Lord Kelvin and the Hubris of Scientism

True or not, the story of the annual Royal Society dinner in the year 1900 is now famous. At that summer gathering of the most respected and confident scientists of the turn of the century, the esteemed Lord Kelvin stated that science had pretty much solved all that we needed to know. Since Isaac Newton, we had devised a scientific worldview that did a great job explaining our surroundings. Astronomy, medicine, biology, and physics were all advancing and taking us out of the world of superstition. The genius of science and rationalism was well on the way to creating technologies that would reduce our physical suffering and move us into the contemporary era.  Things were good and the confidence was well deserved. Alas, all was not completely settled in this dinner speech. Lord Kelvin conceded that there were still just two little clouds of uncertainty remaining. Trifles, really.

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