Feature Article - August 2016
by Do-While Jones

What is Science?

One has to change the definition of “science” to make the theory of evolution scientific.

Jay brought to our attention an October, 2015, blog posting on the Discover magazine website titled, “The Scientific Method Is a Myth.” 1 It was actually an advance excerpt from the book, Newton’s Apple and Other Myths About Science, edited by Ronald L. Numbers and Kostas Kampourakis. 2 It was clearly a planted blog designed to hype the book just before it came out. We have no problem with that.

What we do have a problem with is the attempt to hijack the definition of science to give the credibility of science to philosophical (or political) opinions, as if those ideas are unquestionably true. The blog post in question tries to prove that science no longer requires scientific investigation using the scientific method. If it is an opinion held by a consensus of scientists, that opinion is defined to be true. This blog post proves our claim that some people really are trying to change the definition of science to “anything someone in a white coat believes.” Our claim is not a foolish straw man. There are people in general (and evolutionists in particular) who really do want to change the definition of science to make their opinions “scientific” and therefore unquestionably true.

Let’s begin by looking at Webster’s definitions of “science” and “the scientific method.”

Webster’s Definitions

Simple Definition of science
: knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation
: a particular area of scientific study (such as biology, physics, or chemistry) : a particular branch of science
: a subject that is formally studied in a college, university, etc.

Full Definition of science
1 :  the state of knowing :  knowledge as dis­tinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
2a :  a department of systematized knowl­edge as an object of study (the science of theology)
b :   something (as a sport or technique) that may be studied or learned like systematized knowledge (have it down to a science)
3a :  knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method
b :  such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena :  natural science
4 :  a system or method reconciling practical ends with scientific laws (cooking is both a science and an art)
5 capitalized :  christian science 3

Definition of scientific method
:  principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses
4

Notably absent from Webster’s definition is any notion of consensus, or an appeal to the edict of a recognized authority. The recurring theme in the various definitions is the notion of a system for determining truth. That system depends upon experimentation and observation, not speculation about how something could have happened, or might happen in the future.

The Scientific Method Myth

So, with that background, let’s examine the excerpt from Newton’s Apple and Other Myths About Science that claims the scientific method is a myth.

As always, we urge you to use the link in the footnote to read what the evolutionist actually said in his blog on the Discover website. Unfortunately, the blog is hard to understand. Perhaps that was intentional.

The blog begins with a rhetorical dirty trick designed to confuse the reader and make it appear that nobody really knows what the scientific method is.

But to squeeze a diverse set of practices that span cultural anthropology, paleobotany, and theoretical physics into a handful of steps is an inevitable distortion and, to be blunt, displays a serious poverty of imagination.Even simplistic versions vary from three steps to eleven. Some start with hypothesis, others with observation. Some include imagination. Others confine themselves to facts. … Scientific method is a keyword (or phrase) that has helped generations of people make sense of what science was, even if there was no clear agreement about its precise meaning— especially if there was no clear agreement about its precise meaning. … A word with too exact a definition is brittle; its use will be limited to specific circumstances. A word too loosely defined will create confusion and appear to say nothing. A word balanced just so between precision and vagueness can change the world. 5

It is true that definitions vary slightly; but they all begin with a hypothesis (which may have been inspired by an observation or insightful thought) which is tested by a repeatable experiment which confirms or denies the hypothesis. If the original hypothesis is false, it may lead to a revised hypothesis, and the cycle starts all over again. The only difference in the various definitions is how detailed the description of the process is. Some definitions break general steps into several more specific steps.

The blog post attempts to discredit the scientific method by nit-picking the small differences in the various definitions. The argument about the exact definition of the scientific method is simply a distraction designed to obscure the point that the scientific method is a systematic method of determining the truth using carefully designed experiments. Attacking the definition is just a dirty debating trick.

Building on the false foundation that the definition of the scientific method is ambiguous and flawed, they claim anything can be “science.”

And yet the wide variation in possible meanings has made the scientific method a valuable rhetorical resource. Methodological pictures painted by practicing scientists have often been tailored to support their own position and undercut that of their adversaries, even if inconsistency results. … More or less coincidentally, its invocation assuaged any doubts that real science was present. 6

Then they attempt to discredit the scientific method by associating it with pseudoscience.

Given all that, it’s even more remarkable that “scientific method” was rarely used before the mid-nineteenth century among English speakers, and only grew to widespread public prominence from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth centuries, peaking somewhere between the 1920s and 1940s. In short, the scientific method is a relatively recent invention.

But it was not alone. Such now-familiar pieces of rhetoric as “science and religion,” “scientist,” and “pseudoscience” grew in prominence over the same period of time. In that sense, “scientific method” was part of what we might call a rhetorical package, a collection of important keywords that helped to make science comprehensible, to clarify its differences with other realms of thought, and to distinguish its devotees from other people. All of this paralleled a shift in popular notions of science from general systematized knowledge during the early 1800s to a special and unique sort of information by the early 1900s. … During the late 1800s, the majority of public boundary-work around science was related to the raging debate over biological evolution and the emerging fault line between science and religion. Given that, we might expect the scientific method to have been a prominent weapon for the advocates of evolutionary ideas, such as John Tyndall (1820–1893) or Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895). But that wasn’t the case. The notion of a uniquely scientific methodology was still too new and lacked the rhetorical flexibility that made it useful. Instead, the loudest invocations of the scientific method were by those who hoped to limit the reach of science. 7

There is some truth in this—but it is twisted. Let’s untwist it.

Yes, it is true that science really took off in the late 19th century, with popular scientific enthusiasm dominating the culture in the 20th century. In 1955, Tomorrowland was perhaps the most popular part of Disneyland. The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair was devoted to Century 21, and all the wonderful things science would do for us in the future. We were shooting for the moon back then, and even got there in 1969. The scientific method was used to make great advances in communication technology, from the telephone to radio to television to computers. Transportation technology went from Kitty Hawk to Cape Canaveral.

But, at the same time, the theory of evolution was proposed as an atheistic alternative to creation. It was supposed to be scientific—but it was just a theory that could not be verified by the scientific method, which is why it wasn’t “a prominent weapon for the advocates of evolutionary ideas.” People (like me) who point out the fact that the theory of evolution is merely speculation, not scientific truth, aren’t trying to limit science. We are trying to defend science.

The last sentence of the blog is,

If we return to a simplistic view, one in which the scientific method really is a recipe for producing scientific knowledge, we lose sight of a huge swath of history and the development of a pivotal touchstone on cultural maps. We deprive ourselves of a richer perspective in favor of one both narrow and contrary to the way things actually are. 8

This is an attempt to denigrate the scientific method as a “simplistic view” that isn’t able to show us the way things actually are. That, presumably, is the reason the scientific method must be abandoned. The real reason is that the scientific method can’t be used to prove evolution, because science is against evolution.

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Footnotes:

1 http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/10/28/scientific-method-myth/#.V6IPyvkrKM9
2 https://www.amazon.com/Newtons-Apple-Other-Myths-Science/dp/0674967984/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470238851&sr=1-1&keywords=Newton%E2%80%99s+Apple+and+Other+Myths+About+Science
3 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/science
4 http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scientific%20method
5 http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/10/28/scientific-method-myth/#.V6IPyvkrKM9
6 ibid.
7 ibid.
8 ibid.