• What science is good for

    by  • 3/28/2009 • science • 0 Comments

    I have downloaded a bunch of the lectures from iTunes U, and I’m listening to them as I do some scanning and image editing today. I can’t say I understood much of the lecture “How Did Life Start? Clues from Chemistry” (
    iTunes) by Richard Zare, but it was well presented and he does like to tell some geeky jokes. It’s part of Stanford’s series “Reunion Homecoming 2005” and I assume it was aimed at the parents and alumni who may not have majored in chemistry. I suppose had I been paying attention, I’d have fared better in the knowledge retention.

    The show info credits the speaker; Richard Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science, with an appointment in the chemistry department and a courtesy appointment in the Physics department, discusses the possible natural origins of life.

    He makes an interesting summation of science and what it’s good for in answer to an honest question that mentions intelligent design (at roughly the 56 minute mark). I thought it was going to be a gotcha question by a science denier, but it seems the questioner was wondering about order from chaos and mentioned how it didn’t seem to be all that intelligent in the early stages.

    What science is good for is; it’s good for disproving things. It’s actually very poor for proving things, honestly. You can disprove things with science, and the reason why we accept certain things, like the laws of gravity, is because we tried and tried to disprove it, and we got tired.

    Richard’s answer is in good humor, and he chuckles, but it’s one of the best ways I’ve ever heard it stated to address a lay person’s question about how science works.


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