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History: From the ancient civilizations of the Tigris-Euphrates valley through both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the practice of "science" simply meant "the systematic recording of knowledge." Thus, for thousands of years, scientific theories were considered extensions of philosophy and religion, part of their purpose being to gain a better understanding of existence through the observation and cataloguing of phenomena. With the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, however, came empiricism and the consequent rejection of science's philosophical and religious components. The development of the scientific method also occurred during this period, which narrowed the definition of "science" even further in that it required scientists to make predictions based solely on replicable experiments untainted by human influence. But it wasn't until Darwin's theory of evolution (published in the 19th century) had become the dominant paradigm of the scientific community that "science" would receive its most restrictive definition yet, one that was reified in 1987 by the US Supreme Court decision in Edwards v. Aguillard. Written by Justice William Brennan, it defined "science" as being "devoted to formulating and testing" only "naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena," thereby officially characterizing the discipline as an exclusively atheistic enterprise.
Etymology: The actual word "science" did not come into being until the year 1300 and was derived from the Latin scientia, which means "knowledge." The term thus originally denoted all "facts" derived from the use of human reason, and this is why theology and philosophy were likewise considered sciences. Today, however, our extremely narrow definition of "science" not only excludes factual information obtained from the religious and philosophical spheres, but also any knowledge that posits the existence of a transcendent—or supernatural—realm. The problem here is that evidence of a design to the universe continues to accumulate, suggesting that there is also a designer —one who would necessarily transcend the material world. Scientists cannot pursue this line of inquiry, though, due to their commitment to "science" as it is currently defined, leaving them stuck within a naturalistic framework that no longer stacks up against reality. Compounding matters, "science" is also presently assumed to be an entirely objective field of knowledge, which blinds scientists to the way in which their own atheistic preconceptions taint their research, the scientific method notwithstanding. Ironically, it is the restrictive way in which scientists have themselves defined "science" that provides the bias that keeps scientific progress in check.
Effect: While most scientists will tell you that it's the Bush administration's position on embryonic stem-cell research that is the biggest impediment to scientific progress, one could also make the case that it's the decision to limit "science" to an atheistic milieu. The reason for doing so must have seemed sound at the time. Faced with young-earth creationists who were denying solid fossil evidence and arguing for a literal seven-day formation of the universe, scientists were no doubt looking for a quick and easy way of discrediting such people. The answer? Define "science" in a manner that automatically excludes the supernatural. This strategy has now been extended to intelligent-design advocates, whose findings are dismissed for not being "scientific" when to be "scientific" means they cannot propose an intelligent designer. Consequently, the scientific community has been forced into the role formerly occupied by its creationist foes, that of ignoring undeniable facts in allegiance to a prior viewpoint. Hence come such wild new ideas as "multiverse theory"—the assumption that there exists the infinite number of universes needed for ours to have arisen by chance—for which scientists have no proof whatsoever: When you can't follow where the evidence leads, you are forced to take science in absurd—and ultimately futile—directions. •
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