“The point is that many scientists—especially those like Dawkins who like to write popular polemical books—stress that science reveals to us an inherently meaningless universe,” writes Morgan Meis in his review of Curtis White’s The Science Delusion in the latest edition of Orion, adding, “These same scientists then wax eloquent about the inherent beauty, wonder, and complexity of it all. But what makes it wonderful?”
I not only fail to see how an externally meaningless universe and human (or non-human) wonder contradict, but I find it difficult, if not impossible, to imagine any beauty whatsoever in a universe pre-scripted, where all meaning is already determined for us (a sort of celestial North Korea, as Hitchens liked to joke).
Gleaning from the review, it seems Meis (via White) is simply doing what so many others have done before him: conflating science—which, defined in one word, is doubt—with a sort of cold mechanism, which is more the stuff of caricature than what the method actually accomplishes. Meis writes: “After all, from a scientific perspective, lunch is either successful or unsuccessful at delivering necessary nutrients to the watery sack that holds valuable strands of DNA. Goodness has nothing to do with it.”
That might be one perspective of science, but for those doing research about natural phenomena, there many others: how taste buds connect to neurons to create emotional responses (why things taste “good”), how lunch fits in with sociological mores (do you use a fork or eat with your hands?), how predators, prey, and decomposers have co-evolved in complex ecosystems (monarch butterfly larvae only eat milkweed, as it gives them a later defense against birds), and so on. All of these approaches should make lunch more beautiful and meaningful, not less. Just the fact that it took billions of years of geology to make the fork should make the whole affair feel pretty special—dare I say, miraculous?
Yes, humans don’t have all the answers. Ecologically, we’ve been shown to have very few. So few, in fact, that it’s safe to say that we don’t know what we don’t know about the natural world around us. But to throw away the method of science is to bow out of the effort—and time is almost up, if the bell hasn’t rung already—to ameliorate the crash.
A resistance to the dominant culture relies on asking uneasy questions and facing uncomfortable answers. 90% of the large fish in the ocean are gone, and the remaining 10% are filled with plastic. But that makes me feel bad, or makes me deeply question what inherent meaning is to be found in the overkill, so I’ll just disregard that evidence and live my life as if all is going according to plan. No need to create my own meaning in the light of this evidence—nor, for that matter, to do anything about it.
This kind of thinking is what an anti-science world-view promotes. Meis concludes the review with the admission that “Romanticism may be something of an easy answer…”. Need I go on?