Humans have been discussing science—its meaning, its truth, its application to our lives, and how we have benefited from it for thousands of years. This statement justifiably generates some discussion. Some modern residents tend to think we have a sort of ‘lock’ on science. After all, we dwell in the Scientific Age, or, the Age of Science. As we study this phrase, some questions arise. Does this idea trigger profound thoughts about the importance of science in our contemporary society? And does it inform us about the importance of science in centuries and millennia past?
The term science was not commonly in use until about the 15th century. The term ‘scientist” was not used until polymath Willam Whewell (1834) coined it. But the concept of science had been discussed and analyzed in other languages and cultures and utilized for many millennia. Its roots run deep and extend far into the past.
The Scientific Revolution of four centuries ago was certainly not humanity’s initial venture into what may be regarded as “science.” Francis Bacon (b. 1561) is often regarded as the father of modern science and formal scientific method. Roger Bacon who lived almost 300 years earlier was a polymath and champion of empirical study and experimentation. The great philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) is often recognized for his contributions to modern scientific thought, although he did not propose modern scientific method. His theory of knowledge, whereby all facts are established by observation and reason, are foundational to modern scientific thinking. Aristotle’s articulation of “first principles” is a precursor to sound thinking about intellectual curiosity, knowledge, causes, and predictions. Aristotle thought his brand of science was practical, poetical, or theoretical. If the term scientist had been in common use back then he would have counseled followers to “think like a scientist.” His descriptions of the theoretical come close to our contemporary concept of “scientific.”
Many ancient philosophers were also scientists in their time. Their science cannot be compared with the achievement of modern scientists, but they laid foundations for establishing modern scientific processes of thought.
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President Biden in his recent 3-11-21 address to the nation commemorating the official pronouncement that Covid-19 had been declared a worldwide pandemic in 2020, offered his outlook: “On July 4 our nation’s families may be able to enjoy a small group cookout to celebrate. The president said, “Look, we know what we need to do to beat this virus. Tell the truth. Follow the scientists and the science. Work together. Put trust and faith in our government…..” Current guidance to keep washing hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing masks must continue, he counseled.
In our previous post we highlighted the popular current exhortation to “Follow the science” and “Get on board with science.” In all situations these popular encouragements are appropriate and necessary. In countless day to day activities it is incumbent upon us to follow the science. Thereby, we avoid injury. Our most skilled athletic coaches should doubtless be recognized as exceptional teachers of science as it relates to athletic skills. In everyday life scientific principles and laws must not be disregarded lest serious consequences result. In our kitchen, while gardening, driving, or participating in athletics, we are impelled to “follow the science” each day of our lives. We cannot identify any human activity where the principles of science should not be followed. Effects follow causes virtually every moment of our life experience.
There are cases, however, where simply following the science may result in undesirable outcomes if the motivations of the advisor are inappropriate, misdirected, or incomplete. Following the science is a mantra with many caveats. Do masks retard the spread of the Covid-19 virus? In most cases, probably. Do social distancing, obeying quarantine rules, or submitting to lockdowns diminish the spread? Generally, the answer is yes. But our broad-scope scientific response to the pandemic is not nearly so simple. There have been serious consequences in terms of tragic social isolation and educational deprivation. Alarming statistics affirm this truth. Following the science is not a singular, simplistic solution to the most difficult events facing our modern civilization. The problems of our society, including the current pandemic, could be resolved by application of a broad combination of solutions—scientific, political, social, medical, moral, ethical, and spiritual. This list of solutions is incomplete and far from detailed. We long for a healthy national and international application of divine wisdom in coping with present and future human pandemics holistically. In summary, simple exhortations to “follow the science” often leave us woefully deficient in our search for a comprehensive, meaningful response to a specific problem.
One of our personal favorite scientist/thinkers is Charles Peirce (1839-1914). He is known as the “Father of Pragmatism.” Peirce was a highly creative scientist. He supported a three-pronged method of logical reasoning: deductive, inductive, and abductive (also known as the hypothetical). Deduction, induction, and abduction are gifts of reason and wisdom coming from our Creator. Reason and wisdom are divine gifts of “common grace”—gifts bestowed whether or not the individual is a Christian.