Friday, 22 July 2016

Does Science Explain Everything? Science, Silence and Religion.

Nicki Edgell

"Science is a bit like the joke about the drunk who is looking under a lamppost for a key that he has lost on the other side of the street, because that’s where the light is. It has no other choice."  Naom Chomsky

A colleague boldly stately to me the other day that "science can explain everything". I can't remember what we were talking about - homeopathy, vaccinations, feng shui, pyramids, the moon, space and the universe, stone circles, fractals, medicine, mobile phones, the stock market... but its not the point, it could have been almost any aspect of life, and he definitely believed "science can explain everything," and by extension anything science can't prove either doesn't exist or is a scam or a trick. Mmm, I don't think so, I don't think you'd have to think very long and hard to come up with some phenomena that science can't explain although we do like to think we can explain everything, even if it is only after the event (ie. we didn't predict that hurricane, or that stock market crash, but we (pretend) we can explain why it happened afterwards... not always useful - but it gives us some sort of false sense of safety and superiority).


Then I came across this passage in Silence by John Biguenet from the intriguing Object Lessons series, reproduced in part here:

"We have grown quite comfortable with the modern unraveling of the distinction between the visible and the invisible. Just as we believe in the existence of a silent reality - in the efficacy of a dog whistle, for example, inaudibly screeching its signal to a floppy-eared pet - we accept the existence of hadrons and the quarks of which they are constituted. Our scientists have persuaded us that phenomena invisible to our eyes because of optical limitation do, in fact, exist. They confirm that existence through indirect observations, often ingenious in conception.

"So the misplaced faith we once expressed in such common-sense formulas as 'Seeing is believing' yields to a modern belief in things unseen - a world beyond the senses. We do not dispute, for example, the underlying fabric of matter - woven of invisible protons, neutrons, and electrons, we believe, but utterly fantastic without the mathematics to support our belief.

"And this extension of the natural world to incorporate the unseen and the unheard proliferates even as modernity wars relentlessly against other forms of invisibility and inaudibility, now routinely dismissed as the supernatural. We are expected to acknowledge the existence of radiation pulsing from the center of our galaxy that we neither see nor hear but nontheless measure with a radio telescope, a device whose very name suggests the unity of the reality unperceived by our eyes or ears. At the same time, growing popular opinion regards necromancers as charlatans and belief in ghosts as symptomatic of psychological affliction.

"All this is no doubt easy to accept until one attempts to distinguish the unseen and the unheard we ridicule from that which we worship. For example, what sets apart the adepts of the occult from the clergy of established religions? If we press further into this dilemma, we may well ask whether Jeanne d'Arc, a saint listed in the Martyrology of the Catholic Church, responded to heavenly voices or whether she suffered from auditory hallucinations, commonly associated by mental health experts today with schizophrenia and psychosis?

"It would, of course, be presumptuous to answer for the reader such questions. But it is difficult to dispute our current readiness to concede the reality of a universe of unheard and unseen phenomena discovered in only the last few hundred years while debating (and increasingly rejecting) the existence of other phenomena also beyond the scope of our senses, and yet nearly universally accepted for millenia.

"On the one hand, we have learned to surpass our senses, discovering what had been beyond our ken. On the other hand, as a result of our success in devising protocols to verify that knowledge, we grow skeptical of belief in the imperceptible that resists our methods of confirmation."


Ancient caveman must have had their minds blown away by fire, the stars and moon at night, rainbows, lightning, hailstorms, magnetism, wind and waves. Later civilisations would have been astonished by the human development of manmade power, electricity, radio and TV, and flight. Our grandparents would not have believed the internet.

As humans and scientific explanation evolves such things in turn became taken for granted. But have we reached a point now where everything has been discovered, and everything discovered is now explainable? Or are there some things science has got wrong, and many things science just can't explain or hasn't discovered yet? At each stage in history did we make the same mistake of believing we knew it all?

The arrogance of the present human race to believe that we've reached the point where we can understand and can explain everything is frankly misguided at best and ridiculous at worse. And to believe we have "suddenly" reached this plateau of understanding and mastery over nature and the universe, only in the last 50 or 100 years - after 2 million years of evolution - is statistically very unlikely.

Science has now assumed the authority religion once held in many cultures - scientists are the new gods able to dismiss unbelievers as religious nuts, bad science advocates, or snake oil salesmen - modern day heretics if you like. Modern man is more willing to put his faith in science than myth, magic or religion. Similar could be said of a particular branch of science - modern western medicine - an industry generally unwilling to accept possible alternatives, some that have been practised for 1,000s of years in other cultures.

Biguelet again... "A Harris Poll, conducted in late 2013, found belief in God, for example, had fallen from 82% to 75% among US adults in just four years, with similar declines in belief in miracles, heaven, and the afterlife of the soul, angels and devils, and witches. If more concrete evidence is wanted The Wall Street Journal noted in a 2015 article that Dutch ecclesiastical authorities anticipate shuttering nearly 1,100 of the country's 1,600 Catholic churches in the next decade and 700 Protestant churches within the next four years. Germany has closed 515 churches in the past decade while 200 Danish churches are viewed as unsustainable."

But does modern science deserve this new found ascendancy when so much of our amazing world can not be scientifically verified? Just because something is not scientifically proven does not mean it is invalid, untrue, or non-existent.

About the Author

Nicki Edgell

I am a clinical Psycho-neuro-immunologist, Metabolic Balance Coach, Natural Nutritionist and Independent Nikken Consultant. I practice in Brighton in the South of England, helping individuals and groups towards the health, vitality and the life they want for themselves. I work under the principle that wellness depends on a balanced holistic approach to living, in all areas of your life: your body, mind, family, community and financial health all have an impact on your wellbeing.


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