Chicken / Egg Riddle Solved by Science … Not Really
What came first, the chicken or the egg?
The cheeky title of the CNN news article is “Scientists solve chicken and egg riddle*” … that asterisk, like a bad newspaper ad for a misleading airplane ticket sale, leads to a caveat in smaller text in the main article that simple reads: “Editor’s Note: *Maybe”
After the publication of the rather dry-sounding scientific paper, “Structural Control of Crystal Nuclei by an Eggshell Protein,” press headlines proclaimed the answer was… the chicken.
However, one of the paper’s lead authors, Colin Freeman, from the University of Sheffield in northern England, told CNN that the result was not as conclusive as it seemed.
Of course, the original intent of the scientific paper was not to debate the age-old conundrum of the chicken and the egg, and the CNN article admits that it has done no such thing. Yet the ensuing discussion brings up what is perhaps a better question: What are the limits to what science can tell us? (When I henceforth refer to “science” I am using it as a short form for “the scientific method of discerning truth.”)
Science has revealed great truths and resulted in technological progress for the Earth. But that doesn’t mean it has a monopoly on truth claims.
Many things that are rational to believe are not provable via science. For example, mathematics and logic cannot be proven by science; it presupposes both of these kinds of knowledge. Metaphysical truths, such as that you and I exist, also cannot be proven scientifically. Ethical truths, such as that rape is wrong, likewise cannot be proven via science. Historical truths, such as Abraham Lincoln was president of the United States, are also unprovable via science.
Trying to prove the things noted above with science is inappropriate methodology: It’s like trying to determine whether a banana is good to eat by sticking it in your ear and listening to it. It’s just the wrong method. So there is nothing wrong with using science as its intended, it only becomes problematic when it is used as the only means of deriving truth. So while science can never be ignored, nor is it the only tool in our intellectual belts, so to speak. The common saying “when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” applies here.
A few years ago, a popular book was published called “What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty.” In it, top thinkers list things that they believe based on good evidence but still cannot prove with 100% certainty. What do you believe but cannot prove?
Related: My Search for Truth – A scientist with a PhD in astrophysics explains his search for truth of a different kind