Whereto Science?

What we have categorized in modern times into ‘science’ and ‘religion’ were not really separable up until the early 19th century. These were all generally referred to as ‘philosophy’. The ‘philosophers’ would be involved in the pursuit of answers about existence and the natural world around us. In fact, theology was considered to be the highest form of philosophy, above all other forms of natural philosophy. It’s also interesting that at least some of the scientists of the Romantic era were also poets – using their science as an inspiration for their poetry.

With the exponential expansion of human knowledge since then, it is inevitable that they are continually split into increasingly specialized categories. While the likes of William Herschel and Humphry Davy were making contributions to astronomy, chemistry, medicine and all sorts of other fields, and were not afraid to delve into speculations about the ‘spiritual’ and metaphysical; today, we have experts in stellar astrophysics, icthyology (and even sub-fields within these fields). There is now a lot of talk of different branches of sciences working together synergistically. But not only that, for science, arts, and theology to come together in a way that brings out the best in all of these areas of human creativity. But is it even possible? Where do we start? Where do we draw the line? Such blurred relationships have brought about a lot of pain in the past – i.e. Copernicus and Galileo, and the present i.e. the Creationist movements. So where is science heading? Wherein lies the future of science?

But perhaps most important, right now, is a changing appreciation of how scientists themselves fit into society as a whole, and the nature of the particular creativity they bring to it. We need to consider how they are increasingly vital to any culture of progressive knowledge, to the education of young people (and the not so young), and to our understanding of the planet and its future. For this, I believe science needs to be presented and explored in a new way. We need not only a new history of science, but a more enlarged and imaginative biographical writing about individual scientists. Here the perennially cited difficulties with the two ‘cultures’, and specifically with mathematics, can no longer be accepted as a valid limitation. We need to understand how science is actually made; how scientists themselves think and feel and speculate. We need to explore what makes scientists creative, as well as poets or painters , or musicians. The old rigid debates and boundaries – science versus religion, science versus the arts, science versus traditional ethics – are no longer enough. We should be impatient with them. We need a wider, more generous, more imaginative perspective. Above all, perhaps, we need the three things that a scientific culture can sustain: the sense of individual wonder, the power of hope, and the vivid but questing belief in a future for the globe. ~ Richard Holmes, epilogue to The Age of Wonder

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