“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Max Planck
In other words, science advances by a series of funerals. Why wait that long? –
The scientific attitude can handle whatever happens to be the case. Indeed, if the evidence for the inerrancy of the Bible and the resurrection of Jesus Christ were good, one could embrace the doctrine of fundamentalist Christianity scientifically. The problem, of course, is that the evidence is either terrible or nonexistent—hence the partition we have erected (in practice, never in principle) between science and religion.
Confusion on this point has spawned many strange ideas about the nature of human knowledge and the limits of “science.” People who fear the encroachment of the scientific attitude—especially those who insist upon the dignity of believing in one or another Iron Age god—will often make derogatory use of words such as materialism, neo-Darwinism, and reductionism, as if those doctrines had some necessary connection to science itself.
There are, of course, good reasons for scientists to be materialist, neo-Darwinian, and reductionist. However, science entails none of those commitments, nor do they entail one another. If there were evidence for dualism (immaterial souls, reincarnation), one could be a scientist without being a materialist. As it happens, the evidence here is extraordinarily thin, so virtually all scientists are materialists of some sort.
If there were evidence against evolution by natural selection, one could be a scientific materialist without being a neo-Darwinist. But as it happens, the general framework put forward by Darwin is as well established as any other in science.
If there were evidence that complex systems produced phenomena that cannot be understood in terms of their constituent parts, it would be possible to be a neo-Darwinist without being a reductionist.
For all practical purposes, that is where most scientists find themselves, because every branch of science beyond physics must resort to concepts that cannot be understood merely in terms of particles and fields. Many of us have had “philosophical” debates about what to make of this explanatory impasse. Does the fact that we cannot predict the behavior of chickens or fledgling democracies on the basis of quantum mechanics mean that those higher-level phenomena are something other than their underlying physics? I would vote “no” here, but that doesn’t mean I envision a time when we will use only the nouns and verbs of physics to describe the world.