as two culture-free intellectual constructions of man’s mind as early as 20 centuries ago.

All this was possible because both disciplines were observation-based and relied on natural facts to support their conclusions. These facts left no room for dispute, or rather they offered a built-in mechanism to resolve disputes. One could convince or be convinced by one’s fellow practitioners through logical reasoning and turn to the facts as the supreme arbitrator. In what follows, we expand on this culture-free and dispute-free nature of some of the contemporary sciences in the hope of turning away from controversy and toward “understanding others, the science way.”

Unlike astronomy and mathematics, other creations of man’s intellect were not so blessed. Physics, the modern terminology for the invisible sciences of the ancients, had to wait until the era of Galileo and Newton in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, respectively, to begin its axiomatization, which still is being revised and refined. In spite of their astonishing achievements, chemistry and biology are still in their infancy, and the social and psychological sciences have at best emerged as empirical disciplines. Supernatural ideas and beliefs are not represented by any formal scientific discipline. Why has it taken so long for most of the natural sciences to arrive at acceptable levels of clarity and to be perceived and understood as value-free?

One astonishing and almost universal tendency of the ancient thinkers was their holistic approach to the observation of nature. In contrast, the practice of modern science divides complex issues into small components in an effort to understand them stepwise, from the simple to the difficult. A consequence of the ancients’ lofty and unachievable goal was the tendency to resort to metaphysical concepts whenever hypotheses fell short of factual evidence. Ad hoc as they are, such notions differ from time to time, place to place, mind to mind, and culture to culture. As such, they potentially nurture the seeds of controversy. Then, in order to defend them, when confronted with opposing viewpoints, man invariably has looked for support from believers, patrons, and patron-institutions. Let us look at some historical examples.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement