In our culture saying the title is almost like saying “I hate children.” How dare anyone suggest that scientific knowledge is overrated? Clearly the only acceptable view is that science could never be over-rated and it could only possibly be under-rated. But if we would allow that it is at least possible, then I suggest we consider how highly we rate both the scope of science as well as the value of scientific knowledge.
The claim that religion was there as a “stand in” until science could take it’s place is likely the oddest claim I have heard more than once. It reveals what I think is a bizarre bias of our time. Some people think that science and how nature works is so important to know, that they naturally think that was what religion was there for. God revealed himself in the bible to explain lightening and how the mountains were made.
Our current culture values these sorts of “what is” or “how does this thing work” beliefs way out of proportion so we shouldn’t be surprised that people in our culture come to such an odd view. The assumption seems to be, of course, the most important parts of any scripture are the ones that might overlap with science. The fact that such a small fraction of scripture even deals with anything even arguably scientific is just more proof religion is misguided.
My life didn’t really change much after finding out how mountains were made. Getting a scientific understanding of tectonic plates changed very little in my life and to that extent is not really important to me. The very notion that Christianity or any religion existed to help us explain the natural world reveals how off kilter the importance we place on this knowledge of the natural world. Christianity is a religion that helps us address the more important question – “how should we live?”. The answers science can provide are interesting and sometimes they can help us address that important question. But science does not address that question directly. The major religions that exist deals with that directly. That is the point of these religions – and really it is quite obvious to anyone who knows them.
It seems some people see the question “how should I live?” as a sort of afterthought. They are so full of reasons to believe this or that is the case and so concerned about having evidence for this or that view of the state of things that when the question comes up it’s almost like would like to wave it away. Like oh yeah if you want to talk about that silliness then here is my view…. And what follows is often some sort of poorly thought through mantra that demonstrates how little time they spend on it compared to the scientific “what is” questions they want really to get back to.
People now seem to think the most important thing is to fill our heads with beliefs that are more likely true than not and expunge those beliefs that do not pass that evidential muster. There seems no concern with what seems obviously just as an important question. How should I live? Science has taught us many things but that does not mean it is the source of the most important information.
Overrating science is also done in that people try to claim science can answer questions it clearly can not answer. We saw some of this scientific morality with the Nazis and communists. But even today we see scientists taking the stage to talk about morality or other philosophical issues. I am not interested in celebrity views on politics or science or philosophy, but I can see some people are curious about the views of their favorite celebrity. But scientists are not celebrities, yet we see them selling books or lecturing on philosophy. Why? Is it good philosophy? No, it’s because the scope of that field is overrated.
Science can help us live longer. However, it does not teach us what to do with the extra time. Religion does. There is such a thing as useless knowledge. And all knowledge is on this spectrum.
I feel like a conversation with certain atheists goes like this: Why do you collect these acorns? So I can plant more oak trees. Why do you want to plant more oak trees? Because they produce more acorns. So why do we care they produce acorns? Well we can then collect the acorns. Why do you …. Oh wait. Or why do you learn science? Science will help us survive longer. Why should we want to survive longer? So we can learn more science. I want to survive longer and I like oak trees, but I hope you can see my point. It’s fine if you want to argue King Sisyphus is happy. But, many of these same atheists saying we should live longer for the sake of living longer, also want to convince me that there is so much evil and misery in the world, God should be indicted.
Even studying in philosophy the focus was so much on Does God exist? And we also focus on how and what it means to “know” a proposition concerning the external world. (See Cartesian Skepticism, and the Gettier problems) After thoroughly trying to answer those question I ultimately decided it doesn’t really matter how we define “knowledge” as the fundamental problems presented by Descartes and similar arguments still have weight. I think this time spent in philosophy was well spent because it dealt with a my understanding of a huge amount of beliefs. It helped me learn that life does indeed have uncertainty and we need to deal with it. Trying to define the problems away is not helpful. It also helped me see the obsession our culture has with knowing “what is”.
I hope that is changing. At the time I was in college majoring in philosophy there were no classes offered in what is now called meta-ethics were we could even start to ask “How should I live?” and what do we even mean to live rightly? I had to pursue those questions on my own. I think and hope this is changing. Answering the question how we should live should not be an afterthought.