Monday, November 2, 2009


I was recently asked why I believe the scientific method is unable to produce facts. As I have been meaning to write a note about this subject, I replied with some effort. I thought about distinguishing between perception and sensation, but have to read a little more about that. Here is the post:

//Assuming a fact is a true statement, to state that through the scientific method we may obtain facts begs the question:

1. Such a claim is dependent on the veracity of empiricism, which states that knowledge is derivable from the senses. This is a seemingly inconsistent first principle - through what sense did one come to believe that the proposition is true?

2 Moreover, sensation is subjective, so to purport what one senses as objective fact is fallacious.

3. Still further, from my recent note, which I recommend you read:

//[Empiric principles are] predicated on reasoning which cannot account for all possible contingencies. One might wonder whether “[this desk is red]” is a proposition contingent on the veracity of the proposition “ducks can swim” or “the Protestant canon is fallible.” There are infinitely many such propositions one could posit, of course, meaning that if one is to know that [this desk is red], one must be infinitely knowledgeable.//

Essentially, to state one is observing a given thing is to imply one has accounted for all possible unknown variables which could bias one's observation (optical illusions &c.). For this reason, Karl Popper wrote:

//Although in science we do our best to find the truth, we are conscious of the fact that we can never be sure whether we have got it….In science there is no "knowledge," in the sense in which Plato and Aristotle understood the word, in the sense which implies finality; in science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth.…Einstein declared that his theory was false – he said that it would be a better approximation to the truth than Newton's, but he gave reasons why he would not, even if all predictions came out right, regard it as a true theory.//

4. The scientific method is inductive. Inductive reasoning cannot produce general principles which are certain. Observing many green blades of grass does not guarantee all blades of grass are green. Bertrand Russell, the creator of the "teapot argument" atheists so love to use, also wrote:

//All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: "If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true." This argument is, of course, formally fallacious. Suppose I were to say: "If bread is a stone and stones are nourishing, then this bread will nourish me; now this bread does nourish me; therefore it is a stone, and stones are nourishing." If I were to advance such an argument, I should certainly be thought foolish, yet it would not be fundamentally different from the argument upon which all scientific laws are based//

5. The scientific method, when said to be able to derive facts from observation, is an argument which commits the fallacy of affirming the consequent:

The hypothesis: If x, then y.
The observation: y.
The conclusion: x.

You can compare this to the fallacy:

6. Scientific equations assume an ideal reality and ideal observation. For example, Gordon Clark writes:

//The law of the pendulum states that the period of the swing is proportional to the square root of the length. If, however, the weight of the bob is unevenly displaced around its center, the law will not hold. The law assumes that the bob is homogeneous, that the weight is symmetrically distributed along all axes, or more technically, that the mass is concentrated at a point. No such bob exists, and hence the law is not an accurate description of any tangible pendulum. Second, the law assumes that the pendulum swings by a tensionless string. There is no such string, so that the scientific law does not describe any real pendulum. And third, the law could be true only if the pendulum swung on an axis without friction. There is no such axis. It follows, therefore, that no visible pendulum accords with the mathematical formula and that the formula is not a description of any existing pendulum.//

7. Scientific "laws" are constructed rather than discovered. As W. Gary Crampton writes:

//In the laboratory the scientist seeks to determine the boiling point of water. Since water hardly boils at the same temperature, the scientist conducts a number of tests and the slightly differing results are noted. He then must average them. But what kind of average does he use: mean, mode, or median? He must choose; and whatever kind of average he selects, it is his own choice; it is not dictated by the data. Then too, the average he chooses is just that, that is, it is an average, not the actual datum yielded by the experiment. Once the test results have been averaged, the scientist will calculate the variable error in his readings. He will likely plot the data points or areas on a graph. Then he will draw a curve through the resultant data points or areas on the graph. But how many curves, each one of which describes a different equation, are possible? An infinite number of curves is possible. But the scientist draws only one.//

Hence, the following statement of Karl Popper is correct: "...all theories, including the best, have the same probability, namely zero."

For an example of how to apply these facts in a debate, see here:

For further reading, I suggest:

Science cannot provide an epistemic account of the nature of reality. Instead, theology is the ruling discipline. Science, while pragmatic, is subordinate to theology. Again, this is not to say science is not useful, but rather that it should be used by men to fulfill God's commandment to subdue the earth over against use as an epistemological foundation.//

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