Some Characteristics of Science

Many science-religion dialogues become controversial when participants ascribe different meanings to the terms science and religion . When scientists reject certain claims of religionists, it is often because their view of science is not the same as that of an opposing commentator, and vice versa. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a non-practitioner of a discipline to understand precisely what a practitioner means by the term.

There is no branch of science that is the work of a single individual. Science invariably involves the participation of a community of workers. Scientific propositions are developed and based on consensus. The consensus is not among people who agree to accept the propositions because they respect the individual who made them and have confidence in his or her wisdom. Rather, the consensus arises by the collaborative efforts and the corroborative evidence in favor of the proposition. As and when such evidence is lacking, or contrary evidence is shows up, the unanimity of consent erodes, and slowly crumbles, no matter how great or respected the originator of the idea is or was. Science is a collective self-correcting enterprise .

The human mind (brain) creates and responds, it generates thoughts and ideas. The mind can imagine, fantasize, and experience fear, anger, and other psychological states. The intellect refers to the faculty of the mind to organize and handle thoughts and ideas in systematic ways, in consistent and logically sound modes. Thus, intellect includes the mental capacities for reasoning, analysis, and criticism. These are essential for engaging in science. Science is thus an intellectual enterprise.

The brain responds to external stimuli, and the mind interprets them. It generates a picture of the world, a worldview that includes not just shapes and colors, tastes and smell, but an interpretation of these. The mind-aspect of the brain gives meaning to a jumble of sounds we call words, and to a collection of words called sentences. Science is the explicit articulation by the human mind of the patterns it recognizes in the experiences which are part of conscious existence. [This is not a strict neuro-scientific or psychological definition of the mind, but it will suffice for this discussion.] If this is a significant accomplishment of the brain, it is also an incomplete process, for there is more to the human experience than the detection of patterns and principles in the physical world. In so far as these other aspects are ignored or cannot be addressed by science, science is not, and has never been, a fully satisfying activity.

Ultimately, anything becomes meaningful only when it becomes part of one's own self. None of the wonderful theories of science, be they of microphysics or cosmology, of genetics or neuroscience, will make any sense to those who have not been initiated into the worldview of science. It is only when the intellect grasps the intricacies of the picture that science emerges.

What are the aspects of the experienced world in which science is interested? The goal of science is to take into account and explain in a well-defined framework every item of human experience. As Karl Pearson pointed out it in The Grammar of Science , "The goal of science is clear: it is nothing short of the complete interpretation of the universe.” Whether this is achievable or not is a matter on which people may disagree. But the world of science assumes that this is possible. The deepest conviction of the practicing scientist is that every feature of the world, from cosmic emergence to mental states can be successfully explained by the scientific process in due course. Most scientists recognize that this is an ideal which will be reached only in the distant future. History tells us that the more we explore, we more complex the world seems to be.

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