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Old 11th December 2012, 07:48 PM   #1
mike3
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Criticism of science

Hi.

I saw this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_science

Quote:
Philosopher of Religion Alan Watts criticized science for operating under a materialist model of the world that he posited is simply a modified version of the Abrahamic worldview, that "the universe is constructed and maintained by a Lawmaker" (commonly identified as God or the Logos). Watts asserts that during the rise of secularism through the 18th to 20th century when scientific philosophers got rid of the notion of a lawmaker they kept the notion of law, and that the idea that the world is a material machine run by law is a presumption just as unscientific as religious doctrines that affirm it is a material machine made and run by a lawmaker.
Is this a valid critique of science? How does it jive with the fact that some kind of base assumption is necessary for science to work? And I'm not sure what kind of knowledge-gaining method could work with no base assumptions whatsoever, since then there's no place to start from. And if you want to toss out both the religious idea of a lawmaker and the idea of law, then what do you use instead? Furthermore, the assumption that it runs under law has been wildly successful to date, so why does it a) need to be replaced and b) what would be gained from such replacement? (I.e. what would it permit us to know or do that we cannot know or do now?)

Then there's this:
Quote:
Many recent thinkers, such as Carolyn Merchant, Theodor Adorno and E. F. Schumacher considered that the 17th century scientific revolution shifted science from a focus on understanding nature, or wisdom, to a focus on manipulating nature, i.e. power, and that science's emphasis on manipulating nature leads it inevitably to manipulate people, as well.[17] Science's focus on quantitative measures has led to critiques that it is unable to recognize important qualitative aspects of the world.[17]
So again, is this valid? If so, what is the proper response? Get rid of trying to "manipulate" nature? Yet, then we run into a problem: we have literally saved lives since we figured out how to do that. If we were to be getting rid of it, we'd be saying we should let people suffer and die when we could do something to help them. That seems, well, wrong, actually. Is there a way to "evit" the "inevitable" "manipulation of people" that would result, to allow us to keep saving lives while also simultaneously not falling into that trap?
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Old 11th December 2012, 07:54 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
Is this a valid critique of science?
The assumption, "the world is a material machine run by law" seems to have remarkable and consistent predictive power.

When Alan Watts can explain more things, better, without it, he has my permission to make a valid critique of science.
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Old 11th December 2012, 07:57 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
The assumption, "the world is a material machine run by law" seems to have remarkable and consistent predictive power.

When Alan Watts can explain more things, better, without it, he has my permission to make a valid critique of science.
/thread
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Old 11th December 2012, 07:57 PM   #4
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Watts assumes that no 'laws" can exist without a lawmaker. This is demonstrably not true as gravity works without us calling Relativity a "law". It seems like he thinks we should strain all science through a god sieve before cooking.
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Old 11th December 2012, 08:15 PM   #5
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I come from the Alan Watts generation.

Hard science has its place, obviously.

Yet, ultimately, it will kill us all,
And we won't even get to philosophize about why.

The curse of arrogance.
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Old 11th December 2012, 08:22 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by quarky View Post
I come from the Alan Watts generation.

Hard science has its place, obviously.

Yet, ultimately, it will kill us all,
And we won't even get to philosophize about why.

The curse of arrogance.
I'm curious: What, then, do you consider to be this "arrogance", and, just as important, what do you consider to be a non-arrogant approach? What kind of science should we never do, ever (not even in a million, or a billion years!)?
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Last edited by mike3; 11th December 2012 at 08:26 PM.
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Old 11th December 2012, 08:36 PM   #7
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The 'laws' of science have been demonstrated, repeatedly. Also, an intrepid young scientist who wants to overturn old laws is encouraged to do so and will be allowed to do so, as long as he or she can provide adequate evidence.

The 'laws' of the Abrahamic religion were crafted by Bronze Age goat-herders fighting for control over the next little hillock against other Bronze Age goat-herders from neighboring tribes.

But, other than that I really can't tell them apart.
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Old 11th December 2012, 08:42 PM   #8
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I think listening to Alan Watts is the first mistake. He can tell you all you may want to know about Zen Buddhism, and nothing useful about much else. His criticism of science is pretty wrong.
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Old 11th December 2012, 08:47 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
Is this a valid critique of science?
I'm no scientitian, but I'm going to say "no". It seems to be a critique of a strawman, or if you're feeling generous, a critique of ye olde timey science. Ye olde timey science being defined as science done by True Believers in a Watchmaker God. Olde Timey Scientists thought the world as created by a creator was knowable--that said creator had made this Universe using laws which could be sussed out by men. It was seen as a form of worship to study the natural world.

Nowadays, all the religious crap is cut out and the presumption is that the natural world is rational and knowable--at least in some sciences. I don't think quantum physicists consider the Universe very rational, and they might have a point.
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Old 11th December 2012, 08:48 PM   #10
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Sounds like the guy is doing a good job of conflating science, engineering and technology.

Failing to understand where they differ is a mistake. It undermines hit attempt to attack science the same way somebody attacking philosophy would fail if they lumped all aspects philosophy into one category.
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Old 11th December 2012, 08:50 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
Watts assumes that no 'laws" can exist without a lawmaker. This is demonstrably not true as gravity works without us calling Relativity a "law". It seems like he thinks we should strain all science through a god sieve before cooking.
Look, when you look at a watch, you know for a fact that a watchmaker existed. This metaphor extends without fault to the Universe. Because if something exists, someone had to make it, because otherwise you'll have chaos and no one wants that. Also, my third-grader understanding of science tells me this.
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:01 PM   #12
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Quote:
the 17th century scientific revolution shifted science from a focus on understanding nature, or wisdom, to a focus on manipulating nature, i.e. power, and that science's emphasis on manipulating nature blah blah blah
I think the reason for the change of focus at that time is that science was both formalized into a useful instrument and it began to reach a critical mass. At last enough was known about the world that useful and effective tools could be created, and actions could have predictable outcomes. This was certainly the case by the early 19th century. And by then the shift wasn't the focus of science as much as it's ability.
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:03 PM   #13
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Quote:
Look, when you look at a watch, you know for a fact that a watchmaker existed. This metaphor extends without fault to the Universe. Because if something exists, someone had to make it, because otherwise you'll have chaos and no one wants that. Also, my third-grader understanding of science tells me this
no it doesn't. There isn't evidence for a watchmaker of the universe. time/space and matter all erupted at the same time. The fact that we aren't 100% sure of the mechanism behind it doesn't necessitate a maker. It just means we don't understand the mechanism, yet.


besides, who made the watchmaker? and what made the thing that made the watchmaker?

Last edited by StankApe; 11th December 2012 at 09:10 PM.
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:21 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
no it doesn't. There isn't evidence for a watchmaker of the universe. time/space and matter all erupted at the same time. The fact that we aren't 100% sure of the mechanism behind it doesn't necessitate a maker. It just means we don't understand the mechanism, yet.


besides, who made the watchmaker? and what made the thing that made the watchmaker?
I think he was joking
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:25 PM   #15
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how on earth am I supposed to tell? He's not a poster I'm familiar with, and there was no smiley! DAGNABBIT I REQUIRE SMILIES!!!
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:25 PM   #16
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Quote:
Philosopher of Religion Alan Watts criticized science...
There's your problem.
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:29 PM   #17
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Nothing should be above criticism. He should be critical of data gathered from human torture, for example.

Still, I'm not aware of a good criticism of the scientific endeavor as a whole... anyone?
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:32 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Jimbo07 View Post
Nothing should be above criticism. He should be critical of data gathered from human torture, for example.

Still, I'm not aware of a good criticism of the scientific endeavor as a whole... anyone?

I think science itself is pretty unassailable. I think approaches and methodologies can be criticized but that's more an attack on science's implementation than on the underlying principle.
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:37 PM   #19
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Science is sound, people are flawed.... that's really about all you can critique
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Old 11th December 2012, 09:53 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
Science is sound, people are flawed.... that's really about all you can critique
Yes, this.

I think the only question/critique I would put to science (as if it could answer) would be this; Is the universe ultimately understandable?

In other words, we (as a species) pursue scientific inquiry with the assumption that the answer will be understandable. Human rationality is bounded. I believe that there is a limit to human understanding. At some point will we ask questions who's answers will be completely unintelligible to human beings?
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Old 11th December 2012, 10:00 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
no it doesn't. There isn't evidence for a watchmaker of the universe. time/space and matter all erupted at the same time. The fact that we aren't 100% sure of the mechanism behind it doesn't necessitate a maker. It just means we don't understand the mechanism, yet.


