The event La Ciudad de las Ideas occurred in the city of Puebla, Mexico, 11-13 November 2010, included a debate between theists and atheists. In a format similar to the debate occurred during the same event of the year 2009. Does the universe have a purpose? was the question proposed to ignite the debate. The contenders are, mostly, writers and people dedicated to their commitment to thinking: Matt Ridley, Michael Shermer, and Richard Dawkins accounted for the atheist position while Rabbi David Wolpe, William Lane Craig and Douglas Geivett the theist position. The theoretical scientist Michio Kaku antagonizes both positions.
It was a delight for me to listen to all them and reflect in their words. Which pretty much reflects my personal position: for me the important thing is to take a critical position by which good ideas and their intrinsic value can be identified. Contextual analysis of ideas, its underlying assumptions, and its implications is an interesting exercise that contributes to the development of the individual and their views. Probably that’s why I tend to identify myself with the position represented by Michio Kaku about of the statements expressed with absolute certainty.
Two facts especially made me think about how little the contemporary scientific knowledge, and how it is elaborated, is actually disseminated:
First, in his speech Michio Kaku rhetorically asked: what is science?, followed by a list of some features of contemporary science based on the most relevant scientific accounts today. Among these features mentioned that science is falsifiable. The translator, after a hesitation translated it into Spanish using the word for: feasible, which refers to a totally different concept. Spanish-speaking listeners would have been deprived of a word which refers to one of the best concepts to understand scientific thinking today. In addition, seems to me that a basic exercise self-criticism of translator —before accepting the job— would include an assessment of their ability to properly translate into Spanish what an English-speaking scientist have to say. Not to mention the regard to this important detail from event’s organizers.
Second, during the debate there was involvement from members of the audience, and a gentleman, physically mature, commented that science handles what is “observable” and that religion deals with things unobservable. I agree that science addresses the observable but only if we consider, uniquely, the prevailing account for science called logical positivism in the first third of the 20th century. The development of the philosophy of science since then has shown that observation, in reality, no ranks as relevant to characterize the formation of scientific knowledge. Today, theory and experimentation are the most relevant places to the scientific enterprise.
Therefore, when someone uses the word Science, it is ok to wonder: what science, and of which epoch, do you mean?