Things science can’t explain

During a debate on evolution and design, Professor Edgar Andrews from Queen Mary College London stated that there were four things that science could never explain. He pointed out that these were not simply gaps, that could possibly be explained in the future, but were logically impossible for science to explain. Here they are:

  1. Science can’t explain ultimate origins

    “If the laws that control the universe started with the universe, then they could not have caused the universe. If not, then the laws would have to have been “written” before the universe. Science cannot explain how those laws exist, prior to the universe.”

  2. Science can’t justify itself

    “Science must be silent on why natural laws take the form that they do. For example, why is the gravitational law of the form {F \sim 1/r^2}, and not some other form, like inverse cube? It is precisely, exactly, and eternally an inverse square. Why should that be? Science can never give an answer, because it is only descriptive, not pre-scriptive of nature.

  3. Science can’t explain the origin of life

    “Life depends on code, and information. It is impossible for information to be generated from random chemical combination, or random chance events”

  4. Science can’t explain the phenomenon of mind

    There is something different about man, a biological uniqueness. This includes the capacity of self knowledge, thought, reason, and intelligence. Science is unable to account for mind except as a byproduct of the brain. Evolution acts upon physical organs and organisms. Claiming that the mind is the chance product of the evolution of the brain is without meaning or significance. In addition, the mind matches the universe: the universe is rational, accessible to the mind, and describable by mathematics.

I intend to write in more detail about each of these, but I think as a list they are interesting. In general, I am always wary about saying that there will be things that science will never explain. I am reminded of a quote from French positivist, Auguste Compte from 1835. In his Cours de la Philosophie Positive he wrote the following:

On the subject of stars, all investigations which are not ultimately reducible to simple visual observations are … necessarily denied to us. While we can conceive of the possibility of determining their shapes, their sizes, and their motions, we shall never be able by any means to study their chemical composition or their mineralogical structure … Our knowledge concerning their gaseous envelopes is necessarily limited to their existence, size … and refractive power, we shall not at all be able to determine their chemical composition or even their density… I regard any notion concerning the true mean temperature of the various stars as forever denied to us.

He was clearly stating that those objects that were physically inaccessible were inaccessible to our knowledge, at least in detail. It wasn’t much after that quote when spectroscopy was first used to determine the contents of stars, from the pattern of spectral lines, and the temperature was determined from the peak in the “rainbow” of light emitted from the stars. Further, we can determine the mass of stars from Kepler’s laws and thus its density from the mass and the size. Perhaps Compte just didn’t have enough imagination! It’s a lesson we can all learn when dealing with challenging problems.


About brianblais

I am a professor of Science and Technology at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, and a research professor in the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, Brown University. My research is in computational neuroscience and statistics. I teach physics, meteorology, astonomy, theoretical neuroscience, systems dynamics, artificial intelligence and robotics. My book, "Theory of Cortical Plasticity" (World Scientific, 2004), details a theory of learning and memory in the cortex, and presents the consequences and predictions of the theory. I am an avid python enthusiast, and a Bayesian (a la E. T. Jaynes), and love music.
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