besides, who made the watchmaker? and what made the thing that made the watchmaker?
I keep forgetting that sarcasm doesn't exist on the internet. I'm sorry that you thought my post was a serious claim that the watchmaker hypothesis was anything more than a child-like attempt to understand the world. I thought that last sentence made it clear that I was mocking the idea that the metaphor of a watchmaker doesn't work as an explanation of natural law.
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Old 11th December 2012, 10:01 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
how on earth am I supposed to tell? He's not a poster I'm familiar with, and there was no smiley! DAGNABBIT I REQUIRE SMILIES!!!
Hint: If I'm typing it, it's probably best to assume that I am mocking something.
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Old 11th December 2012, 10:05 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
Watts assumes that no 'laws" can exist without a lawmaker.
Does he? I'm curious; I've never actually read Watts. Do you have a cite for his assumption?
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Old 11th December 2012, 10:13 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by pandamonium View Post
I keep forgetting that sarcasm doesn't exist on the internet. I'm sorry that you thought my post was a serious claim that the watchmaker hypothesis was anything more than a child-like attempt to understand the world. I thought that last sentence made it clear that I was mocking the idea that the metaphor of a watchmaker doesn't work as an explanation of natural law.

it exists man, I just missed it that time... (and didn't notice you were the same person who had made post 33 or #4 or wtvr, that woulda clued me in...sigh

Originally Posted by pandamonium View Post
Hint: If I'm typing it, it's probably best to assume that I am mocking something.
now I know!! (but dammit smilies help!)

Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Does he? I'm curious; I've never actually read Watts. Do you have a cite for his assumption?
I'm basing this off of the statement in quotes in the OP.
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Old 11th December 2012, 10:37 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
Is this a valid critique of science?
Nope.

Quote:
How does it jive
Jibe.

Quote:
with the fact that some kind of base assumption is necessary for science to work?
It doesn't.

Quote:
And if you want to toss out both the religious idea of a lawmaker and the idea of law, then what do you use instead?
Predictive mathematical models.

Quote:
Then there's this:

So again, is this valid?
No. Before science, we didn't have wisdom, just ignorance. It's much easier to look wise when no-one can prove that you're wrong.
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Old 11th December 2012, 10:50 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
now I know!! (but dammit smilies help!)


Back to the topic at hand, I've heard the name "Alan Watts" before, but I can't remember in what context. Is he perchance a dualist of some kind? (Not the kind with pistols at dawn, the other kind.)
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Old 11th December 2012, 11:30 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Does he? I'm curious; I've never actually read Watts. Do you have a cite for his assumption?
Originally Posted by StankApe View Post
I'm basing this off of the statement in quotes in the OP.
Which statement? The way I interpret the OP, you need to make a pretty big intuitive leap to get from what's written there to your conclusion.

Speaking of intuitive leaps, mine is that you've seen the word "religion" and assumed that Watts believes in a lawmaker. From what little I know of Watts, I don't think your critique is valid.
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Old 11th December 2012, 11:38 PM   #28
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To steal a quote from youtuber Thunderf00t:

Science works.

That's the main thing it has going for it.
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Old 12th December 2012, 12:26 AM   #29
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Every criticism of science basically boils down to "Whine whine whine I can't make crap up anymore."
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Old 12th December 2012, 01:59 AM   #30
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it looks like I misread the dang OP.... apparently my brain wasn't up and running earlier........
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Old 12th December 2012, 02:57 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by JoeBentley View Post
Every criticism of science basically boils down to "Whine whine whine I can't make crap up anymore."
Well to be fair, you have to admit that the scientific method falls apart when it's used to explain things which are imaginary.
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Old 12th December 2012, 03:04 AM   #32
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Originally Posted by Frankenstyle View Post
Well to be fair, you have to admit that the scientific method falls apart when it's used to explain things which are imaginary.
not if you skip a step or two!

problem: what's that noise?

research: I read a book about the paranormal last week

hypothesis: it's a ghost

conduct an experiment: there it is again!! definitely a ghost

conclusion; totally a ghost dude!

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Old 12th December 2012, 03:08 AM   #33
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Bet you still can't explain the tides.
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Old 12th December 2012, 03:56 AM   #34
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Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
Hi.

I saw this:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_science

Quote:
Philosopher of Religion Alan Watts criticized science for operating under a materialist model of the world that he posited is simply a modified version of the Abrahamic worldview, that "the universe is constructed and maintained by a Lawmaker" (commonly identified as God or the Logos). Watts asserts that during the rise of secularism through the 18th to 20th century when scientific philosophers got rid of the notion of a lawmaker they kept the notion of law, and that the idea that the world is a material machine run by law is a presumption just as unscientific as religious doctrines that affirm it is a material machine made and run by a lawmaker.

