05 March 2008

Science Does Have Limits

(Sorry I haven't posted for a while. I've been sick in bed.)

In the process of learning science throughout my life and teaching physics formally for a short time, I have come to appreciate scientists’ ability to help society explore the natural world. However, I am dismayed that many in society are using science in ways that it was never meant to be used.

One of the first things I learned on the path to teach science (at a liberal university with a liberal pedagogy teacher) was that only within a limited scope could science be used in our understanding of nature. Scientists can pose theories that can be shot down. Scientists can use mathematical models to describe laws. However, scientists must test and formulate these laws through experimentation within their respective empirical domain.

Many assumptions must be made in any experiment, including, inter alia, that the experiment can be duplicated in any space and time. In other words, the experiment that ran on Earth by scientist A (empirical domain of scientist A) should be able to be run by scientist B on a planet in the Andromeda galaxy when our galaxy and the Andromeda galaxy collide in a couple of billion Earth years (empirical domain of scientist B).

The science of nature outside our empirical domain is much more limiting. The science disciplines that use data or specimens outside of our empirical domain such as paleontology, historical biology (in general), and similar sciences are extremely limiting: scientists must interpret data that cannot be positively confirmed. Unless one invents a time machine and is able to analyze or bring back samples for study and conduct experiments in that distant time, the conclusions of these scientists are not pure facts due to the required interpretation of limited records.

It is not being suggested that science is not useful in answering questions in our empirical domain (here on Earth now), but unless one conducts an experiment in 100% of the possible space and time domains, results from experiments are not to be relied upon as facts that carry over to all space and time.

Evolution is one theory (note: theory) that is not proven (full disclosure: I am not opposed to the theory of evolution. I am opposed to people applying the theory to subject matter to which it is not formulated to apply). There are many assumptions that must be made for the theory to be true for past developments (note: the theory does not predict future outcomes). A major assumption of evolution is that biological entities were able to gradually change in response to their environments and that through natural selection, the best entities survived. However, the theory breaks down if a quick, large, and/or catastrophic event takes place in the past that emanates from outside the biological system. If such an event would occur, the theory of evolution looses its explanative ability.

Further, in analyzing the fossil record, no scientist can claim that their interpretations of the limited data and specimens are 100% accurate. Therefore, scientists can only make reasonable conclusions based on reasonable analysis.

Finally, only in the experimental domain can scientists formulate theories, laws, and hypotheses. It is out of their area of expertise when they make theories, laws, and hypotheses outside of their empirical domain.

There are quite a lot of questions that scientists cannot answer. I’ll leave that for a later post.

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