fun. A professor of Biology wrote a letter to my son's alumni magazine [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] in response to a cover article on faith. I felt I had no choice but to respond. It was almost too easy, considering that the man teaches at an Ivy League college.)

Professor Roger Sloboda of Dartmouth College writes that ‘science can explain everything.’ This statement is absurd on its face.

First, ‘everything’ cannot be known, and so it is irrational to assert that science can explain it. Second, ‘everything’ must include the concept of ‘that which cannot be explained,’ or it is not ‘everything.’ Since it contains this concept, then ‘everything’ cannot be explained by science. (If the professor wishes to argue that there is no such thing as ‘that which cannot be explained’ because science can explain everything, then he is caught in a circular argument. He is defining ‘everything’ as ‘that which science can explain.’ Thus: Science can explain everything, because ‘everything’ is by definition that which science can explain.) Third, the professor blandly asserts that the fact that everything has not yet been explained by science does not prove the weakness of the scientific method. But unless you posit that the scientific method is capable of explaining everything, it does not follow that the method is weak because it cannot do so. It is simply intended to explain those things which are susceptible to scientific analysis. But to assume that everything is susceptible to scientific analysis is also irrational. It is, in fact, an act of faith: ‘I may not know what it is, but I firmly believe that science can explain it.’ And so, in the face of the unknown, the professor makes a leap of faith; yet it is faith, presumably, which he wishes to deny. This is another contradiction.

Why the professor cannot see these contradictions is, to put it simply, inexplicable.