Blind with science

A recent scientific study about scientific studies has concluded that there is not as much “disruptive” science being published lately. Authors of the study noted that while there are more papers being published today than in the 1940s, discoveries which send scientific disciplines in a brand new direction are light on the ground. An article in Nature journal pitches a few ideas about why that might be the case, but they concede that no one really knows why. 

Interestingly, the study’s authors noticed that “research in the 1950s was more likely to use words evoking creation or discovery such as ‘produce’ or ‘determine’. Research done in the 2010s was more likely to refer to incremental progress, using terms such as ‘improve’ or ‘enhance’.” So, are we simply in a holding pattern, an “improving and enhancing” stage of human achievement? Surely we haven’t run out of startling things to discover? We think this long but worthwhile essay sheds some light on what’s going on.

In May 2021, writer Matthew Crawford contended that the pandemic revealed how corrupted science has become. Some of this could be attributed to good old mammon – the resources needed to “conduct big science” are considerable, so the “measure of scientific achievement becomes the amount of ‘research support’ brought in, not the production of useful knowledge”, as Crawford explains. Also, funding contracts are given to those who will study what the sponsors wish, which is bound to create incentives in specific directions. 

Crawford suggests that a crisis of replication in which a “disturbing number of the findings” were shown to be bunk is a product of the corruption of science too. Scientific endeavors now center around “knowledge monopolies” and are generally pursued in large teams. If scientists are breaking off into various tribes, finding peers to review your work who aren’t colleagues or competitors is difficult and may account for some of the errors. 

Perhaps this brings us to one of Crawford’s most salient points – science is now jockeying to be seen as the unquestioned source of authority. “It is invoked to legitimise the transfer of sovereignty from democratic to technocratic bodies, and as a device for insulating such moves from the realm of political contest.” No correspondence shall be entered into.

The top-dog position suits the folks in power, naturally,  but heathen populaces who wish to place their faith in something less hokey or demanding than a god seem to embrace it also. This has produced a new religion, at times referred to as Scientism. Science should be a dispassionate observer of reality, a God-given tool for men to investigate His creation, but zealots now need it to explain all of life, to provide a set of principles we can “trust” and “follow”.

Some scientists, spying the slow down in disruptiveness, have a renewed interest in the past, looking for unexpected discoveries they may have missed from times when “unfocused research” was the order of the day. The image of Otto Warburg, gathering sea urchins and studying how they work (discussed in BHoP) or Crawford’s idea of “kitchen science” is one of unhurried curiosity, reflective of a desire to understand what life is for. Yes, it takes money to build a Hadron Collider but not everything worth discovering is sub-atomic.

Perhaps the lack of groundbreaking discoveries is a symptom of things Rev. Fisk often discusses – the lack of time spent in contemplation, the distracting nature of our screen-filled existence. Or what Dr. Koontz often points out – that people don’t read any more, especially history. Maybe it is just that scientists also live in this age overrun with inter-sectional silliness

We once heard it said that you are less likely to find atheists in science than in journalism, humanities or law. And we believe it. Dealing with fickle and fallen human beings may leave you despairing of life itself! Dealing with the physical universe however might push men to confess as Isaac Newton (and apparently Einstein also) did: “I believe the more I study science, the more I believe in God.”

As much as moderns may want it to, science cannot save your soul. And it makes a crummy religion. As Crawford writes, “The phrase “follow the science” has a false ring to it. That is because science doesn’t lead anywhere.” In that case, it is an idol, which cannot bear the weight of the hope placed in it. 

What if we never find the cure for cancer? God is still on his throne. Maybe the scientific establishment will continue to run its wheels – it is the glory of God to conceal a thing! But we will continue to speak of God Almighty, who made heaven and earth. It is he who “gives wisdom to the wise, and knowledge to those who have understanding.” 

Leave a Reply