The short answer, is no. Science can not prove anything.
But the beauty of science is that, while in fact nothing is provable, it embraces this problem, and is a framework for working within degrees of certainty. It is so unimaginably successful, in fact, that the scientific method has accomplished more in the last 300 years than every other method of inquiry combined did in the 10,000 years before that!
I’ve often heard it said that you can’t rely on science because it is fallible.
It is indeed fallible, but if that’s your argument for ignoring it, or refusing to understand it, I’m afraid you’re in for a great disappointment. Everything is fallible. Your teachers, spouses, children, the court system, the government… If you believe in God, perhaps he is infallible, but I’ve yet to find someone who claims to represent God’s will who is even remotely close to perfect, or has a perfect interpretation of anything written on or “by” God (though there’s no shortage of people who claim otherwise).
Epistemology is the study of truth and knowledge, and they’ve been trying for millennia to come up with a way we can “prove” anything–prove even that we exist (Descartes famously took a wack at it with “Cogito Ergo Sum“(1)Interestingly enough, this is a misquote. Descartes never said it. The phrase was uttered by Ludwig Wittgenstein as he was summing up (somewhat mockingly) Descartes fourth meditation on First Philosophy. The description stuck., but he didn’t get anywhere).
Science can’t prove anything, but if that’s going to be a non-starter for you, you should stop taking antibiotics, washing your hands, or using electricity. Because while science can’t prove anything, while it’s always up for greater refinement and more precise theories, it can know things to varying degrees of certainty. And by changing the bar from “proof” to “evidence”, science has had staggering success.
Science has eradicated polio, measles mumps and rubella. It has given us plastics, internal combustion, pasteurization and sterilization, antibiotics, Tylenol, ibuprofen, fluoride, electricity… We can even get people to the moon and back in one piece. The list is literally so long that people have become un-impressed with science, its ubiquitous nature inuring them to its success.
For the first 200,000 years of humankind’s existence the average life expectancy was 32—half of all mothers died at child birth (nearly 30% of all children died within the first five years of life), and one of the biggest killers was tooth decay (when was the last time you worried a tooth was going to kill you? Again, science is a victim of its own success. Nobody can imagine that an abscessed tooth could really be a problem, but that’s a modern ignorance).
Today the average human life expectancy is 86, the infant mortality rate is more than two orders of magnitude less, and we lead happier, easier lives than at any time in human history, with more free time and more things to do in that free time.
To the best of my knowledge priests and prayer had nothing to do with it. It’s all science, and the vast majority of these improvements came only in the last 400 years, only as we’ve defined and refined the scientific method.
And it gets better. Science will cure cancer, science will cure AIDS, science will help us deal with global warming… How do I know this? Because given enough time, science works. This is what it does. It’s not perfect, it’s not pretty, and it’s not easy, but it is the best and only real tool for acquiring new knowledge. It is the process of reasoning overtime – and its greatest enemy is dogma, people who refuse to use reason, and rely instead on faith—a tool which we’ve used for hundreds of thousands of years to no real avail.
If you are going to deny science, at least understand it first and give specifics as to what your objections are. And if you’re truly going to argue that it is ineffective, you must also not partake in the benefits of science lest you be the worst kind of hypocrite. To that end, I respect the Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses far, far more than your average Christian; they actually practice their beliefs. They don’t pick and choose what parts of science they’ll take and what they’ll deny.
Science is fallible. Science gets things wrong. But the proper application of the scientific method, over time, works, and it works astonishingly well. It is in fact the single most successful endeavor in human history. To deny it because it is infallible is to set a bar so high so as to have to deny all things, from love to engineering. To say it’s success is anything short of awe inspiring is to either be intentionally ignorant of that success, or be so out of touch with reality so as to be psychotic.
This is perhaps the worst attack on atheism, the worst defense of theism, you can make (perhaps worse than God of the Gaps, found here, since while God of the Gaps has a much longer history of failure as an argument, it doesn’t require nearly so much denial of reality), and is none the less an argument which continues to be employed regularly by theists.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Interestingly enough, this is a misquote. Descartes never said it. The phrase was uttered by Ludwig Wittgenstein as he was summing up (somewhat mockingly) Descartes fourth meditation on First Philosophy. The description stuck.|