Stephen Jay Gould
Many of the “scientific truths” that scientists believe today will be the “scientific mistakes” of tomorrow. Maintaining perspective is critical for a scientist to survive in this rapidly changing world of knowledge. . . . If . . . scientists can maintain perspective (and humility) and view their work as only part of an unfinished dance—but not the dance itself—as the assembling together of fragments of truth—rather than the absolute truth—then they can take satisfaction in their work, even through its results may be transitory. Stephen Jay Gould advocates such an approach to science in . . . The Mismeasure of Man:
I criticize the myth that science itself is an objective enterprise, done properly only when scientists can shuck the constraints of their culture and view the world as it really is. . . . Rather, I believe that science must be understood as a social phenomenon, a gusty, human enterprise, not the work of robots programmed to collect pure information. I also present this view as an upbeat for science, not as a gloomy epitaph for a noble hope sacrificed on the altar of human limitations. (1981, 21)
. . . . a scientist has “just got to know his limitations”—and the limitations of the scientific method. Otherwise, many scientists will spend their lives seeking that which the scientific method cannot deliver—absolute truth. They will build their houses on a foundation of sand—knowledge that is constantly shifting—and will end up . . . worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. . . .
. . . . [Similarly,] a knowledge of the dispute between science and Christianity, which arose around the work of Copernicus and Galileo, should make Christians much more careful in their handling of biblical truth. The past is littered not only with failed scientific theories but also with failed theological interpretations. God’s word is perfect and complete—but we are not. Many of the things we think are obvious in the Scriptures might not be so. We might be blind to the truth; we might be biased in our own feelings, cultural backgrounds, emotions, and sins; we might choose not to hear the message that God wants us to hear; we might not understand the Bible as well as we think we do. Therefore, Christians should exercise humility in their handling of the Word of God. Just because scientists are sometimes wrong does not mean that Christians are always right. (Nigel Brush, The Limitations of Scientific Truth, 261-262, 274)
- Does absolute truth exist? Is it possible for created beings to completely know absolute truth?
- Is science the only way to discover truth? Is theology the only way to discover truth?
- What are some of the limits of scientific truth? What are some of the limits of theological truth?