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The Limits of Science
12-22-2008, 11:56 AM
Post: #1
The Limits of Science
Do you think science has limits?

For example, currently, we almost know how to create life and we can easily modify it. Within 20 years, creating and modifying life will be a matter of established procedure. That raises the moral question of whether we should.

Currently, science has little to say about morality. Decades hence, will there be a science of good and evil that everyone agrees on?

Will science prove or disprove the existence of God?

To raise a different point, science is getting more expensive. At the turn of the last century, Lord Rutherford made fundamental discoveries in particle physics using some gold foil and a radio-active source. Now several countries have to get together to fund the latest particle accelerator. If that trend continues, eventually it will be too expensive.

Does science have fundamental limits? If so, what are they?
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12-22-2008, 02:11 PM (This post was last modified: 12-22-2008 02:55 PM by Anglican.)
Post: #2
RE: The Limits of Science
(12-22-2008 11:56 AM)Messenger Wrote:  Do you think science has limits?

I certainly do

Quote:For example, currently, we almost know how to create life and we can easily modify it. Within 20 years, creating and modifying life will be a matter of established procedure. That raises the moral question of whether we should.

I suspect artificial life is something which is going to fall into the same category as the first conscious computer. Every few years somebody claims to have done it, there is a brief flurry of headlines in the press, and then, when it becomes clear what they actually have done, everybody yawns, and life carries on pretty much as before.

But there are obviously some big, big questions regarding the creation of artificial life. Suppose somebody created an organism which escaped into the environment, and then turned out to be highly pathogenic as far as human beings were concerned. With no natural resistance to it, it might reduce the world's population by half. Personally, I wouldn't be too ready to accept assurances along the lines of, "Oh, no ,no, we will put all necessary safe guards in place." Murphies Law always operates; especially when you least want it to. A British scientist by the name of Sir Martin Rees has wqritten a cheery little book called "Our Final Century," because he is worried that we have reached a point where we could very easily wipe ourselves out, through that or some other catastrophe.

Quote:Currently, science has little to say about morality. Decades hence, will there be a science of good and evil that everyone agrees on?

At bottom, the physical sciences are in the business of studying the interaction of energy and matter, and morals are not physical things which fit into that scheme of things.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the word "science" had a much broader meaning, and could be used as an adjective to describe almost any discipline, but by the end of the nineteenth century it more or less had the meaning it has today. You can try describing ethics as a science if you like, but it will probably earn you a snear from the likes of Richard Dawkins.

Quote:Will science prove or disprove the existence of God?

By definition the physical sciences concern themselves with the physical universe. Therefore they can have nothing to say about the existence or non existence of a God who transcends that universe.

Quote:To raise a different point, science is getting more expensive. At the turn of the last century, Lord Rutherford made fundamental discoveries in particle physics using some gold foil and a radio-active source. Now several countries have to get together to fund the latest particle accelerator. If that trend continues, eventually it will be too expensive.

If taxpayers had been consulted about whether they wanted to spend millions helping a few professional physicists satisfy their curiosity, I wonder if they would have said yes?

Quote:Does science have fundamental limits? If so, what are they?

There are limits imposed by its job description, and possibly also by quantum uncertainty.
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12-22-2008, 03:01 PM
Post: #3
RE: The Limits of Science
(12-22-2008 02:11 PM)Anglican Wrote:  At bottom, the physical sciences are in the business of studying the interaction of energy and matter, and morals are not physical things which fit into that scheme of things.
I think that definition of science is too narrow. Biology is a science but it really stretches things to say it is about the interaction of energy and matter. And, in a fuzzy, non-religious kind of way, I can see morals (“what ought to be”) being viewed as a kind of behavior which is a product of genetics and environment and can be studied. I will grant that all this will be hideously complex.
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12-22-2008, 03:15 PM
Post: #4
RE: The Limits of Science
(12-22-2008 03:01 PM)Messenger Wrote:  
(12-22-2008 02:11 PM)Anglican Wrote:  At bottom, the physical sciences are in the business of studying the interaction of energy and matter, and morals are not physical things which fit into that scheme of things.
I think that definition of science is too narrow. Biology is a science but it really stretches things to say it is about the interaction of energy and matter.

Not really. You can offend all the atheists around here by talking about the immaterial self, but what else is the physical organism if not an electro-chemical machine?

