Science Will Have all the Answers

I had just finished watching an old Intelligence Squared discussion/debate called “Science Will Have all the Answers” when I originally wrote this. It’s going up about a week later.

Sadly, there’s only one person on the panel of four people who’s in favor of the motion; Professor David Papineau. The other three include Professor Ian Angell who calls himself a “Nietzschist” (or something like that), who basically doesn’t believe in science (which is, of course, complete bullshit), Dr. Jane O’Grady who continually brings up the “subjective”, and how science can’t answer subjective questions (no shit, Sherlock), and, finally, Professor Raymond Tallis who is apparently a Secular Humanist despite having what appears to be theological views, at least when it comes to science.

Only Professor Papineau earned my respect amongst the four, for his actual understanding of the whole damn point. Every time Professor Angell opened his mouth, I wanted to punch him.

Hey, Angell… if science is so worthless, then tell us… how does one go about contacting the Stork to get a baby?

Or is it witches?

It can’t be that sperm thing that gets a woman pregnant since that was discovered by science and science is, as you say, wrong.


I partly wish I had been at this discussion, because I would have brought up this:

There are, fundamentally, two types of questions:

1) Questions about the nature of reality
2) Questions about the nature of our experiences

Of course science can’t answer questions about the nature of our experiences; these are inherently subjective questions that have no correct answer.

Who is the greatest guitarist in the world?

The answer to that question is an inherently subjective question. While guitar magazines and websites have, throughout the years, tried, there is no scientific method by which to quantify “The Greatest Guitarist”. Different people will have different answers. For me, it’s Jimmy Page. For someone else, it might be Jimi Hendrix. For yet another person, it might be Eddie Van Halen.

Thus, it is a question about the nature of our experiences. It has an inherently subjective answer.

But how about questions about the nature of reality?

These are scientific questions. Any question that is about a specific part of reality has an objective answer.

“How are we here?” “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “Does God exist?”

These questions seek to explain a specific aspect of reality (specifically, the nature of reality itself); thus, they are scientific.

So, in fact… yes. Science will have all the answers… for questions about the nature of reality.

That may sound like what Professor O’Grady was arguing, but the difference between us is this:

Questions about the nature of our experiences do not matter to science. They absolutely matter to individual people, yes. They matter to me and you. But they are worthless questions to the point of view of science because the answers to these questions do not help us understand the nature of reality in any sense. They can help us to find our own, personal ways in our reality, but they cannot affect our understanding of the whole.

Thus, as I said, questions about the nature of our experience are pointless within the scope of science; they don’t matter. Not only can they not be answered scientifically, there’s no reason to try and answer them scientifically. The answers won’t mean anything to anyone other than the individual seeking the answers. Professor Papineau got that. The others… didn’t.

I want to see this topic again… only this time, as a debate… and I’d like to be invited, at least as an audience member, to bring up my point.

Because fuck was that “discussion” infuriating.


About Nathan Hevenstone

I hate straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men. I also play guitar and sing, and I'm an atheist and anti-theist. What now?
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2 Responses to Science Will Have all the Answers

  1. pslaplace says:

    Sorry, I may not be understanding your point fully. So you agree that science cannot have all the answers — even to quite important questions — as you immediately narrow the question to answers to questions about the nature of reality. But the motion was not “science will have all the answers to the specific domain of questions science is capable of addressing”, it was “will science have all the answers.” In your discussion, you quite accurately refine the question, but it seems strange to me that you are nonetheless upset at people who responded in the negative to the broader question initially posed.

    • “Science will Have All the Answers” has an implicit assumption: that objective questions are being talked abut. Dr. O’Grady’s insistence at talking about “subjective questions” was a red herring. Although Professor Papineau didn’t explicitly say this, he did allude to it numerous times; it was very clear that he caught that.

      Also, what “important questions” are you talking about? Do you mean questions about our purpose? I understand why one might think those are important questions, but since the answer really is “whatever purpose you give yourself” (or 42, depending on how varied your mileage is), those questions are not at all important on a grand scale. Again, of course they are important to individuals, but they are not valid scientific questions. They do not apply to the topic under discussion.

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