2. Essay: The Strengths and Limitations of
This week, I will explore questions about the ways in which the
sciences are true, as well as science’s limitations. That scientific
investigation is a powerful tool for understanding the workings of
the universe is manifest by humanity’s impressive technological
accomplishments. For example, the science of aerodynamics is the
basis for flight, and indeed airplanes consistently take off and
land as the scientific principles of aerodynamics predict.
One of science’s major strengths rests in that, if practiced
properly, it relies on observation rather than authority. In other
words, scientific claims are grounded in observable phenomena that
all able-bodied humans have the power to observe rather than the
pronouncements of one or more persons who claim to have special
knowledge to which most people don’t have access. Throughout human
history, political and religious leaders have claimed to have divine
knowledge and power. Historically, unbridled authority has lent
itself to injustice. There have been benign leaders, but political
leaders (and their allies among religious authorities) have always
been tempted to abuse their power. Recent events in Iran have been
only the latest in a timeless series of such events. Those who have
questioned policies that have been attributed to the divine have
been accused of heresy and, usually, treated brutally. In contrast,
if the scientific enterprise is working properly, anyone can dispute
a scientific claim with impunity, and people will accept or reject
arguments on the basis of objective observation.
That being said, science is a human activity, and human passions
influence its practice. Human needs and desires always influence
what questions are asked, how they are pursued, and how the data are
interpreted. That science in practice doesn’t always live up to
science in theory is a reason to be cautious and skeptical of
scientific claims, but the general success of science is testimony
to how science generally gets things right. Indeed, I think the
historical success of science is a major reason that those with
power often employ “scientists,” who have the proper scientific
credentials, to do “scientific research” to obtain the conclusions
that those with power seek. We certainly saw this when the tobacco
industry attempted to debunk the smoking-lung cancer connection,
and, as best I can tell, we see something similar today in the
fossil-fuel industry’s use of scientists to debunk the conclusion
held by the vast majority of scientists that humanity is
contributing heavily to climate change.
Next week, I want to explore climate change further.
Paradoxically, as the scientific evidence mounts, the percentage of
people who agree that humanity is contributing to climate change
continues to fall. Among those who do agree that climate change is a
growing crisis, many seem to think the situation is hopeless.
Indeed, the dire predictions of even a few years ago now seem to be
relatively optimistic projections. Yet, relatively simple changes in
lifestyle – including moving toward a plant-based diet – could have
a major affect. Indeed, there is strong evidence that animal
agriculture contributes far more to global warming than what the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization calculated, which
was 18% of man-made greenhouse gasses.
Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
3. The October Issue of The Peaceable Table is
* The Editorial, "Strength to Love," deals with the way spiritual
disciplines can help us to love both friends and foes--including
friends who are acting like foes.
* One of the Reviews describes and evaluates the animated film
Legend of the Guardians, which includes both beauty and violence,
but finally shows that the strong should not exploit the weak but
protect and empower them.
* The Recipe for Crispy Rice Treats will remind you of sweets way
back when, and set your mouth to watering.
* Nineteenth-century poet Edwin Arnold, this month's Pioneer who
told the story of the Buddha in his long poem The Light of Asia,
was influenced by his subject to give up both hunting and
To read this issue, go to
Gracia Fay Ellwood, Editor
4. This Week’s Sermon from Rev. Frank and Mary
Daniel, God’s Man in the Field (Part XIII)