Re: Views of the Scientific Enterprise

William T. Yates (
Tue, 31 Mar 1998 12:21:34 -0800

John W. Burgeson wrote:
> I need some advice. I learned my trade back in the middle ages
> (late 1940s and early 1950s) when I took my physics degrees at Carnegie
> Tech and Florida State. The guys I learned the "philosophy of
> science" from included James Jeans and Arthur Eddington. Not
> directly, BTW, but from reading their books, which fascinated me
> even when I was still in high school.
> In correspondence via e-mail, I made mention of what I saw as the
> limitations of science, and I may well have not reflected well
> the teachings of my younger self! In essence, I suggested that the
> laws of science were "descriptive," rather than "descriptive" in a longer
> discussion. The discussion continued:
> --------------------------------------
> Correspondent, talking about what would convince
> him to be a Christian, or, at least, a theist:
> "Anything that clearly and unambiguously violates
> fundamental laws of physics would do."
> Me:
> " But how do you know what those "fundamental laws" are?
> Only by observations do we see data; we construct equations
> which describe the data, and we construct theories to describe the
> equations."
> Correspondent: "Oh no! You're referring to the old vision of
> science as a collection of
> data from which laws are deduced. The scientific method is much richer
> than that, and it entails a dialectic exchange between theory and
> observation. For example, Newton's law can now be derived as a
> consequence of general relativity and of quantum mechanics, so it's now
> *independent* of the original apple..."
> ----------------------------------
> I don't see anything much "wrong" with what he says -- or what I say
> either.
> What am I missing?
> Burgy
You're missing the fact that relativity was deduced (?) from
observations, data, which did not fit the Newtonian "Laws". As a
superset of "Laws", it therefore covers Newtonian physics. If Newtonian
physics could not be derived from relativity, I would be suspect of
relativity. It's independent of the "apple" only in the sense that
relativity explains so much more. The "apple" is only a very simple
piece of data.
But none of it is independent of God!
--Bill Yates
P.S.: Did you mean "descriptive" vs "proscriptive"?

--Bill Yates
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