What is the ‘Rightful Place’ of Science?

What are your thoughts on ‘the Rightful Place of Science’ and the topics mentioned below?

Many scientists have complained that the Bush administration relied on questionable science and disregarded the recommendations of scientific advisory boards, for example, in deciding to limit federal support of stem-cell research and to refuse to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions to deal with the threat of global climate change.

In contrast, Mr. Obama nominated Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist concerned with global warming, as his energy secretary. The U.S. Senate confirmed Mr. Chu and five other cabinet secretaries by voice vote just hours after President Obama took the oath of office. The newly confirmed cabinet members include Arne Duncan as education secretary. — from In Inaugural Address, Obama Vows to Restore ‘Rightful Place’ of Science, by Eric Kelderman, in Chronicle of Higher Education, January 21, 2009.

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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4 Comments

  • amywung@gmail.com'
    Amy commented on January 21, 2009 Reply

    I’m personally excited about Obama’s energy secretary pick, and his general enthusiasm for pushing forward research on alternative energy. But I keep hearing phrases like science being put in its “rightful place” or science being the “golden key” to revamping our nation. It just strikes me as heavy handed, putting up on a pedestal this magical view of science as being the answer to everything. When really, all my experience with the research of science is a messy, unstructured business.

    Then again, perhaps I just don’t like the pressure of feeling like everyone’s expecting “Science” to save the day!

  • Tom Grosh commented on January 22, 2009 Reply

    HT to my mathematics faculty friend who recommended we take time to soak in “Human Flourishing and the Sciences,” a presentation given by Francis Collins at Following Christ 08, when considering “The Rightful Place of Science.” More on this later. Audio available at http://www.intervarsity.org/audio/ Enjoy.

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on January 22, 2009 Reply

    Part of me is happy that an actual scientist has the president’s ear. But I have to be honest that science is very political these days, especially at the top levels. Bush did not “politicize science”. Chu and most top scientists are leftists, just as most academics are leftist. It stands to reason that a president is not going to appoint people with political views diametrically opposed to his own. Since so many scientists, like other academics, are leftists, this led to scientists not having much of a voice over the past 8 years.

    Ultimately this leftist leaning alienates not only politicians but many in the general public, who start to think that science is not “objective” after all but is being manipulated to serve the political interests of the scientists.

    The issues mentioned above are highly political. It is not “unscientific” to oppose stem cell research, any more than it would be unscientific to oppose Nazi experimentation on humans. It is an ethical decision, which different people have different views on. “Science” never trumps ethics; I fear the day when we approve just anything a scientist wants to experiment on.

    On global warming, there has been legitimate scientific debate, though I would say it is converging toward the view than human-generated emissions do play a role. Still, I have seen serious scientific objections, with maybe a 20% minority questioning the case. Is the science politicized? Absolutely yes! I sat on a review committee a few years ago of a geologist, and it was made clear that he had found results that did not support human-based global warming, and he had rewritten the conclusions to suppress that conclusion. Nearly fraud, the more I think about it, though I did not raise any objections at the time. It was couched in “he did not want the oil companies to grab hold of it” and we are all so used to that kind of thinking in academia that I didn’t even think about it at the time.

    Bush’s objections to Kyoto, by the way, had more to do with China, Brazil, and India being exempted than with doubting human influence on warming. I have been to China and Brazil and it is a polluted mess. US contribution to pollution is negligible compared to that. So the Kyoto protocol would have hurt our economy and made negligible effect on human carbon emissions– anyone who has been to China or other “exempted” countries can see that they are pumping out pollutants on massive scales compared to the US.

    There is no question in my mind that scientific pronouncements are made at the top levels with much more confidence than the data supports. E.g., when scientists or science writers proclaim “we know that the eye formed by natural processes” and yet everybody knows that nobody has a clue, it weakens science in the eyes of the public and makes people more liable to accept “alternative science.”

    That all said (!) I do think that presidents ought to have a “real” scientist as an advisor at the top level. Our world depends on science for just about everything these days. And there is a part of me happy to have “one of our own” at that position– I know Chu personally; he is from the “Bose condensation community.”

  • Tom Grosh commented on January 27, 2009 Reply

    Thank-you to the follower of Christ, teaching in the sciences at a major research university, who shared the below definition of science w/me via email:

    “Science is the careful human study of the observable world. It is one of the ways open to us to learn what God has done. It can be pursued humbly and passionately in service to God.”

    Amen! — Tom’s response.

    Note: If you have comments to share on posts, but would prefer to email them to me for posting, please be in touch.

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