- Science is, first and foremost, a method.
It is a method that requires the ability to observe repeatable occurrences and make testable predictions. If your statements aren't testable, they aren't scientific.* I've mentioned many fields of study that I do not consider very scientific:
Let's take IDT and SETI as examples. Both are claiming to use science to prove that life, in one case, or radio waves, in the other, come from intelligent sources. While observations can be made, one cannot easily make testable, repeatable theories. If I find a watch outside, I can intuit that it was made by a watchmaker, but how can I design an experiment to show this? I would need the watchmaker. It's a good argument that the watch was designed, but I cannot use science to come to that knowledge. It's anecdotal.
Science is not about knowledge or truth; it's a source of knowledge or truth.
- Science is not the only valid source of knowledge.
If something is not testable, this in no way means you can't know anything about it or that it isn't true. This is something I have argued since my second public entry back in summer 2004.[6, 7] There are numerous other valid forms of knowledge-gathering.
Not all sources of knowledge, however, are equal. Because our perceptions are faulty, we must be careful. As I hinted above, I value science far above anecdote.
- Science is about predictions and models, not facts.
In science, we use whichever model is the most practical for whatever it is we are trying to predict, regardless of how close it is to reality. For example, even though we know that energy is quantized, we tend to ignore that when we deal with astronomical sciences; we use Newton and Einstein's models instead. The seeming contradictions between special relativity and quantum mechanics are paradoxes, not true contradictions.
And many things in this universe, such as light, do not fit neatly into any single model. Is light a particle? or wave? or neither? or both? Science doesn't need to be able to answer that question to still make useful predictions about how light behaves.
- Science strives to find universals by starting with particulars.
[L]et's take the Law of Gravity. We observe a particular: a particular apple falls out of a tree. We observe another particular: a rock falls off a cliff. We observe yet another: a baby falls out of his crib. After a while, we come to assume that there is a universal truth to be gained from this, namely, that objects fall. Eventually we end up with a universal "Law" of gravity.However, this does not logically prove that every rock will fall. It is exceedingly probable that the rock will fall, and I choose to believe that the rock will fall (and will consider you a lunatic if you do not.) But it is not logical proof.
It is good at predicting probables but not actuals.
- Scientists are biased humans.
Or to put it differently, scientists are humans. No single person shares the same experience of reality; no single person observes anything in an un-biased manner. Yes, an ethical scientist will try his or her best to be as unbiased as possible, but anyone who tells you that science is unbiased is full of it.
Which leads me to how...
- Scientists are prideful, greedy, power-hungry humans.
Again, we are just human like the rest of you. We are just as likely to do things unethically or for political reasons.
Science is a tool; and people will always misuse tools. And because it is only a tool,...
- Science is not generally a good source of philosophical, moral, or ethical arguments.[15, 16]
(...nor "Biblical" ones.)
Nor should we idolize it, expecting it to solve the world's problems. People do not expect hammers to pound in all the nails on their own. Tools need craftsmen.
- Nor should philosophical principles dictate science.
Likewise, theological principles should not dictate science. (Besides, if one's theology is correct, there shouldn't be any conflict....)
- Contrary to the opinion of most, science actually requires faith.
(I clarified this in my last public entry.)
- And because it involves faith, it often takes paradigm shifts to bring us closer to the truth.
In many cases, it is good that it takes a paradigm shift, because it is not a given that every new discovery actually checks out. Four revolutionary statements of discovery in recent time:
- H. sapiens and Neanderthals interbred. — confirmed, but interpretation debated
- Not all phenotypical information is stored in the DNA code. — confirmed multiple times
- Life can survive without phosphorous. — still unrepeated
And most recently in the media...
Neutrinos can travel faster than light.— proven false
- The news media misrepresent science all too often.
There are multiple ways in which they do this; here are a couple:
- They misrepresent the importance of discoveries.[26, 27, 28]
- They put entertainment over good science.
(For some fun demonstrations of the above, click here and here.)
- People tend to fear science that they do not understand.
This is understandable — especially in light of the poor job the media does.
But what bothers me is when people remain willfully ignorant. A cure for this would be better education.[31, 32] Unfortunately, as described above, the news media prefer entertainment to factual reporting, so this makes matters worse.
In an area that hits close to home for me, this fear of science has particularly ironic results in Christian subculture. A huge percentage of Christians, for example — not understanding the "Big Bang Theory" — fail to see that it actually makes the case for (at least) deism stronger. (And almost as often, they wrongly mix up the theory in thinking that it has anything at all to do with biological evolution.)
Looking at the other end of the spiritual spectrum, "pagan" folk make the same errors out of fear of science. For example, the ridiculous idea that natural must be better than synthetic.
- Science is awesome!
(Click here for a full list of my entries on science.)
- On the Urban Legend of the War on Science
*I should note that just because something is in the past does not mean it is not predictable. The Big Bang happened in the past, yet because we still see light from the past, we can make testable observations about the past and predictions about other things we might observe in the future, which, if actually observed, convince us that the Big Bang happened. Evolution happened in the past, yet we can still make testable hypotheses about how it works to support that it happened. For example, see here.