Today we have one more response from a member of our Senior Seminar class to a talk by chemist Henry Schaefer, who shared C.S. Lewis’ critique of the limited ability of the natural sciences to sustain “objective values” essential to human existence and to answer questions about the nature of that existence.
This post comes from Ro Tollefson (’13), who wrote last week about her view of the function of historians.
The limits on the ability of science to provide knowledge, I think, are the restrictions placed on it by the nature of reality as we are able to know it. We are able to research what is, both in the natural sciences and within the scope of history. We are able, to a certain extent, to see what has happened before us over time. However, what we cannot do, either in historical study or in science, is replicate the beginning of things. We can speculate what may have happened based on what is, but we cannot see what happened before us.
There are limits to our knowledge in any field; I think that is the bottom line. There are many things that we can examine, whether that is what has happened in the past or the way that things work in nature, but these things can only indicate to us what our beginnings are. There is an element of faith to any avenue of belief, whether it be atheism, Christianity or scientism. This fact leads us to the question of retaining “objective” values of humanity. I think Lewis is correct, that the humanities are necessary to address things that science does not and cannot.
There is a specific method to and purpose for science, and to those ends science is extremely important and helpful. However, there is a point at which science goes beyond its own realm, its own ability. he humanities gather information in a different, though not necessarily inferior, manner and for a different purpose. I thought that the quote Dr. Schaefer said regarding C. S. Lewis was very insightful and sums the argument up well, that a person can be studied ad infinitum, but to really understand a man, one must get to know him (paraphrased).
– Ro Tollefson