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The Nature of Science and the "Scientific" Process

"Science in fact has nothing to do with causality; its aim is the discovery of similarities."  Gordon Clark, Thales to Dewey (Baker Book House, Reprint 1980), page 380.

The following quotes are four conclusions in Gordon Clark's book, The Philosophy of Science and Belief in God, pages 91-95, (Trinity Foundation, see below).  These were numbered by me, not Dr. Clark.

1) "The utmost effort of human reason is to reduce the principles of natural phenomena, to a greater simplicity, and to resolve the many particular effects into a few general causes, by means of reasoning from analogy, experience, and observation.  But, as to the causes of these general causes, we should in vain attempt their discovery. nor shall we ever be able to satisfy ourselves, by any particular explication of them.  These ultimate springs and principles are totally shut up from human curiosity and enquiry" (David Hume, Enquiry, Section IV, Part I, in the above book, p. 92).

2) The bare assertion that science leaves us in ignorance of the workings of nature is not a sufficient philosophy of science.  Something must be said of the nature of and use of science.  Therefore, operationalism (see below) is offered, not as a general theory of epistemology, but as the best available philosophy of science.... Only by denying that science is cognitive can one justify the use of contradictory theories... (for example, light as both wave and particle)....  No sane person can accept them both as accurate descriptions of nature.  But if science, instead of being regarded as cognitive, is taken as a method for dominating and utilizing nature, then there is nothing reprehensible in using these incompatible formulas.... Can a formula be false and useful?  It can... (for example, cows with milk fever and germ theories)... Operationalism will accept the procedures as useful, but the theories of how nature works ... (may be false).  Science then must not be regarded as cognitive, but rather as an attempt to utilize nature for our needs and wants.... Instead of being the sole gateway to all knowledge, science is not a way to any knowledge.

3) The relationship between science on the one hand, and religion, morals, and other normative disciplines on the other must be construed in terms radically different... Can a scientist believe, know, or prove that the world existed for more than twenty-four hours, or even five minutes? ... Much less can physics demonstrate the non-existence of a Supreme Intelligence who did what gravitation could not do and who directs the whole universe for His purposes.

4) Science cannot determine its own value... By science bombs are made and cancer may be cured.  Most people think that bombs and medicine are good to have.  But, there is no experiment that proves their goodness.... But can any experimentation demonstrate that either the destruction of cities (and life) or the extension of life is good?

More on Operationalism and Science as Knowledge

The view that science explains nature has in the recent past been challenged by an alternate theory. Operationalism identifies the purpose of science not as description but as manipulation. Laws are not cognitive statements about nature, but are directions for operating in a laboratory. The do no say what nature has done; they say what the scientist should do. Thus even among professional scientists themselves, the old view that sci3ence achieved the “real truth” about nature, a view which has caused Christianity so much trouble, seems to be receding into the past. With or without a priori concepts, science is not a cognitive enterprise.

That science is not cognitive, i.e., that science fails to obtain a knowledge of the laws of nature, is evident to all in the rapid rate at which previous laws of science are discarded and replaced by new ones. For example, (1) the law of gravitation conflicts with the observation of galaxies. It implies that the universe has a center where the spatial density of stars is maximum; i.e., more stars per cubic area. Proceeding outward from this center, the spatial density should decrease toward an infinite region of emptiness. But observation, of which the ordinary view of science must depend, shows galaxies everywhere, and this contradicts the Newtonian law of gravitation. (2) A similar change in physics is the failure of the law of inertia because of the non-existence of a fixed point and the consequent impossibility of determining motion in a straight line. (3) The emergence of new theories of light are perhaps a better know example of the replacement of old laws by new. If the old laws had been discoveries, if they had been true, if they had described nature, they would not have needed replacement.

To forestall the reply that the new laws have now arrived at the truth and, unlike Newton’s laws, will never need to be replaced, one need only note the rapid development of science in the very recent past, the anticipation of still greater change in the near future, and wonder why the results of the last ten years should be any more permanent that those of a previous century.  (Gordon H. Clark, Christian Philosophy, Unicoi, Tennessee: The Trinity Foundation, 2004, page 286.)

 



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