The Limitations of Science
Mankind has never devised a better tool for solving the mysteries of the universe than science. However, there are some kinds of questions for which scientific problem solving is unsuited. In other words, science has limitations.
There are three primary areas for which science can't help us answer our questions. All of these have the same problem: The questions they present don't have testable answers. Since testability is so vital to the scientific process, these questions simply fall outside the venue of science.
The three areas of limitation are
- Science can't answer questions about value. For example, there is no scientific answer to the questions, "Which of these flowers is prettier?" or "which smells worse, a skunk or a skunk cabbage?" And of course, there's the more obvious example, "Which is more valuable, one ounce of gold or one ounce of steel?" Our culture places value on the element gold, but if what you need is something to build a skyscraper with, gold, a very soft metal, is pretty useless. So there's no way to scientifically determine value.
- Science can't answer questions of morality. The problem of deciding good and bad, right and wrong, is outside the determination of science. This is why expert scientific witnesses can never help us solve the dispute over abortion: all a scientist can tell you is what is going on as a fetus develops; the question of whether it is right or wrong to terminate those events is determined by cultural and social rules--in other words, morality. The science can't help here.
Note that I have not said that scientists are exempt from consideration of the moral issues surrounding what they do. Like all humans, they are accountable morally and ethically for what they do.
- Finally, science can't help us with questions about the supernatural. The prefix "super" means "above." So supernatural means "above (or beyond) the natural." The toolbox of a scientist contains only the natural laws of the universe; supernatural questions are outside their reach.
In view of this final point, it's interesting how many scientists have forgotten their own limitations. Every few years, some scientist will publish a book claiming that he or she has either proven the existence of a god, or proven that no god exists. Of course, even if science could prove anything (which it can't), it certainly can't prove this, since by definition a god is a supernatural phenomenon.
So the next time someone invokes "scientific evidence" to support his or her point, sit back for a moment and consider whether they've stepped outside of these limitations.