The Foundations of Science and Technology

The professor and Dorcas arrive slightly late for the seminar and discover Nellie and Ellen berating each other over a political issue. The other chairs are empty, but two additional students follow the professor into the room.

Professor: Ah, off to a good start, I see. Well, if I can tear you from your conversation for a few moments, I would like to introduce two new participants.

Nellie: Sorry.

Professor: (turning first to a tall, thin-looking woman with a gaunt face). This is Johanna Lud. She teaches poetry and sculpture classes at the local community college. Johanna, meet Nellie Hacker, a computer science major here at the University. And, in the other corner, I present Ellen Westlake, a fourth year law student, campus president of the young Socialists, and a union organizer in real life.

(Turning next to a powerfully built but somewhat ill-at-ease young man on his left) And, a special visitor, Mr. Lucas Dominic. Lucas is a local high school student, and somewhat of a prodigy. He works part time as a research assistant in our science labs and has special permission to take two courses each semester from us. I asked him to drop in on one or two of these seminars because of his special interest in some of the topics.

Johanna: (sourly) The Dean said I had to take this course in order to graduate.

Ellen: Welcome to the club.

Nellie: What's the problem? Surely a teacher is interested in ethics, society and technology.

Johanna: (taking a chair) Bingo on the first two, dearie, but what this world needs is fewer machines, not more.

Lucas: (also sitting down) Everyone depends on science and technology. There's no way to avoid it.

Johanna: We'd be better off returning to simpler ways.

Nellie: Would you give up modern medicine?

Johanna: Why should we?

Nellie: There's a lot of high tech in the drugs and machines that save your life when you need it.

Lucas: Yeah, without modern medicine the average Joe would be a dead duck by the age of thirty.

Johanna: I don't have any objection to medicines when they're necessary, but in general we ought to use what helps people to be themselves, to be productive and to relate to others. People ought to be people, not servants of machines.

Ellen: It's the relationships between people that makes society possible and that creates the state. All for one, and one for all.

Johanna: (glaring at her) Actually, dear, I'm not too wild about statism either. Too much centralized control takes away an individual's freedom.

Nellie: That's for sure!

Ellen: But, you can't avoid some dealings with government.

Johanna: True, but individual liberty is too important to be forever giving more powers to the state.

Ellen: The state is the people and the people are the state. They exercise their collective and universal will through the organs of the state.

Nellie: Yeah, right. In your system, they all have the same will all right, but it's imposed by the party doctrine writers.

Lucas: Getting back to the topic--you also can't avoid benefiting from technology--it makes everyone's life better.

Johanna: Name an example.

Lucas: Nellie did--medicine.

Johanna: No, I mean of machines benefiting me.

Lucas: Do you use a telephone?

Johanna: Of course. It's essential when you need to contact people.

Nellie: So, you depend on the available technology.

Johanna: Only when I have to.

Lucas: Which is a lot more than you realize. Computers run those telephones, monitor transportation and control hospitals and doctors' offices. There are even electronics in most household appliances.

Johanna: I know all that; I just don't put the blind faith in technology and science that you seem to.

Dorcas: And, what is wrong with faith?

Lucas: Scientists don't need faith. They work on the basis of logic and empirical evidence alone.

Dorcas: Your version of "Man is the measure of all things?"

Lucas: Exactly.

Ellen: Everyone has faith in something--you in science, me in the working class, Johanna in herself and her art, Dorcas in God, and Nellie...

Johanna: (looking askance at Dorcas) Oh, surely no one believes in God anymore!

Lucas: (reflectively) My guardian does.

Johanna: But you don't ... or do you?

Lucas: I'm not sure for myself, but "God" is a hypothesis that a scientist can do without.

Nellie: (hesitantly) That may be true in a sense, but religion and science or faith and reason don't overlap anyway, so does it really matter?

Dorcas: Very much so. For one thing, the methods of the historian, which are not unlike those of your modern scientists, can be used to weigh the historical evidence for the claims of Christianity. Surely you moderns don't deny that Christ rose from the dead--I have seen him myself.

Johanna: Hallucination. Lock the girl up.

Nellie: The professor borrowed Dorcas from the first century. She really means it.

Lucas: It doesn't matter. Whether the Bible is true or not isn't relevant to science, for science does not need faith.

Johanna: Now, just a minute, young man. Ellen's right. Everyone has faith, has a "god" if you will. You believe in the scientific method as the way to knowledge, but others discover things in different ways.

Lucas: (stubbornly) If it can't be verified scientifically, it isn't knowledge at all.

Nellie: Don't you think that's overstating it a bit, Lucas? After all, what about art and poetry; what about economics and political science?

