Defining Science (Short Post)

A couple of people have asked, in comments, why scientists get to define science so as to exclude the supernatural. The answer is, science is that which you can prove, either by observation or by reasoning, and the Panda’s Thumb has an excellent post up today about how evolution encourages scientific knowledge to grow through the asking, testing, and answering of important biological questions. Please check it out.

Another note: the minute we allow the scientific method to be watered down in our school system by the forced teaching of intelligent design & other forms of creationism, this is what we have to lose, and this is what’s at stake: the value of reasoning as a method of inquiry.


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  1. Here, here – well said, and I applaud your brevity. While we are asking this kind of question, why do the religious get to define religion so as to exclude science? Would the answer be that religion is that which you cannot prove, either by observation or reasoning?
    Just wondering.

  2. While we are asking this kind of question, why do the religious get to define religion so as to exclude science?

    Well said :-)

  3. I’d say the religious try very hard to argue against the science that conflicts with their views, but I think in many ways, the religious try very hard to seemingly include science. This isn’t usually “science” as a scientist would define it, but the public knows the power of numbers and facts. Some overzealousy religious people might be selectively attentive (eg. stubborn) , but they’re not altogether stupid.

  4. Exploring the relationship between ‘truth and knowledge’ is a potential starting point. It sounds a little abstract but ‘knowing’ something to be true isn’t any kind of proof e.g. the sun used to go round the earth, which of course was flat (in former times observation was ‘proof’ of this). Now introduce the idea of ‘beliefs’ religious or supernatural …….!

  5. “‘Science’. The Myth and Its Role” by Paul Feyerabend (1975?) is a very well crafted writing that tries to persuade the reader that science is an ideology just like any other school of thought set up by society (religion, alternative medicine, etc.)

    He argues that science and the scientific method are philosophies that were created by the instituted community (of science) that mandates it. And furthermore, he asks why society is so convinced by this certain philosophy when there are several competing philosophies. This is along the lines of “Is science as objective and “True” as our society holds it to be? How do we know?”

    As a member of the scientific community, I had many problems with Feyerabend’s assertions. At the same time, it can be difficult to pinpoint the holes in his ideas. His arguments are quite true, though. To refute them required the use of statistical data to prove his assumptions incorrect (eg public schooled children soaked in all the mainstream knowledge they were taught) or by finding his statements against science to be overzealous.

    In the same way, it can be difficult to speak objectively against the anti-science viewpoint; it is, in fact, a viewpoint from either side.

  6. benplumb · ·

    good article, thanks for that, made interesting reading while I should be working!


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  7. Great post, even if it is a “Short Post”! :)

    While I do believe in an Intelligent Designer, I, too, have difficulties with the intelligent design movement in its current state. Are they on to something? I certainly think so. There is a lot of good logic there (and some bad logic, as well). But do they need to work harder to earn their chops? Yes, I really do think so — just like mathematicians finally had to step back and develop the concept of the “limit” not only to justify their work with the developing mathematics of calculus, but to improve the quality of that work as well — adding safeguards, helpful boundaries, etc.

    Allowing for the supernatural has been called a “science stopper” and for the sake of argument I am willing to concede this, yet only if it is also conceded that it is not a “truth stopper.” For instance, I can respect a scientist who says that he restricts himself to assumptions of naturalism in his exploration of “effect X” if he also admits the possibility that some true causes of some effects may forever be out of reach to him because they are excluded by assumption. I can even respect a scientist who admits that even if his search might ultimately be hopeless, his principles compel him to restrict himself to hypothesize based upon purely naturalistic assumptions.

    But I cannot respect a scientist who so restricts himself but then who says, “We cannot yet demonstrate a natural cause for effect X, but even so we do know that the cause cannot be supernatural.” His “knowledge” is simply his assumption.

    I mean to make the distinction more subtle than I have, but I hope I’m making my point (however poorly!).

    Finally, while I, too, would hate to see the scientific method watered down in our schools, introducing the idea of intelligent design would hardly cause the loss of “the value of reasoning as a method of inquiry.” Why must this be so? Why must reasoning only hold maximal value as a method of inquiry if it is couched within the confines of pure naturalism? I think Thomas Aquinas and C. S. Lewis would find that a rather odd statement. (I don’t mean this as an argument in favor of forcing ID or some strain of Creationism into schools, by the way, though I do think the effort to keep good critiques of Evolution out of the public schools is hysterically overwrought at times.)

    Thanks for the post, and the links!

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