The Limitations of Science

by Dr. David Stewart

Science has lifted us from the ignorance of the Dark Ages into the understandings we hold today. It has increased our standards of living, lengthened our life spans, and enriched our lives in every way. Music, the arts, our governments, our social customs, our religious beliefs, our educational institutions, our recreations, our modes of travel, our means of communicating, our working, our eating, our sleeping—all aspects of our culture have been transformed by the touch of technology. It is little wonder, then, that we have become conditioned to look to science for the solutions of all our problems and for the answers to life’s questions.

But science, powerful as it is, is a false god. Awed by the spectacular material advancements science has brought us, we have come to expect more of science than it is capable of delivering. Many individuals, not recognizing the limitations of science, stand in expectation of results that will never come. Science does not have all the solutions. It does not have all the answers. It never has and it never will.

The purpose of this [article] is to clearly present science for what it is—no more and no less. Many answers can be obtained by the scientific method, but there are many more that cannot. It is not my intent to destroy your faith in science. As a lifetime professional scientist myself, I am duly respectful of its potential. I am also aware of its limitations. When it comes to consideration of life in its fullness, these limitations are very great. Therefore, while I don’t want to destroy your faith in science, I do want to disturb it and to encourage you to question its validity as an approach to living.

While the essence of science is characterized by its inherent lack of mysticism, to the non-scientist it often bears a veil of the mystical. One of the most common persuasive devices of the advertiser is to cloak its advocacy in the jargon of science: “If it sounds scientific, it must be right,” so goes the unspoken implication. And people buy it. It is my hope that this writing will serve to demystify science for those unfamiliar with its inner workings. It is not in our best interest, as human beings, to hold science in a degree of esteem that exceeds its capabilities.

Science is not the only approach of inquiry into the nature of life. In fact, it is an approach that fails in most of life’s situations. While it has great capabilities, it can only do so much and no more. This [article] will assist you in obtaining a realistic expectation of science, because without a realistic expectation you will not be able to rely upon it when appropriate and you will be disappointed when it fails.

Science may be a high-speed aircraft in some ways, but an airplane cannot get you everywhere. If you want to walk about your home, visit a neighbor, enjoy a stroll through the woods, climb the heights of a mountain, fish in your favorite stream, or travel to places without airports, you cannot do it with an aircraft. Modes of locomotion must be appropriate to the circumstances. Likewise, modes of inquiry must be appropriate to the subject matter. In the case of the scientific mode of inquiry, it is inappropriate to most of life’s important questions.

For example, when someone smiles at you, do you need a blood test and a urinalysis to appreciate why they smiled at you? Of course not. You simply look them in the eyes with an open heart and you know.

In order to clearly understand the limitations of science, one must first have a clear picture of what science is. Interestingly enough, there is a large fraction of scientists who do not have an accurate and complete picture of the boundaries of science. This might sound hard to believe, but it is true. It is entirely possible to practice science to a high level of success in obtaining useful, valid results, while at the same time never being fully aware of its limits.

In an analogous way, it is entirely possible, if not common, for doctors to practice medicine without being aware of its limits. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for people to confuse medicine with science. And neither is it unusual for doctors to confuse science with technology. The practice of medicine, while it may be partially described as “applied technology,” is not a science.

While medicine bases some of its practices on scientifically derived data, the practice of medicine is not, itself, a science. Medicine is a discipline of opinion where accepted standards of practice are determined by a consensus of the majority, not by the scientific method.

The reason the limits of science are not widely recognized and understood lies in our educational systems, which train scientists and health care providers in how to exercise the methods of science and apply their results, but do not encourage a questioning of the fundamental assumptions behind the methods themselves. The purpose of medical training is unquestioning indoctrination, not cognitive education. It is to promote, protect, and apply the prevailing paradigm—not to question it.

The Limits of Science in a Nutshell

The limits of science can be condensed into the following nineteen statements:

1. Science explains nothing; it can only describe.
2. Science proves nothing; it can only verify or disprove.
3. Science cannot deal directly with subjective experience; it can only deal with the objective.
4. “Scientific” does not necessarily mean right, valid, or best; it only means that a certain method was followed.
5. “Objective” does not necessarily mean right, valid or best; it only means that observations are independent of the observer and can be measured scientifically.
6. “Subjective” does not mean invalid or irrelevant; it only means that observations are dependent upon the observer and cannot be measured scientifically.
7. Most of the things we experience and value in life are subjective and are, therefore, beyond science.
8. Belief in science is an act of faith and is, in itself, a choice made subjectively and personally, not scientifically.
9. Science is limited by time; tomorrow’s research can not help us today and yesterday’s events cannot be directly observed.
10. Science is limited in space in the infinite sense; there will always remain portions of the universe beyond its reach because of distance to the furthest reaches of intergalactic space.
11. Science is limited in space in the infinitesimal sense; there will always remain portions of the universe beyond its reach within the subspace and the subparticles of atoms.
12. Science is limited in its ability to observe natural living processes because the effect of the observer changes, if not halts, the process.
13. Science is limited by its instruments and apparati of observation. It can only study that which its apparati are designed to observe or detect.
14. Science is limited by experimental error; its results can be no better than the reliability of its data.
15. Science is limited by human bias in the application of the scientific method itself.
16. Science is limited by human bias in the choices of topics upon which the method is applied.
17. Science is limited in its impact upon society in that people, and even professionals, generally do not follow scientific facts unless the facts agree with their feelings and/or preheld beliefs.
18. The scientific method is not the only valid method of inquiry into the nature of things—there are others, and when it comes to practical inquiry into the subjective, other methods must be used because, in such experiences, science fails.
19. Science (as practiced today) is limited by the a priori assumption that there is no willful, conscious, participating God within the processes studied by science. Hence, God is not a factor to be considered.

Excerpted from the book: The Chemistry of Essential Oils Made Simple: God’s Love Manifest in Molecules – pages 618 – 654

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