Limits to What Science Can Tell Us
Many atheist-scientists think there are virtually no limits to what science can answer. However other scientists, such as Dr. George Ellis, disagree. As a world-renowned scientist who specializes in cosmology, Ellis has great respect and enthusiasm for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. But he also recognizes that science has its limits. For example, he points out that science cannot tell us what is right or wrong. It also cannot tell us what is beautiful or ugly.
Many key aspects of life (such as ethics: what is good and what is bad, and aesthetics: what is beautiful and what is ugly) lie outside the domain of scientific inquiry (science can tell you what kind of circumstances will lead to the extinction of polar bears, or indeed of humanity; it has nothing whatever to say about whether this would be good or bad, that is not a scientific question).
Attempts to explain values in terms of neuroscience or evolutionary theory in fact have nothing whatever to say about what is good or bad. That is a philosophical or religious question (scientists trying to explain ethics from these kinds of approaches always surreptitiously introduce some unexamined concept of what is a good life by the back door). And they cannot for example tell you, from a scientific basis, what should be done about Israel or Syria today. That effort would be a category mistake.
John Horgan, “Physicist George Ellis Knocks Physicists for Knocking Philosophy, Falsification, Free Will,” Scientific American Blog Network, July 22, 2014, https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/physicist-george-ellis-knocks-physicists-for-knocking-philosophy-falsification-free-will/.