Virtues in Science?

In our recent study using the Colossian Way curriculum, we talked about the virtues and vices of Christianity (watch the video by James KA Smith or read an article on his thoughts). A question was then raised of what the virtues and vices in science might be. While we might argue about how to categorize or name Christian virtues, we can certainly see the value of them as we strive to work together as the body of Christ, even and especially when we disagree. Yet, virtues in science? What are they? Aren’t they just the same as normal moral virtues?

MSU just recently released a study on the values and virtues of scientists. The study “surveyed nearly 500 astronomers, biologists, chemists, physicists and earth scientists to identify the core traits of exemplary scientists.” The virtues surveyed were “attentiveness, collaborative, courage, curiosity, honesty, humility to evidence, meticulousness, objectivity, perseverance and skepticism with regard to their importance for scientific research.”

So what were the highest virtues and vices?

  • Curiosity came up as the highest virtue (this corresponds well with our group’s conclusion that wonder is one of the highest virtues related to science).
  • Dishonesty, including the extreme of faking data is a vice, to the extent that doing this disqualifies someone from being considered a true scientist.

A final note from the report, both as an encouragement and a challenge:

“A whopping 94 percent of scientists believe scientific values and virtues can be learned. The number dropped a bit, though, when asked if these traits are actually being transmitted to current graduate students.”

If virtues can be learned in science, is not that also true of the Christian virtues? And are we participating in passing them down, or are we (as a church) also potentially failing our trainees?