There is an unfortunate common perception that scientists are cold, hard people. That they are only interested in objective facts and are emotionless. And especially that science as a process is not creative and does not encourage the development of an ethical outlook. Consequently there is an attitude that while we can learn about the nature of reality from science and scientists we can learn nothing about ethics or the appreciation of reality.
Some people even claim that for this we must turn to religion. Although they never seem to be able to explain how on earth religious leaders can offer any better knowledge of ethics than scientists, boot makers, mechanics. or cooks.
I think most scientists would object to this common perception. So I was pleased to see this recent article from Agnosticism / Atheism – Values of Godless Science: Modern Science Does Not Need Religion or Gods for Values. It’s worth a read so I reproduce it below:
Modern, Godless Science is not Value-Free:
It is commonly claimed by both critics and supporters that modern science is value-free. This is false, though it is true that science lacks many of the values traditionally ascribed to religion and doesn’t make any value judgments about the use of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, the very ability of science to function as it does, and so successfully, is dependent upon a set of very important values. Some of those values are explained here.
Work & Discipline:
Science is a difficult field to be successful in. Nothing gets done in science without a great deal of hard work, long hours, and the discipline necessary to work those long hours. Very little in science can be described as ’glamorous’ – most scientific work involves poring over large amounts of data and tiny details that would make most people’s eyes just glaze over. This work is necessary, however, because it builds the foundations for new discoveries.
Every profession depends upon its members being honest for the profession to function. In science this requirement can be even more important. Many scientists work independently and their results are then incorporated into the work of other scientists. Faulty data can thus take on a life of its own, infecting the honest work of researchers around the world. Fortunately there are systems in place to catch and eliminate cheating, but they don’t always catch problems immediately.
One of the most important values of science is the use of reason. Problems aren’t assumed to be solved by tradition, faith, or simply trusting someone’s word. The use of reason helps ensure that explanations and solutions are based upon reality rather than upon personal preference, what is politically correct, or what is ideologically convenient. Reason can of course be misused, but no more so than anything else – and thus far, reason has proven to be more reliable than anything else.
Although it’s common for scientists to work alone, science isn’t really a solitary profession. Scientists are part of a larger scientific community, one which encompasses both those in the same field and those involved in other aspects of scientific research. All are interlinked, such that the results reached by anyone may help the work of others. The community also helps ensure the reliability of everyone’s work because to be properly scientific, research must be reviewed by peers.
Questioning Authority & Critical Thinking:
Although there are authority figures in science like there are in every profession, this authority is not absolute. Scientists are encouraged to question and challenge the claims and results which authority figures offer. After all, the next biggest name in science will be someone who can prove that an earlier theory was wrong, or at least incomplete, and therefore that current authority figures have been mistaken. Every scientist has a vested interest in questioning authority.
It’s common to think of scientists as focused on logic, but a very good imagination can be more necessary to being a good scientist. Imagination is important because it allows one to think of new possibilities which may not be evident from the raw data alone. Imagination also allows one to develop new explanations which also aren’t immediately supported by the data, and this provides an impetus to look for the data. Often, it’s imagination that draws a person to science in the first place.
Progress & Improvement:
One important feature of science is that it is never static. No explanation is ever final or complete and there is always new data that has be to explained, so there is never any feeling that the work of scientists is finished. This means that scientists are always looking towards improvement and progress at all times. Science works for the betterment of humanity and society, helping us all move forward rather than simply being content with where we are now.
Methodology Over Conclusions:
One value of science which many can miss is the emphasis on focusing on proper methodology over conclusions. What this means is that work must not be done for the sake of reaching particular and favored conclusions. Instead, one must focus on following the proper scientific methodology and reasoning. This helps guarantee that one is more likely to arrive at the correct conclusions and correct explanations, regardless of what they may be. Imagine if other fields, like politics, worked this way.
Godless Science and the Enlightenment:
Modern science is largely an outgrowth of the Enlightenment and that, in turn, was a period when religious institutions and ecclesiastical authorities began to really lose their power over most aspects of people’s lives. The Enlightenment was thoroughly secular in that it did not derive its impetus or principles from religious tradition or authority. The most fundamental values of godless science are thus also the values of modernity: skepticism, empiricism, and secularism. It’s not a coincidence that science and modernity developed side-by-side: godless science has reinforced secular modernity while secular modernity has provided the atmosphere in which godless science could thrive.
What this means is that it isn’t possible to defend one without also defending the other. Secular modernity won’t be able to proceed very far without the reinforcing support which godless science is able to provide; godless science won’t be able to continue helping us understand the world around us without the atmosphere created by secular modernity. Not only do they need each other, but we need them as well: secular modernity provides the freedom and room for people to follow their consciences and explore their religious beliefs; godless science has become invaluable to our survival as a species.
Science is often maligned for being godless, but godlessness is largely why science is successful: being godless means that science is not beholden to any religious ideology or perspective. If it were, then it wouldn’t be truly free to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Science is also often maligned for lacking values, but science has many values – it’s just that they are values which are fundamental to our secular, godless modernity. It is this which most upsets critics because those values are proving their superiority to the religious values which anti-modern ideologues would rather promote.