Ironically, Wilson himself questioned the desirability of final knowledge early in his career. At the end of his 1975 masterpiece Sociobiology, Wilson anticipates the themes of Consilience, predicting that evolutionary theory plus genetics will soon absorb the social sciences and humanities. But Wilson doesn’t exult at this prospect. When we can explain ourselves in “mechanistic terms,” he warns, “the result might be hard to accept”; we might find ourselves, as Camus put it, “divested of illusions.”
Wilson needn’t have worried. Scientific omniscience looks less likely than ever, and humans are far too diverse, creative and contrary to settle for a single worldview of any kind. Inspired by mysticism and the arts, as well as by science, we will keep arguing about who we are and reinventing ourselves forever. Is consilience a bad idea, which we’d be better off without? I wouldn’t go that far. Like utopia, another byproduct of our yearning for perfection, consilience, the dream of total knowledge, can serve as a useful goad to the imagination, as long as we see it as an unreachable ideal. Let’s just hope we never think we’ve reached it.John Horgan, “Science Should Not Try to Absorb Religion and Other Ways of Knowing” at Scientific American (June 25, 2021)
And now Coyne:
Since my views on the ambit of science (construed broadly) have been set out in the exchange with Gopnik, I won’t repeat my arguments here, but I deny Horgan’s claim that there are “ways of knowing” about the cosmos that do not employ the empirical toolkit of science. (See also pp. 185-196 in my book Faith Versus Fact.).
But I do agree with Horgan that the Grand Project to subsume art, literature, philosophy and morality completely into the “harder” sciences is futile. The thing is, hardly any scientist I know agrees with Wilson or with Horgan’s characterization. Yes, Sam Harris does think that science can determine what is right and wrong to do, but few agree with him about that (I dissent as well). And even the most “scientistic” scholar I know, Steve Pinker, doesn’t entertain the notion that full consilience is feasible.Jerry Coyne, “John Horgan makes a strawman argument against consilience” at Why Evolution Is True (June 27, 2021)
I (O’Leary for News) wouldn’t trust either of these people to run the transit system if I need to get to church on time.