Is Science Art?


In short, no.


Penn Jillette alluded to this matter when he discussed science versus religion (ISBN13: 9781451610369), but here we adapt the same idea to discuss science versus art. If James Clerk Maxwell had never been born (b1831), would we now lack a theory of electromagnetism? No, we would, by now, most assuredly have developed the same theory of electromagnetism - it's just that someone else would have published it. In fact, it is quite common in science that several groups are competing to solve some current problem, and the person that solves it first gets the credit. The other groups were most likely quite close behind.


Now consider Beethoven's Ode to Joy (I must admit, the only piece of music I have ever listened to that brought me to literal tears). If Beethoven had never been born, how long would it take (if ever) for someone to write Ode to Joy? Most likely, it would be absent from the universe forever. And that, in a nutshell, defines art versus science.


As someone who chose science as a profession, realizing this difference between art and science is quite depressing. Specifically, if an individual scientist believes their life's work is advancing the arc of mankind's development, they have to recognize that whatever they discover would, sooner or later (more likely sooner) be discovered by someone else. However, an artist can likely be assured that the universe would forever be absent of their creation if they had not created it. The individual scientist is wholly dispensable to man's development; the individual artist is not.


But now we have to reconsider Penn Jillette's original criticism; i.e. since the same religions are unlikely to be exactly re-created if the world went through a cataclysm and had to start over, they are in some way invalidated. However, by the above criteria religion is firmly in the field of art and not science. So the same analysis can be made: are great works of art in some way invalidated because they are unlikely to be (re)created if the world had to start over? Clearly no. Michelangelo's David, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody (if you like), and so on, are powerful and significant human achievements even though they are unlikely to be exactly replicated in another place/time.  Why should religious thought not be given the same consideration? Imagine a typical college creative writing course, and students are tasked with writing prose that will elicit a strong emotional response from the reader (laughter, tears, fear, etc.). Few students will succeed. Now imagine the instructions being to write prose that will result in the deaths of hundreds of millions and cause constant war over hundreds of years (not to focus on the negative, it's just a college exercise after all). If you could write that, you would get an A++ (and the professor's job; although that would not be particularly attractive). Religion gets into a problem when it attempts to compete with science - it always loses those arguments, because it's not a science. Religion is a remarkable human achievement in art, and can powerfully motivate people the way great art can; just because it would not be exactly replicated does not diminish this human achievement. As with any art, you are always free to say "It might be great art, but I personally don't like it".