Hillary Believes in Science — Which Isn’t Saying Much

Science is more limited than you might have thought

By William M Briggs Published on July 30, 2016

You just knew it was going to be a good night. Hillary shined on that stage. Her tics and tremors and mysterious coughs were all but absent. Her voice had little of the usual blood-freezing screechiness. She looked human.

She hit her verbal stride. She was smooth. She was doing so well that she had the audience ready to whip out their wallets and give their last to the Clinton Foundation. It was so emotional!

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, she said it. She said it! She said, “I believe in Science“!

Me too! Me too! I believe in Science, too!

Isn’t Science great? Isn’t it wonderful? Worthy, even, of worship? Why, there’s no question Science can’t answer!

Take, “Should the United States turn a blind eye to illegal immigration, a policy Hillary favors?” Science answers, “I have no idea!” Or this: “Is it right to kill the unborn, an act Hillary condones and even encourages?” Science says, “Beats me!” Or maybe this: “Should the United States increase taxes and swell the size and reach of its government, programs Hillary promises?” Science snaps back, “Not a clue!”

These aren’t the most helpful answers, but they are answers, and true answers at that. Turns out Science, despite its reverent awesomeness, besides it being a thing we should all believe in and swear fealty to, is useless in answering many questions.

Well, we don’t need Science for morals, anyway. We can use religion and commonsense instead. So that if we want good answers to the questions just posed, we have to find agreement along lines other than those provided by test tubes, microchips and integral calculus.

Science answers questions of fact, or tries to. For instance, here’s a question Science can answer: “When does human life begin?” Science says, “At conception.” Well, that’s an easy answer, too, because, of course, when sperm meets egg the process of life initiates, as is obvious (it may not be as obvious, but Science cannot say what life is; only philosophy can). Now we can use this indisputable scientific fact about when human life begins as an assist for the question, “Is it right to kill the unborn?” Science says the unborn are human lives, therefore the question becomes, “Is it right to kill an innocent human for the convenience of another?” Science is ignorant of the right answer here, but morality isn’t.

Here is another softball Science question: “Is a man who thinks he’s a woman actually a woman?” Science says, “No way! A male cannot be turned into a female.” Science can classify and perhaps explain why a man might mistakenly think he’s a woman — perhaps our benighted man has developed a chemical imbalance — but Science remains dumb about the practical consequences of the man’s delusion. Thus if we ask, “Should a grown man who thinks he’s a woman be allowed to use the girl’s shower facilities,” Science says, “How should I know?” But morality and religion are ready to step into the answer gap.

The theme, which you have already guessed, is that Science is no judge of the facts it explains. Science can tell you a fact but it can’t tell you what to do with that fact or why those facts matter to anything, except other facts. It’s worse than that, because Science isn’t always right about facts, either. And that’s because Science is made by scientists and scientists are people and people make mistakes.

Take another thing Hillary believes in. She said, “I believe climate change is real and that we can save our planet while creating millions of good-paying, clean-energy jobs.”

Once defined, “climate change” becomes a scientific question: “Is climate change a fact?” Science answers, “Yes.” It’s good, therefore, that Hillary believes in this simple fact. Well, all scientists believe in it. I myself am a scientist and don’t know and have never heard of any scientist who doesn’t believe in this fact.

The next question Science might be able to answer is, “Why does the climate change?” And here Science says, “I have a vague idea, but not a good enough notion that I can make accurate predictions; therefore, ask me again in a dozen years when I will have learned more.”

Science is wise, here, because it is a fact — a scientific fact! — that the predictions Science has made about our climate have been uniformly lousy, which necessarily implies Science does not know why the climate changes. That means for the question, “What should we do about climate change?”, Science can’t yet provide factual answers we can trust.

Since we can’t trust Science well enough on this matter, at least not now, we’re right back to looking for answers elsewhere. Do we trust that Hillary can provide good answers?


William Briggs is a writer, philosopher and itinerant scientist living on a small, but densely populated island in the Atlantic Ocean. He earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University in statistics, where he is an adjunct professor. He began life as a cryptologist for the Air Force. Follow him on Twitter.

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