I am always distrustful of those who claim there are areas of reality which are not accessible to investigation and possibly understanding. Of course this may well be true, but often those who say this desire to specifically deny humanity the opportunity to rationally investigate parts of reality which they wish to reserve for religion. For example Melanie Phillips, in a recent Spectator tirade defending intelligent design attacks science for seeking “to commander the space previously reserved for the unknowable, or religion.”
One thing I find really exciting about science is that predictions that we could never investigate or understand phenomena usually turn out to be unwarranted. For example the French philosopher Auguste Comte said 150 years ago about stars:
“We shall never be able to study, by any method, their chemical composition or their mineralogical structure … Out positive knowledge of stars is necessarily limited to their geometric and mechanical phenomena”
This, shortly before the development of spectroscopic methods which proved him wrong!
I am reminded of this by a recent post by Phil Plait at the Bad Astronomy blog. In Launch dates he describes the Planck mission which will be launched soon. Planck will be mapping the cosmic microwave backgound (CMB) at a much higher resolution than has previously been possible. This raises the possibility that the fine structure of the CMB may help test different theories about the actual origin of the universe. As Phil says: “We may be on the verge of determining if the origin of the universe was a singular event, or if it was due to some other mechanism.”
He goes on to say:
“We’re on the edge of “holy crap!” territory with this. We have progressed from last century’s having no clue about how the cosmos got its start, to now possibly being able to get a handle on what happened before the Big Bang.
That’s why I love science! Some people try to tell me that science will never answer the big questions we have in life. To them I say: baloney! The real problem is your questions aren’t big enough.”
This does really underline the old saying when it comes to humanity’s incredible desire to investigate and understand. When you are doing science:
Never say never.
See also: Roger Penrose Lecture – Before the Big Bang: Is There Evidence For Something And If So, What?