It is hard to think of an area of intellectual inquiry that has changed more in the past century than cosmology, and the shift has transformed how we view the world. But must science in the future always reflect more empirical knowledge than existed in the past? Our recent work suggests that on cosmic timescales, the answer is no. We may be living in the only epoch in the history of the universe when scientists can achieve an accurate understanding of the true nature of the universe. [Scientific American 2/2008, emphasis added]
What happened to the reserved, provisional nature of science? What happened to modest claims about expanding the vision of man? How can anyone who stares into the heavens then turn his eyes to numbers representing radiation emissions over time and say "an accurate understanding of the true nature of the universe?" Boy, clipped out of that paragraph, it sounds like a claim more likely to be seen as bloviated marketing copy on the back cover of the Secret.
It is said by the current cultural pundits that our current culture is allergic to the metanarrative, the "grand story" which purports to account for everything we see and experience. While they may resist a shrinking Christian culture's claims of this nature, our culture has a metanarrative of its own which is not questioned save from the margins. Our sentence above derives from this same metanarrative that the most postmodern among us sing without blinking--the metanarrative of scientific progress. In this view, scientists are always moving forward, always gaining on the elusive "grand theory of everything", always putting more piece of a puzzle which will show us what's really going on.
It has become fashionable for theologians to flaunt mystery and the limits of their knowledge. Those who once held claims of absolute knowledge, who once held office over the land as the keepers of the grand story, those supremely qualified to pronounce on the weightiest matters, have moved (or been thrust) to the margins. Those who have replaced them (and they have been replaced) would have you believe that office of power to be empty, that we are now free from the tyranny of foolish religious speculation. But I begin to wonder when I read statements like the above in the pages of Scientific American.