Tag Archives: Sue Blackmore

Science, faith and limits of knowledge

Occasionally we have debates here about the “limits of science,” “other ways of knowing,” and the old “scientism” label. Recently these issues have received a bit of coverage in  a series of articles at the Guardian.

These have been responses to the question Can Science Explain Everything?

Ever decreasing limits

I really like two of the responding articles. Adam Rutherford, who is an editor at the science journal Nature, wrote Ever-increasing circles of science. His conclusions are summarised in the sentence: “The domain of knowledge amenable to science has only ever changed in one direction: at the expense of all others.”

“Science may not tell us much about history, or aesthetics, or metaphysics. But to underestimate the boundaries of what it can say is a fallacy committed only by those who misunderstand or deny the power of the scientific method. When the comedian Dara O’Briain hears the facile maxim “science doesn’t know everything” his response is, of course it doesn’t, otherwise it would stop. As a way of knowing, there are limits to what science can reveal, but those limits are ever decreasing. Is there a sensible reason why it can’t tell us about love, or psychology, or God or the composition of quarks? Abso-bloody-lutely not.”

If you are not familiar with Dara O’Briain or his work have a look at the video clips in Get in the sack! Really great

Sue Blackmore, whose research interests include memes, evolutionary theory, consciousness, and meditation, produced Science explains, not describes

She says: “The experience of consciousness seems incommunicable and ineffable. Yet science can hope to explain how it arises.” She justifies this by arguing:

“Science can (potentially at least) explain everything because its ways of trying to understand the universe by asking questions of it should not leave any areas off-limits. The methods of openness, inquiry, curiosity, theory building, hypothesis testing and so on can be adapted and developed to explore and try to explain anything.”

As her title implies she concludes:

“conscious experiences may remain ineffable even when science thoroughly understands how and why. In this case I would be right in my intuition that science cannot describe everything but may well be able to explain that which it cannot describe.”

Finally I came across similar sympathies in the article Science and Faith at the blog cgranade::streams. The author Chris Granade, a Canadian Ph.D. student,  concludes:

“Why should we mistake the limits of our current methods as being intrinsic properties of the world itself? That seems like the ultimate leap of faith. To hold some phenomenon to be permanently beyond the realm of understanding, regardless of how much humanity grows (or how much our post-human descendants grow), is to take an unpalatable amount on faith.”

I like it!


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