A good scientist is a good ascetic. He speaks of what he knows. He is careful to re-define “what he knows” to “what he can demonstrate in repeatable and controlled conditions,” and to “what he can observe through a consensus of material percepts.”
There are many good things that have come out of this asceticism. When any phenomenon is carefully studied, one should expect very helpful and interesting discoveries. This is the nature of Creation. Wisdom is strewn liberally along the whole continuum of observation, from macrocosm to microcosm.
So even a confined and sharply proscribed vision of the scientific method, or empirical observation, can yield wondrous discoveries. Like the essential mathematical nature of electromagnetism, for example. The gravitational attraction of two masses, for another. Also, the growing comprehension of astronomy and the sub-atomic universe. That comprehension is still incomplete, and I’m surprised at how often this little fact is either forgotten or ignored.
Remember that it was scientists who were sure about the ether, and about the planetary model of the atom. It was the ancient scientists who informed obsolete, and unfortunate, cosmologies of the world being support by elephants, or held aloft by great stone pillars, and a puddle of water ready to stream from the firmament. Let us not forget that it was ancient science that gave us these cosmological myths, not the priests. The priests, tottering and doddering, did their best to support the respectable cosmogonies of the time.
But the scientists, the Dawkins and the Dennetts, and their sophisticated hangers-on like Christopher Hitchens, were the ones who filled in the blanks of science beyond the tradition of Scripture and the Fathers. That’s their job, I guess, but one should remember that their job is ongoing, incomplete.
In a hundred years, evolution will be shown to be as intellectually flatulent as "spontaneous generation," where rats were seen to be born from refuse, rotting in a corner.
In the litany of scientific achievements, I suppose one should throw in the discovery, or invention, of atomic fission. That, of course, is not a uniformly decent innovation.
I do not doubt this legacy of Frances Bacon and all his legatees. Why should I? I am truly thankful for all good science, despite the obvious failure, in my part, to count the achievement of Charles Darwin, who is buried with Newton in Westminster of all places. I might say, were I permitted to do so, even in ecclesiastical circles, that Darwinism just doesn’t make the empirical cut, but I have been roundly excoriated for bringing up such a crabby thing, so I won’t.
A good scientist says what he knows, and nothing more.
There are many who may be good scientists during the day, but at night they turn to religion. They turn to the gods of unintelligent design, to the gods of abysmal emptiness and nihilistic extrapolations of biological activity into ontology and ethics.
These good scientists, maybe, are not hesitant in the popular press to make metaphysical and religious pronouncements. They drone, censoriously, on the curse of old fashioned religion, and even look sentimentally toward that bright day when parents could be prosecuted for child abuse for having read Bible stories to their children.
I'm sure you don't believe me. Just read Dennett and Dawkins, if you will. And don't mind those people behind the curtain, who blather on about how respectable science pays no mind to fundamentalists like these. Right. That's what was said in Germany, l'entre deux guerres. "Let the technicians be our priests -- what do they know?"
Can you believe it? Can you simply, utterly, believe it, even with two pints of Guinness down your gullet, a minute before the Vogons clear off your planet to make way for a very nice concrete bypass? Engineered, of course, with high-speed embankments?
Isn’t it a lark, we bellow in a sodden tune, say, Anacreon in Heaven, as we sing with the lads in a little pub at the end of the universe?
The mice have really done it this time. The ones in their maze have really done an amazing thing. They’ve written books from their little trails, the poor buggers. They’ve cranked metaphysics out of their circuitous tracks and dead-ends.
And what’s more, you, by Jove, buy their adorable weeny books. Metaphysics from a laboratory for God’s sake.
No wonder the dolphins left. There was so very little decent conversation. But at least the fish was good, while it lasted.