Truth and Science Philosophy

By: Jim Virkler; ©2008

The New Testament speaks of God’s desire for man “to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (I Tim. 2:4) This would include truth of the natural world revealed by science. In past posts I have spoken about the science/faith intersection and the support each lends to the other. Science philosophy drives the approach taken by scientists — their methods, interpretations, and how they perceive the implications of their discoveries. Scientists are affected by the same influences which drive politicians, the clergy, historians, or social scientists. Should we say, then, that findings reported by scientists are subjective? Could we say that the term “exact science” is a misnomer? These questions trouble many, especially those suspicious of science to begin with.

One may ask about the well known “scientific method” used by scientists to discover truth. Isn’t this a sure thing? The procedural steps of the scientific method vary somewhat depending on which descriptive sourcebook one reads. However, careful observing, proposing hypotheses, predicting, testing, verifying, and revising are some of the steps generally recognized by both experimental and historical scientists. Today there are some science philosophers who even deny there is such a thing as formal scientific method. We should recognize that working scientists do not perform their work as if they were following a cookbook recipe in the kitchen. In the early days of modern science, say, 200 years ago, science was more often seen as objective and consistent in its approach to the acquisition of knowledge.

Today, however, scientists more often bring their particular assumptions, inspiration, and observational biases to the table. Science philosopher William Whewell spoke of “invention, sagacity, and genius” required at every step of the scientific method. Scientists may be very selective in how they see data and what data they study and report. Personal, cultural, philosophical, even religious commitments significantly impact their work. There are positives and negatives with this scenario. Loss of objectivity may be one of the negatives. Once a group of scientists embraces a body of beliefs they may not willingly accept revisions because they are intensely loyal to their tradition and emotionally invested in their work. Notwithstanding, science is a powerful tool for the discovery of truth.

My conclusions about the origin of the universe, the cause of its fine-tuning, and the origin and development of life on this earth differ from the conclusions of many scientists. That does not mean I disrespect their personal passions, their honesty, or even the biases which may be driving their work. I may learn much from their practice and philosophy of science. Likewise, I hope they could learn from people who believe as I believe. The object of our science studies should be to search for “a knowledge of the truth.” We must remember that truth is an absolute which overwhelms any personal bias, commitment, or worldview.

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