Brian Charlesworth & Deborah Charlesworth

The relentless application of the scientific method of inference from experiment and observation, without reference to religious or governmental authority, has completely transformed our view of our origins and relation to the universe, in less than 500 years. In addition to the intrinsic fascination of the view of the world opened up by science, this has had an enormous impact on philosophy and religion. The findings of science imply that human beings are the product of impersonal forces, and that the habitable world forms a minute part of a universe of immense size and duration. Whatever the religious or philosophical beliefs of individual scientists, the whole programme of scientific research is founded on the assumption that the universe can be understood on such a basis.

Few would dispute that this programme has been spectacularly successful, particularly in the 20th century, which saw such terrible events in human affairs. The influence of science may have indirectly contributed to these events, partly through the social changes triggered by the rise of industrial mass societies, and partly through the undermining of traditional belief systems. Nonetheless, it can be argued that much misery throughout human history could have been avoided by the application of reason, and that the disasters of the 20th century resulted from a failure to be rational rather than a failure of rationality. The wise application of scientific understanding of the world in which we live is the only hope for the future of mankind.

Brian Charlesworth & Deborah Charlesworth, Evolution: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2003, pp. 2-3