Lucas: (leaning forward) As to the former, whatever they represent, it isn't knowledge; and as to the latter, they are just opinions.

Johanna: For a young kid, you're a pretty opinionated snob yourself, aren't you?

Nellie: (leaning back laughing and pointing her finger at Johanna) Ad hominem! Ad hominem!

Dorcas: What do you mean by "opinion"?

Lucas: Those are the things you can believe by yourself without it mattering to anyone else.

Dorcas: Such as?

Lucas: Such as whether God exists.

Johanna: No, you can't include that. I don't believe in a personal god myself, but its existence is either a fact or a myth, so some people are right and others are wrong. Moreover, since people behave differently depending on their religious beliefs, those beliefs do matter to others. Someone who believes their god orders them to fly airplanes into buildings is a threat to us all.

Lucas: Look. What do you think about the textbook we have to read for this course?

Johanna: Terrible.

Lucas: An opinion.

Dorcas: No, what she said is a true statement about her reaction to the book. That reaction is as much "knowledge" as the scientific kind.

Lucas: But, such reactions are different for every person. Science is always the same, so it's more useful.

Alicia: Perhaps you could define science, Lucas.

Lucas: Science involves the search for truth by using the human senses. We gather empirical data, interpret it according to the best available evidence and publish the results for others to examine, criticize, or duplicate.

Johanna: What about when you're wrong?

Lucas: All scientific theory is subject to later reinterpretation in the light of new evidence.

Ellen: So scientific truth changes?

Nellie: Not so fast, Ellen. Understanding improves as knowledge increases. Science is always an approximation of truth.

Ellen: It sounds to me like scientific knowledge is nothing more than the current consensus of workers in a given field.

Professor: Ellen has a good point there, though she has overstated it by that "nothing more than." The consensus of informed people in a given field is not a concept unique to science but also exists in law, history, and mathematics.

Johanna: The problem with this young man's interpretation is that he confines knowledge to the results of using the scientific method. Science tells us how things work, but it says nothing about the ultimate meaning of life. Moreover, no machine can ever do that.

Ellen: Life has no meaning. It just is.

Lucas: Well, you certainly can't use science to prove the existence of God.

Dorcas: Can you disprove his existence?

Lucas: No, but that's exactly my point. If it's not possible to utterly disprove a hypothesis, then it isn't possible to prove it either, so it's not science.

Dorcas: Not only is the existence of the creator God absolutely true, but He has also revealed Himself, first in His word, and then by His Son Jesus, who authenticated His claims to be God by the working of His power. There's a historical record.

Lucas: I don't trust historical records. If something cannot be personally proven by observation or logic it is not science.

Dorcas: It does not follow that it isn't true.

Nellie: In fact, there's a mathematical theorem that says that no logical system is complete enough to prove everything that happens to be true.

Johanna: Well, I'd have to take your word for that, but I'm convinced there's a lot more to knowledge than the scientific.

Nellie: (intently, and ignoring her) Wait a minute Lucas, what about evolution. Is it true?

Lucas: (more cautiously) Most scientists say it is.

Nellie: Hah! By the criteria you have just given, evolution is not science either. You can't observe it or prove it. So, their position is inconsistent.

Lucas: (looking uncomfortable) Perhaps so.

Ellen: Some of what scientists call knowledge is a consensus of their views and is subject to change. It can be made to appear to be even more of a consensus if everybody in the field quotes each other regularly.

Nellie: Like the author of this book says: "If I quote you, and you quote me, who is any the wiser?"

Johanna: Did the author say that, or did you?

Nellie: Perhaps we are quoting each other.

Alicia: (Interrupting) Professor, the time is up.

Professor: Ah, yes. The two points of contention are whether technology is beneficial or not and whether faith and scientific empiricism are exclusive or not. I think we have a good handle on the issues. For next week, I'll want a two-thousand word essay taking one side of either of these two debates. Work it out properly, no personal attacks, and provide a good bibliography.

(He gathers his books preparing to leave, but Ellen and Johanna exit ahead of him, grumbling over the assignment and the unfairness of being required to take the course. As they leave, a final snippet of conversation is heard.)

Professor: (to Nellie and Lucas) Sounds like the two of you could get on well.

Nellie: Yeah, Lucas. You're all right. Don't let those two faze you. Johanna can be just as rude as Ellen.

Lucas: (flushed and embarrassed) Thanks, well... you're o.k. too, Nellie, that is, for a girl.

Nellie: What!

(Any more progress toward a lasting friendship was here cut off from the narrator's hearing and the readers' eyes by the closing of the door.)

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises