Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Four Common Misconceptions About Science

I am a member of a pipe-smoking forum and I encountered a thread discussing Expelled--No Intelligence Allowed. On an aside, has there ever been a title more descriptive? In any event, I was not surprised to find so many misconceptions about science and evolution. In fact, most of the people engaged in the discussion loved that movie and thought that "science is too big for its breeches". Good Lord n' Butter! Frankly, this kind of talk simply makes my butt tired. I responded by listing these four misconceptions and interestingly, this killed the thread.

1. Science is a method--not a belief system per se. This method is based (since Bacon and Newton) on inductive reasoning while theology and philosophy (like Aristotle) tends to use deductive reasoning. Inductive methodology is similar to the Sherlock Holmes manner of investigation while deductive reasoning is often expressed in a series of if/then statements (like Aquinas, Aristotle, and so on down to DesCarte). ID uses a deductive method that is loved by theology but generally reviled by science.

2. Evolution does not study the origin of life--just how it proceeds. This is important to understand because starting with an observation is important to inductive reasoning while starting with a presumption is deductive. Ideally, one may start with any observation and, through testing, follow the empirical evidence back or forward as evidence permits .

3. Empirical evidence is different in humanities and science. In humanities, empirical evidence may be derived from ethnography or interviews. In science, empirical evidence must be generalizable and repeatable as well as provide direction via predictability.

4. Scientific theories must be falsifiable which means that any model, theory, or even law can be tested in some way. Some philosophical, psychological and theological (ie social sciences) theories cannot be falsified. A classic example of this is Marxism or Freudian dream analysis. A skilled debater can argue these theories in any circumstance and, instead of being proven wrong (or false), these theories tend to fall in or out of popularity--based on current thinking rather than scientific data.

-Safari Bob

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