Sunday, November 30, 2008

Human Element in Science

Robust discussion of differing points of view makes science, and many other human projects, healthy and viable. For some, such discussions are distasteful and threatening. Others find such intellectual investigation and analysis downright stimulating. For those people, the discussion process has intrinsic worth and may be as stimulating as the discovery of truth. But others are rigidly secure in their beliefs, finding little value in pursuing further discussion or analysis of the issues.

Let’s give some examples. I’ve had discussions in the past decade with many people who embrace different locations on the human origins spectrum: naturalistic evolutionists at one end, theistic evolutionists in the middle, and creationists on the other extreme. Of course, creationists may be generally categorized as young earth or old earth. But even the creationist and intelligent design spectra have intermediate positions. Likewise, many differences pervade the evolutionary camp. Some ID proponents think ID should be included under the umbrella of science. Some do not. There are some creationists who do not feel ID is science, as currently formulated, including the Day-age creationist organization scholars from Reasons to Believe. At least one atheist, Bradley Monton, University of Colorado professor of philosophy of science, states, “Arguments for ID are stronger than most realize.” He also “maintain(s) that it is legitimate to view intelligent design as science.” Monton feels a more important question to consider is whether ID is true.

It is not commonly realized among non-scientists that there is a potent “human element” in science, even in the midst of the wonderful achievements of the scientific venture. Del Ratzsch says, “Science is a decidedly human pursuit.” In this blog we have spoken of how personal worldview and philosophy drive not only how the research and development process in science is conducted, but also how conclusions about reality are formed. A reading of some of the vast quantity of literature on the history and philosophy of science is instructive for discovering how science actually works.

Returning to our initial point, the human element applies both to the conduct of scientists and to the response of the public to the science. Let’s call the latter group the “consumers.” There is a wide spectrum of consumer reaction to the conclusions of science. When those conclusions support the consumer’s worldview/philosophy, there is acceptance with little objection, even if the science is weak. On the other hand, sometimes even in the face of strong and convincing evidence, the consumer rejects the conclusions of valid science. And finally, there is the reaction of the middle-ground consumer whose support fluctuates between contradictory scientific conclusions. If the fluctuation is grounded in a strong desire to discover the real truth rather than merely confirming one’s own worldview/philosophy, selection of this alternative may be the most desirable, in view of the self-correcting nature of good science. We may thereby come closer to embracing real truth.