What Is Unknowable?

Knowledge is ever increasing, and often it seems to increase by leaps and bounds. We know more today than we have ever known, and we add to that store of information every day.

The universe, our own genetics, manipulation of materials, the building blocks of matter — all are areas where we are learning more all the time. Sometimes it seems that we will be able to keep on learning and growing what we know indefinitely.

But even if we continue to accumulate knowledge, some things may be beyond our grasp.

It may be that some problems are just too large. For example, the number of ways an ordinary deck of player cards can be arranged is greater than the number of atoms on the earth. Writing them all out can’t be done.

However, some things just might be impossible to know. What is it like to live in five-dimensional space?

What is unknowable? How might we classify unknowable things? Which Intellectual Roundtable questions have unknowable answers?

Related questions: How do we know what we don’t know? How does creative expression help us to know ourselves better? Why are we fascinated with the unknown? What’s the most useful thing you’ve ever learned?

Are Science And Religion Compatible?

In today’s society, science and religion are often framed as being at odds with each other. It is often assumed that religion, which relies on faith in a higher power, and science, which advances through proven, verifiable steps, are fundamentally different and cannot be reconciled.

And yet, some of the most acclaimed and successful scientists have been deeply religious people. For example, Isaac Newton, who made great strides in mechanics, mathematics, and optics, also wrote religious tracts interpreting Bible passages.

On the other hand, religion has sometimes stood in the way of scientific progress. Perhaps the most famous instance involves Galileo, who was placed under house arrest by the Pope for declaring that the earth travels around the sun and not the reverse.

Returning to today, scientists sometimes feel under attack from some political or religious groups. 2017’s March for Science, centered in Washington, D.C. but with protests around the U.S. and the world, was in response to these attacks. Issues like climate change are controversial and generate polarized views.

It can’t be argued that science has been beneficial to our society. Many of the advances that are available in our modern world, from improved medical procedures to smart phones and the Internet, came about because of applications of science. Religious and non-religious people alike share in the benefits of those advances.

Religion, also, has benefits to society. Churches provide a place and a reason to come together to foster a sense of community and establish shared values. Many religious organizations contribute to or run charities, to help those in need.

Efforts have been made to reconcile the two systems of beliefs. Some people suggest that science and religion operate on different planes, with science a useful tool in understanding the physical world, and religion dealing with the spiritual side of life. It may be that the two are not just compatible, but in fact are dependent on each other. The excesses of each could be curbed by the other.

So which is it? Are science and religion inherently in conflict with each other, or can a way be found for the two to exist side-by-side? Are science and religion compatible?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? When is doubt helpful? How can we encourage debate? What makes a community?