Thursday, December 30, 2004

More about the limitations of science

Continuing the previous discussion about the limitations of science...

I mentioned that some people insist that the scientific method is the only way through which truth can be discerned. I also mentioned that when they say that, I ask "so what scientific methodology did you use to determine that to be true?"

Unfortunately, that doesn't stop some people from insisting on that claim. Instead of re-examining that belief, some of them say "But it's true! It's obvious!" or words to that effect. The thing is, unless one can demonstrate it to be true [em]using the scientific method[/em], that claim remains unsubstantiated.

Indeed, how would one even begin to test this claim? I ask people that sometimes. Some of the more hard-headed ones say, "Well, you design an experiment to test this belief, and then you conduct the experiment. That's how science works!" However, this answer completely glosses over the question of HOW someone would design such an experiment -- or even if such an experiment is possible.

Some go a bit further, and say "Well, you take all the possible methods of learning knowledge, and then you test every single one of them. That will prove that science is the only means to knowledge." This answer is a bit more complete, but still unsatisfactory. For one thing, it ignores the question of HOW one would identify all the possible paths to knowledge. And second, it dodges the question of how one would test all these methods.

Indeed, how would one know that one has identified all paths to knowledge? For that matter, how would one know that ANYTHING is a means of discerning truth? If the claim is true, then one must first conduct a scientific experiment to establish these things to be true.

What's more, if someone is to claim that science is the ONLY way through which knowledge can be truly obtained, then one must test ALL possible methods under ALL possible circumstances. For if there is even a single situation in which one of these methods can work, then the scientific method is not the sole means to truth.

This is why I'm severely disappointed when people claim that only science holds the keys to truth. It's a statement that sounds neat, but which people often don't examine closely. It has no basis in reality.