Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Nature of Science

I'm about halfway through watching the recent Bill Nye/Ken Hamm evolution/creation debate that was live this week.  Finding myself talking to my computer screen, I thought I would write this down instead.

Besides the obvious philosophical and theological differences between the two men, the real debate that is going on is on the nature of science.  What is science?  What can it study, and what can it not?  Ken Hamm insists that science must be observable and reproducable.  Bill Nye insists that science can define history and philosophy (there may be others, but those came up clearly).

Hamm is working with the definition of science that most of us were raised with, not matter where we were educated.  Science can make big predictions or hypotheses, but it is only authoritative on what is observable and reproducable in a laboratory setting.  In an argument I once had with my college chemistry professor I asserted this fact, at which point he scoffed and told me I was, "so 19th century."  So my question is, when did it change?  At what point did science stop being a observable and reproducable phenomenon?  Being a creationist myself I would assert that the change came with Charles Darwin; so who's being "so 19th century"?

Being thoroughly a 20th century man, Nye is comfortable with applying science to most aspects of knowledge, including history and philosophy.  Science can tell us what happened in the past, as well as any conclusions we may come to as to whether or not a god was hanging around when that event occurred.  In an atheism v. theism discussion with students one of my geology professors said that "all good scientists are agnostics," which got me thinking, why?  Why must my scientific assumptions inform my historical and philosophical opinions?  Since when did science define everything?

Science does a wonderful job at being science.  History does a wonderful job at being history.  Theology does a wonderful job at being theology.  Of course all knowledge is integrative, but we have forgotten that different fields of study have different methods of proving fact.  Science can be tested in a lab, history must be recorded by a reliable witness, theology should be based on reliable documents and human nature.  When we use scientific requirements on other fields, all knowledge fails.  Can I prove scientifically that we won World War II?  Absolutely not.  I cannot put the armies in bottles and test it in a laboratory.  However, can I prove historically that we won World War II?  I can read reliable accounts and talk to people who were there, and that is proof.

When science becomes our standard to prove all things then we end up with scientism.  This was not what drove Galilleo or Kepler or Newton.  Scientism discovers nothing, but is quite satisfied with the knowledge it already has, which was likely gained from better scientists.

1 comment:

Christina said...

Great last line, Brittany; take THAT, Mr. Nye!