Quote:And, in a fuzzy, non-religious kind of way, I can see morals (“what ought to be”) being viewed as a kind of behavior which is a product of genetics and environment and can be studied. I will grant that all this will be hideously complex.

If behaviour really is the result of genetics, then that leads straight into determinism and the denial of free will. For myself, I cannot see how you settle questions such as whether or not assisted suicide should be legal by studying our genes. Attempts to make science address itself to questions it is ill qualified to address strike me as downright dangerous at best.
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12-22-2008, 04:05 PM
Post: #5
RE: The Limits of Science
(12-22-2008 03:15 PM)Anglican Wrote:  
(12-22-2008 03:01 PM)Messenger Wrote:  
(12-22-2008 02:11 PM)Anglican Wrote:  At bottom, the physical sciences are in the business of studying the interaction of energy and matter, and morals are not physical things which fit into that scheme of things.
I think that definition of science is too narrow. Biology is a science but it really stretches things to say it is about the interaction of energy and matter.

Not really. You can offend all the atheists around here by talking about the immaterial self, but what else is the physical organism if not an electro-chemical machine?
When an organism has a brain that can reason and memory so it can learn, it ceases to be just an electro-chemical machine (or rather, its behavior becomes massively more complex since it depends on its past history). For example, a radish is an electro-chemical machine but a field mouse isn't.
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12-22-2008, 04:13 PM
Post: #6
RE: The Limits of Science
(12-22-2008 04:05 PM)Messenger Wrote:  When an organism has a brain that can reason and memory so it can learn, it ceases to be just an electro-chemical machine (or rather, its behavior becomes massively more complex since it depends on its past history). For example, a radish is an electro-chemical machine but a field mouse isn't.

A digital computer hooked up to some kind of real time information source has its behaviour partly determined by the incoming data, but it is still a machine for all that. Physical mechanisms never do anything but shunt energy and matter around; they are part of the physical universe, so that is all they can do.
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12-22-2008, 04:22 PM
Post: #7
RE: The Limits of Science
(12-22-2008 03:15 PM)Anglican Wrote:  If behaviour really is the result of genetics, then that leads straight into determinism and the denial of free will. For myself, I cannot see how you settle questions such as whether or not assisted suicide should be legal by studying our genes. Attempts to make science address itself to questions it is ill qualified to address strike me as downright dangerous at best.

Some human behavior is known to have a large component of heritability. With identical twins raised apart (same genes, different environment), if one twin is bipolar, the chance is 60-80% that the other will be. Occurrence of bipolar in the general population is around 1%. There are dozens of other "normal" behaviors that have a genetic component.

How is science ill qualified to investigate morals? Other than religious objections, what make morals different from psychology in general?
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12-22-2008, 04:23 PM
Post: #8
RE: The Limits of Science
i believe science is finding out what God can do,and how he does it.i do not believe he would show humans everything,and only shows us through our countries position at the time.lets say usa went to tyranny,the science would slow,and others would overtake.

Good evil salvation
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12-22-2008, 04:37 PM (This post was last modified: 12-22-2008 04:54 PM by Anglican.)
Post: #9
RE: The Limits of Science
(12-22-2008 04:22 PM)Messenger Wrote:  How is science ill qualified to investigate morals? Other than religious objections, what make morals different from psychology in general?

Science is unqualified to investigate morals because morals are not physical things. Simple as that.

I am not in the habit of paying Richard Dawkins any compliments, but even he seems to realise that the physical sciences are not qualified to pronounce on questions of morality. Maybe his memory is not so short that he is unable to remember the twentieth century.

"Those who do not learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat it."

The frightening thing about the modern world is that it seems to take less than 100 years for the lessons of history to be forgotten.

Pychology can (perhaps) tell you how human beings behave, but it cannot tell you how they OUGHT to behave.
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12-22-2008, 05:26 PM
Post: #10
RE: The Limits of Science
True science cannot find some special 'real' physical morality, but it can show us the nature of ourselves, the universe and our society, and alongside disciplines like history and philosophy which it interacts with form a basis for morality.
I like this more than having to accept some old book as the epitomisation of all that is good and follow in its ways in an unqualified manner.

my atheism is just like your religion
only i subtract 1 one more god
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