John Derbyshire on Science and Conservatives
John Derbyshire is a conservative who does not believe that science is evil. He has some thoughts, which he shares at The Corner, on why so many conservatives dislike science:
Big reason 1: Science has no moral content. This is simply appalling to a lot of conservatives — that a body of knowledge with so much prestige and importance can be morally empty. Human beings want to know how to live, and a mass of knowledge that contains no guidance on this is just abhorrent to many, most of them self-identifying conservatives. “If it has no moral content, it’s not true knowledge,” is apparently a thing that lots of people believe.
Big reason 2: Scientists are irreligious. They mostly are. On the broadest definition of “scientist,” over 60 percent are unbelievers. Up at the highest levels of achievement, unbelief is wellnigh total, though there are differences between the various scientific disciplines. Details here.
Small reason 1: Science is incomplete. Our core of scientific knowledge about topics that have been thoroughly investigated for decades or centuries — combustion, electromagnetism, gravitation, evolution — is as solid and indisputable as human knowledge can be, but there’s a lot of stuff around the edges we’re not sure about, and plenty beyond that where we just don’t have much of a clue. For reasons I don’t understand, some people find this intolerable. “If you can’t explain everything, then you’re not explaining anything,” seems to be the attitude. As I said, this seems bizarre to me, but there is undoubtedly a great hunger, especially among religious conservatives, for total explanations of everything. Science doesn’t do that. …
And religion does? Only fanatics think that religion — their religion, usually — explains everything. There is a lack of imagination and a great insecurity in those who believe that faith provides certainty. Nothing in this earthly realm does that, but science certainly comes a lot closer than religion.
I consider my religious tradition (Judaism) to be one path among many, and although Jewish tradition, ritual, and culture give meaning to my life and a foundation for my ethical values and my sense of right and wrong, they do not explain everything. Religious belief can, and often does, provide a way of understanding the more profound realities of human life — like the existence of suffering, brutality, cruelty, injustice. But it does not — and cannot, in my view — “explain” why evil exists — at least not if one seeks an explanation that is unarguably true, and can be proved so.
I came across a column in The Hindu just now, while I was thinking out this essay, that expresses my feelings about faith, and my sense of what it is. Here is one sentence:
Mine is not a faith for those who seek certitudes, but there is no better belief-system for an era of doubt and uncertainty than a religion that cheerfully accommodates both.
I can’t say it better than that.
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