Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The limitations of science

Every now and then, I hear people claim, "The scientific method is the only way that truth can be known!" The problem is that this is a self-refuting claim. It also betrays great naivete about the nature of science.

Self-refuting, you say? Yes indeed. Consider this: If the scientific method is the only way by which truth can be known, then what scientific methodology would one employ to arrive at that truth? The people who make this claim clearly have not performed any such experiment, and so their claim remains unproven. What's more, it CANNOT be demonstrated to be true, since one would have to identify all possible alternatives to science and then demonstrate that none of them are ever valid.

"But it's obvious!" some exclaim. Well, if you claim that it's true by virtue of being obvious, then you're not using the scientific method. Rather, you are claiming that something is self-evident. Ergo, you have implicitly demonstrated that science is not the only means by which truth can be discerned.

I know one guy who says, "The methodology that I use is observation. It's science!" Um, no. Observation is merely the first step in applying the scientific method. It is not an example of scientific methodology. Without the subsequent phases of hypothesis-forming and experimentation, one does not have a scientific method.

Indeed, there are things that science implicitly assumes, and thus, cannot prove. It assumes that the laws of logic and mathematics are valid, for example. As such, attempting to prove these tenets using science would amount to circular reasoning. Now, I'm not about to deny that the laws of math and logic are valid; however, my point is that one cannot use science to prove their validity. That would be begging the question, pure and simple.