Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Is science "objectively better"?

Rand Simberg writes:

"I'm perfectly content to say that science is objectively better, but only by its own standards, not in any absolute sense."

I find that an odd comment. "Objectively better" means "better by the standards of material reality." You can't be both "better by the standards of material reality" and at the same time only better by your own standards.

Science is in fact objectively better in some contexts. For example, we have had more success building computers using the methods of science than we have had building computers through prayer. So in a context where you want a computer, science is objectively better.

I do agree with Rand that science is not "better" in an "absolute" sense; nothing can possibly be "better in an absolute sense" since "better" is always a judgement call. Things can only be better or worse relative to some goal.

This is really, it seems to me, the crux of the disagreement between science and religion, or at least Judeo-Christo-Islamic religions. The JCI religions claim that there is an absolute Revealed standard for judging the merits of goals, whereas Science claims that there is no such standard, and we are free (or burdened depending on how you look at it) to choose goals that suit us. My position is that we humans have been wired by Evolution to choose more or less the same fundamental goals, namely, our survival and comfort, and the survival and comfort of our children and grandchildren. In service of these goals we often (but not always) choose as secondary goals the survival and comfort of our neighbors, other members of our own species, and other life forms. It is this common set of goals that allows theists and atheists to (mostly) get along with each other despite the fact that we have radically different beliefs about the world.

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