Rationale for scientific methodology

From: Keith B Miller (kbmill@ksu.edu)
Date: Wed Sep 13 2000 - 23:55:35 EDT

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    Below are some thoughts posted on another listserve to which I belong. I
    thought that some on this list may have some insight. I am particularly
    thinking of those with theological or philosophical training. The poster
    of the comments has agreed to have me post this for comment.



     Why does science exclude religion, etc?

    The following explanation seems most useful to me, and I would appreciate
    further comment or historical analysis. Let me state this in the simplest
    way I know. Then I'll explain the details.

    "For the past 400 years humans have developed and refined an approach,
    called science, which provides explanations for natural phenomena that
    are reliable, universally-understandable, and universally-applicable.
    This universality precludes the incorporation of individual philosophies
    and beliefs. As a consequence, scientific explanations tell us a great
    deal about the workings of the physical world, and very little about its
    meaning. This frees us to imbue the world with meaning obtained from
    other, deeper, sources."

    "To the extent that intelligent design invokes any agent not observable
    in the natural world, it requires an inner, personal experience or
    belief. Since it is simply not accessible to those who lack that
    experience or belief, design is not a scientific concept. The majority of
    the world's population does not have a concept of a Creator-God: should
    science be inaccessible to them?"

    ----- Explanation --------

    I maintain that science does not limit itself to the observable, or the
    empirical, for any particular "reason." No conscious decision is made
    that the supernatural "must" be excluded. There is no a priori
    philosophical basis for limiting the objects which science investigates,
    nor the methods of investigation.

    Instead, I think that these limitations have evolved naturally, as a
    direct consequence of the ends to which scientific knowledge has been,
    or is being, used. On one hand, "Natural Science" could have started
    (and I don't know this) by wanting to know or to explain everything
    about nature. On the other hand, suppose that initially or over time,
    the basic goal of "Natural Science" became to obtain knowledge of nature
    which is robust, reliable, universally acceptable, and universally
    useful. In other words, the usefulness of the knowledge became more
    important than its breadth, depth, or philosophical "truth."

    If the latter is true, then the goal of universality places strong
    constraints on the types of explanations we can offer. In particular, if
    an explanation of nature is to be acceptable to everyone capable of
    experiencing nature, then the explanation cannot incorporate any concepts
    which are not universally accepted by the "community" of
    or knowledge-users. To reinforce this universality or "objectivity," we
    allow people of all beliefs and cultures to participate in science. This
    in turn reduces the dependence of science on particulars.

    It seems natural to conclude that the resultant knowledge or explanation
    will contain only those preconceptions or biases which are shared by the
    entire scientific community, and that the broader the community, the
    fewer preconceptions there will be. We will be left with, certainly, the
    belief that there is probably one reality (not many), and that this
    reality is knowable (to a high degree) by humans. One need not accept
    this premise, but without it one would be ill-suited to being a

    In a way, this implies that scientific knowledge is a "lowest common
    denominator of knowledge," or a "common language of nature" which allows
    us to communicate freely, but limits what we can say. What many
    scientists do not do well is to acknowledge that there are other
    languages which describe other aspects of reality. What many anti-science
    critics do not acknowledge is that the language of science cannot be
    forced to (or will lose its usefulness if it does) accommodate everyone's
    favorite phrases from their own personal languages.

    What is useful about this analysis is that, if valid, it shows that the
    present scientific method can be arrived at from utilitarian
    considerations; there is no need to invoke any fixed philosophical basis
    to science. What is lacking from this analysis is any historical support,
    which I hope to learn about either way.


    Keith B. Miller
    Department of Geology
    Kansas State University
    Manhattan, KS 66506

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