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Can Science Explain Everything?

1200 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, DC
On December 6th, 2011 the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion Program hosted a discussion that explored the power and limits of science, and what it can tell us about the world. Speakers MIT nuclear engineer Ian Hutchinson and Harvard physicist Lisa Randall offered their perspectives on such questions as: Is science the only reliable source of knowledge? Will it someday explain everything, including human behavior, beliefs and values? And how are perceptions of scientific authority affecting society at large?

Opening Remarks

Dr. Alan Leshner, AAAS CEO, offered an opening welcome.


Dr. Ian Hutchinson, Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, MIT

Professor Hutchinson's new book Monopolizing Knowledge seeks to disentangle natural science from 'scientism' -- the belief that science is the only source of real knowledge. Tracing the history of scientism and its frequent confusion with science, Hutchinson identifies what makes modern science so persuasive and powerful: its focus on the aspects of the world that are reproducible and unambiguously comprehensible. This insistence on experiment and descriptive 'clarity' means, however, that science has built-in limitations. There are other legitimate forms of knowledge derived from fields such as history, law, philosophy, sociology, and religion, which don't possess those characteristics and can't become like natural science. The fallacy of scientism is to dismiss such knowledge because it isn't science. Just as humans benefit from having five senses rather than just one, employing a variety of intellectual approaches vastly expands our ability to understand the complex world around us.

Dr. Lisa Randall, Professor of Physics, Harvard University

Professor Randall's new book Knocking on Heaven's Door describes the latest advances in theoretical physics, cosmology, and particle physics, and pays particular attention to the experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. She also explores the value of scientific thinking in our everyday lives, including the importance of scale, scientific modeling, uncertainty, and risk assessment. Additionally, she peers beyond the traditional boundaries of science and explains that because of the advancements in our understanding of the universe through modern physics, religious faith is best relegated to the social and psychological dimensions of the human mind.

Event Contact

Dr. Se Kim

Deputy Chief Programs Officer

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