Re: Def'n of Science

Steven Schimmrich (
Mon, 01 Mar 1999 06:44:56 -0500

Tim Ikeda wrote, in reply to Jason Bodester, that:
>> Just one question regarding what is considered true science. I saw
>> this statement in a recent posting:
>> "Bottom line - it ain't science without the numbers"
> Ernst Mayr might suggest that this is "physics"-centric view of science.
> One can "do science" without numbers. That depends on the nature of the
> question. Numbers and quantification can be nice to have, but they're not
> everything. I'd say "it ain't science without the method".

That statement was made in response of armchair theorizing by some people
regarding the flood. Whenever a difficulty was broght up with their flood
model, they would start proposing ad hoc explanations as to how their model
could still be saved.

Geological explanations for data may not always look like they're supported
by "numbers" but they are in the sense that geological explanations for data
must not violate known physical laws and principles. The statement "it ain't
science without the numbers" was not proposed as a literal statement (I guess
some on this list can't help interpreting everything literally :) but as a claim
that "numbers" support geological explanations because geological explanations
rely upon more quantitative work done in physics, chemistry, etc.

An example. We see deformed rocks in some particular region. The standard
geological explanation for the formation of these rocks involves large-scale
horizontal tectonic forces acting on deeply-buried rocks over long periods of
tme. The "flood geologist" proposal is large-scale unspecified forces acting
on soft sediments over a very short period of time. Why is one explanation
scientific and the other is not? Because the scientific explanation of rock
deformation, among other things, is supported by tons of data on rock mechanics
-- work done by thousands of geologists and engineers in laboratories around
the world on the strength and rheological behavior of rocks. On the other hand,
the "flood geology" model is unsupported by this type of data because we know
that soft sediments physically can't deform in such ways as we see rocks deformed
in the field. They have to resort to proposing "unknown or yet-undiscovered
processes." That's why I suggest the standard geological explanation is supported
ultimately by numbers (even if you don't directly see the numbers in the geological
explanation -- they're there in the foundation of physics, chemistry, etc. that
the geologist relies upon).

- Steve.

   Steven H. Schimmrich                         Assistant professor of geology
   Department of Geology and Geography (office)
   Calvin College                      (home)
   3201 Burton Street SE                        616-957-7053, 616-957-6501 (fax)
   Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546