Why Science "Sucks" (Is Damned Inconvenient)

Why Science “Sucks” (Is Damned Inconvenient)

Nice piece from Wired on the sad state of the public perception of science. Though I disagree with the idea that science can’t handle the meaning of life. And heck, spirituality can be as basic as remembering to breathe. Morality and ethics can be derived from reciprocity, ev-psych and the study of human universals, or as Alonzo Fyfe would say, good desires. I think we got it covered, thanks. Now if we could just squirt a few more facts out to those myth-drenched brains…

Morality, spirituality, the meaning of life—science doesn’t handle those issues well at all. But that’s cool. We have art and religion for that stuff. Science also assumes predictable cause and effect in a world that’s a chaotic, bubbling stew of randomness. But that’s OK, too. Our approximations are usually good enough. No, the real reason science sucks is that it makes us look bad. It makes us bit players in the Big Story of the universe, and it exposes some key limitations of the human brain.

Look at it this way: Before science, we humans had dominion over Earth, the center of the universe. Now we’re just a bunch of hairless apes on a wet rock orbiting a minor star in a marginal galaxy.

Even worse, those same cortexes that invented science can’t really embrace it. Science describes the world with numbers (ratio of circumference to diameter: pi) and abstractions (particles! waves! particles!). But our intractable brains evolved on a diet of campfire tales. Fantastical explanations (angry gods hurling lightning bolts) and rare events with dramatic outcomes (saber-toothed tiger attacks) make more of an impact on us than statistical norms. Evolution gave us brains that crave certainty, with irrational fears of crashing in an airplane and a built-in weakness for just-so stories about intelligent design. Meanwhile, the true wonders revealed by the scientific method — species that change into new species over time, continents that float around the planet, a quantum-mechanical world where nothing is for sure — are worse than counterintuitive. To a depressingly large number of us, they’re downright threatening.

In other words, thanks to evolution, half of all Americans don’t believe in evolution. That’s the universe for you: impersonal, uncaring, and ironic.

Comments (9 comments)

YAAB / January 21st, 2008, 8:28 am / #1

I understand the “science sucks” sentiment. Religion tells you that the average Joe on the street can easily understand the deepest mysteries of the universe. Believe in Jesus, or pray 5 times a day, whatever, all well within the grasp of the everyman.

Science tells you that you can spend a lifetime studying the deepest mysteries of the universe and only reach partial, tenative conclusions, none of which suggest a moral cause behind the whole scheme (i.e., the “why” question that so many people find important). Of course, most people (including me) lack the time and the intellect to deeply explore difficult questions of physics, comsmology, and philosophy, so the easy answer (religion) is very attractive, although it is very wrong.

John Morales / January 22nd, 2008, 12:58 am / #2

So, to rephrase, some have a problem with the way science replaces asserted wishful speculations with tentative empirical explanations.

I don’t understand why, when phenomena remain the same, a change of explanation should make them lose their wonder.

valhar2000 / January 22nd, 2008, 6:59 am / #3

I don’t understand why, when phenomena remain the same, a change of explanation should make them lose their wonder.

Get in line, buggy! I’ve been puzzling over that for years!

That said, I find this article to be not very good. It states a lot of false premises, and msot of it is nto very well thoguht out. However, the part about evolution being the cause of disbelief in evolution could make a good quote.

Louis / January 22nd, 2008, 9:36 am / #4

Gets in line. (I hope there is cake!) :D

A sense of wonder that can’t be preserved through such a change, makes me wonder, exactly how wonderful the wonder was to begin with?

That is one rabbit hole that didn’t go very deep, if you ask me. ;)

BlackSun / January 22nd, 2008, 9:43 am / #5

I feel the same way. Why is it that when we ask people to admit the uncertainty, they call us arrogant?

Valhar, I liked the article not because I like the conclusion, but it shows up the (what passes for) thought process of those who allow the complexity of reality to deprive them of its meaning.

Liquid Egg Product / January 22nd, 2008, 10:12 pm / #6

I don’t understand why, when phenomena remain the same, a change of explanation should make them lose their wonder.

Emotional wonder is tied to mystery. Having some sort of rational explanation for an event tends to make the event seem more mundane and less interesting.

Jersey / February 9th, 2008, 1:53 pm / #7

Science is meant to explain how things work. Philosophy is meant to explain why things work. Don’t go mixing up the two, now..

Science at least made man humble, not the arrogant, self-righteous bastard religion made him out to be.

BlackSun / February 9th, 2008, 3:50 pm / #8


That’s the old NOMA chestnut from Stephen Jay Gould. But it’s as untrue now as when he first said it. (He used the word “religion” in place of philosophy)

I actually do hope that philosophy replaces religion eventually. Science and philosophy are both strong branches of the tree of knowledge, while the rotten fruit of religion has done little but codify people’s opinions and fantasies.

Religion has never, ever answered a single “Why?” question effectively.

And if we are looking for ultimate meaning beyond our own awareness and existence, science and philosophy are equally unhelpful. We are responsible for finding that meaning ourselves.

Most people don’t have the courage. And mysticism is the last refuge of such cowards. So they settle for the swirl of confusion or someone else’s definitions. And they feel threatened by the increasing dominance of science’s rational explanations. Science is not subject to their wishes, and it leaves them nowhere to hide.

Samantha / February 11th, 2008, 1:08 pm / #9

science does suck and the world would be a better place with us not constinly questioning why everything happens!

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