Is this a valid critique of science?

No, because the concept of scientific laws as prescriptive, which it is attacking, is wrong. Scientific laws are descriptive, not prescriptive.
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Old 12th December 2012, 07:32 AM   #35
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The most powerful aspect of science is the fact that its base assumptions are constantly being questioned. Sure, one field of study makes a few assumptions to get started--but another field, or others in that same field, question every one of those assumptions. Philosophers of science call a successful questioning of a foundational assumption a paradigm shift. It's not EASY, not by a long shot, but it's certainly possible to question foundational assumptions. It's happened several times in the last century.

So no, you can't say "Science makes assumptions, therefore it's religion".

As for the "Lawmakers require a lawgiver, therefore God" argument, it ignores the critical question: How does that god make and maintain the laws of the universe? Until that's answered these people really don't have a coherent argument; they're just playing semantics games.

And yeah, science came, in a sense, from the Christian world-view. That's because the Christian world-view defined philosophy for a thousand years, and pretty much every idea in Europe got filtered through it. Science has clearly gone well beyond that origin, however. And I'm not talking "Science gives us rocket ships, religion gives us bloodbaths" (though it's a valid argument). The Middle Ages and Renaissance Christians held certain views, which science has disproven. The classic example of this is the Chain of Being, but there are many others. Christianity provided some starting hypotheses that we could test. ANYTHING could have done that; it's mere historical accident that Christianity supplied the starting point. Science is demonstrably extremely far from where it started.
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Old 12th December 2012, 07:52 AM   #36
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Originally Posted by mike3 View Post
I'm curious: What, then, do you consider to be this "arrogance", and, just as important, what do you consider to be a non-arrogant approach? What kind of science should we never do, ever (not even in a million, or a billion years!)?
I should clarify.
The scientific method, as the way to get at the truth, is the best.
However, the by-products of it may destroy us.
Without inorganic nitrogen, for instance, we never could have so many people.
Is that good or bad? Climate change? Millions of cars. Advanced weapons. Pollution of all manner. Without science, we wouldn't have this. Quality of life would suck, but we would be less of a threat to ourselves.

The arrogance is simply that we assume that science has brought us a better world. I doubt that the world, at large, thinks so.
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Old 12th December 2012, 08:02 AM   #37
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Originally Posted by pandamonium View Post
Bet you still can't explain the tides.
http://www.boop.org/jan/justso/crab.htm
The Crab That Played With The Sea

"Kun?"
"Payah Kun!"
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Old 12th December 2012, 08:15 AM   #38
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Philosopher of Religion? That's a job?!? Presumably the Chocolate Teapot management vacancies were filled, and funding was pulled for the Unicorn caretakers?

Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
Yes, this.

I think the only question/critique I would put to science (as if it could answer) would be this; Is the universe ultimately understandable?

In other words, we (as a species) pursue scientific inquiry with the assumption that the answer will be understandable. Human rationality is bounded. I believe that there is a limit to human understanding. At some point will we ask questions who's answers will be completely unintelligible to human beings?
That's not really a critique so much as it is baseless speculation. Science works and continues to work. Either one day we will have explained everything or we will continue to apply science to finding out what remains.
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Old 12th December 2012, 08:36 AM   #39
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From the OP:
Quote:
Many recent thinkers, such as Carolyn Merchant, Theodor Adorno and E. F. Schumacher considered that the 17th century scientific revolution shifted science from a focus on understanding nature, or wisdom, to a focus on manipulating nature, i.e. power, and that science's emphasis on manipulating nature leads it inevitably to manipulate people, as well.
First off science doesn't do anything, people do things.

If people use the knowledge of science to manipulate others at least they are slowed in the process by having to learn the science first. As opposed to religion which has a primary aim of manipulating people.
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Old 12th December 2012, 08:42 AM   #40
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Originally Posted by joesixpack View Post
Yes, this.

I think the only question/critique I would put to science (as if it could answer) would be this; Is the universe ultimately understandable?

In other words, we (as a species) pursue scientific inquiry with the assumption that the answer will be understandable. Human rationality is bounded. I believe that there is a limit to human understanding. At some point will we ask questions who's answers will be completely unintelligible to human beings?
That has happened before.

The trick is to ask the question differently.

The way I see it, science advances in an asymptotic manner towards truth. It's probably unreachable, but our models approximate it better and better with time.
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