Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Truth With a Capital T

Dennis Overbye, writing in today's New York Times, makes an interesting observation:
In the early 1990's, writers like the Czech playwright and former president Vaclav Havel and the French philosopher Bruno Latour proclaimed "the end of objectivity." The laws of science were constructed rather than discovered, some academics said; science was just another way of looking at the world, a servant of corporate and military interests. Everybody had a claim on truth.

The right defended the traditional notion of science back then. Now it is the right that is trying to change it.

Overbye's article has a good discussion -- perhaps the best we've seen -- of the implications of changing the definition of science by removing just two words, "natural explanations," from the Kansas science curriculum.

Although little attention has been paid to it, when social conservatives on the school board deleted "natural explanations" from the definition of science, they also removed the phrase, "[s]ience is a human activity... "

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity," Immanuel Kant famously said, "no straight thing was ever made." It may well be that science moves forward in fits and starts. That science can't answer the existential questions that so bedevil us. That science can be bent to serve many masters -- corporate, military, and now, inexplicably, religious.

As a human activity, science is surely an imperfect tool, but it is also the best tool we have for understanding the natural world.

It provides deep insights into the way nature works: from the nature of the solar system, to the structure of the atom; from the evolution of species to the cause and cure of disease, no system of human knowledge has been more productive.

As human societies become more complex, and our impact on the natural world and its resources more profound, an understanding of the methods of science will become more, not less important.

That's why it's worth defending.


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