Dead white males did not invent the rules of science; they discovered them. These rules enable science, and science alone, to make successful prediction.

And prediction is only evidence acknowledged by science to demonstrate that one is on the trail of the truth. One may, of course, invoke anything one wishes in attempting to come up with a successful scientific claim. If a dose of intuitional astrological foot fetishism helps, fine. But this claim gains no scientific validity until it can successfully make a prediction that does not require allegiance to intuitional astrological foot fetishism.

Prediction is the determinant of scientific truth—and, many believe, the determinant of anything (other than logical and mathematical truth) that can be termed “truth.” Prediction plays this role because science holds that “truth” can meaningfully be defined only as the concordance of a claim (a description, hypothesis, theory, or explanation) with nature (“reality”). And only a claim’s ability to predict can give us reason to believe that we are nearing truth—as opposed to merely experiencing a powerful, but quite possibly deceptive, feeling that we are nearing truth.

To be sure, there are those who apply the word “truth” to beliefs and moral values, concepts that are not, even in principle, capable of giving us reason to believe that they are more than an arbitrary preference, a subjective feeling. Such people tend to gravitate to empirical areas relevant to social issues: male-female differences, homosexuality, the death penalty, abortion, and the like. This, in addition to the fact that the less controversial questions addressed by the physical scientists tend to attract smarter people, accounts for the fact that so many who write on empirical social questions are willing to subordinate logic to ideology.

Science can, of course, address such empirical issues as “which social factors increase the likelihood that religious beliefs will be entwined with moral beliefs.” It can consider such empirical claims about morality as, say, “societies in a stage of strong economic birth tend to see premarital sex as wrong” and, if such claims are true, it can explain the realities.

But science cannot make coherent the question of whether there is a God, and it cannot tell us whether it is better to favor sexual freedom or economic growth. In other words, science cannot conceive of any system of thought that can validate issues for which there is no possibility of text even in principle. Science does not know good from bad or right from wrong. The closest it gets to an objective moral claim is a belief that survival is good. And that is not very close in a universe that we have no reason to believe is concerned with our survival.

Science does not care whether a claim is made by a man or a woman; by a black, yellow, or white; or by a Nobel laureate, a plumber, or a clerk in a patent office. While the nonscientist part of any person worthy of being called “human” cares about the uses to which new knowledge will be put, such issues are irrelevant to the part that is a scientist. The only goal of science is the diminution of the distance between present knowledge and truth. The only subjective assumption of science is that nature will give you a lift only if you are going her way. To the scientist, the willingness to validate an empirical claim on the basis of bias, prejudice, or emotional and political need—or to reject a claim on the basis of the motivations of the claimant or the putative consequences of accepting the claim—represent an infantile narcissism; to the intelligent believer, these represent a lack of faith and a blasphemous conviction that one knows better than God.

In truth, the scientist cares more about hunting down the prey than tasting it. The fun is in the search. Indeed, the third best thing about a truth is that it raises questions about undiscovered truths that the scientist would not have thought of. (The second best thing about truth is that it is inherently subversive, and the best thing is that it is true. Many will, of course, rank these virtues differently. It does not matter; it is just a question of taste.)

The pull of undiscovered truths is so great that there is the ever-present threat that the cracks in a “truth” on which one already stands will be overlooked. That is why science systematically attempts to eliminate all illegitimate reasons for holding to a truth. This process comes with only a partial warranty, so there is always the possibility of error. Some of these errors have, when exposed, launched the highest flights of intelligence and imagination. But even at its worst, science protects itself far better than does any other sort of investigation.

There will always be many who believe that science defines its own victory and that there are alternative routes to truth. But the claimed alternative routes to truth give us no prediction, no reason to believe that they exhibit anything more than a feeling and an insupportable claim of truth, a claim whose validity is as dubious as its ability to soothe is obvious.

Scientists are only people, of course, and every scientist will occasionally hope that some specific claim turns out to be true and others false. But science is structured to defend itself against such desires, and the ability to ignore them is, in science, what separates the grown-ups from the children.