Saturday, September 19, 2009

Science and Truth

Many of my friends and acquaintances voice their appreciation of science. They probably refer to the natural sciences such as biology, physics, and chemistry, and their positive feelings relate to the fascinating knowledge revealed by scientific studies. Broadly, the language root of science is “knowledge.”

For many people who “like science,” delving further into the process of acquiring knowledge of the natural world of science, or investigating the philosophy of science, turns them off to further inquiry. Others are deterred when they discover that the science profession is heavily weighted with naturalistic practitioners. Such naturalistic scientists are unwilling to concede that the ubiquitous order and design in our universe points to an author of order and design. This author of order and design, identified in scripture as the God of Creation, also had in mind how the universe should function as an outcome of the order and design He imposed.

Certain fields of inquiry which use scientific operating principles are willing to acknowledge the probability of intelligent or supernatural agents in their investigations of cause and effect. Even though so-called “science of the paranormal” (ghosts, spirits, ESP, UFOs) may be scorned as pseudoscience, serious investigators in those fields use established scientific principles in their work. Paranormal investigators first attempt to explain phenomena by natural cause. They make careful observations, attempt to ensure that their observations are objective and reliable, set up careful experimental conditions, formulate hypotheses, and test carefully. Their conclusions are tentative, notwithstanding the willingness of some investigators to minimize healthy skepticism.

In criminal investigations, principles of evidence-gathering, testing, hypothesizing, and many other facets of scientific method are rigorously enforced. We might say that law enforcement personnel are some of our most talented scientists. Sometimes they investigate deaths occurring by apparently natural or accidental circumstances. At other times what appears to be a natural death may turn out to be agent-caused. Even though a person is definitely identified as the perpetrator, an arrest may or may not follow.

The science motivating and driving paranormal and criminal investigations permits the conclusion that an intelligent agent is or may be responsible for observed events. In the field of natural science, neither philosophical nor methodological naturalists permit such a conclusion in their studies of biological origins, for example. Therefore, we must conclude that the definition of science, how science is supposed to operate, and what conclusions are permissible for scientists are dependent upon tradition and driven by the philosophy of science currently holding sway.

We must be careful that our adherence to current science philosophy or the power of consensus science never overpowers our search for truth. My previous post on Open and Closed Science is relevant to this discussion: