The first area we can explore to discover truth that I will discuss is science. When talking about this topic, it is important to establish definitions. There are different definitions for science, whether it’s “the study of nature” or “any use of the scientific method.” So, I will use the following three definitions from Webster’s dictionary to establish what I mean when I use these words:
Definition of science:
“Knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through the scientific method and concerned with the physical world and its phenomena”
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”
Definition of knowledge:
With these three words defined, I move to a discussion on science. This area of truth has been extremely important for our understanding of the world. Thus far, science has proven to be a very trustworthy source of truth. Why? If you have multiple people performing the same experiment over and over, and those experiments give the same results every time, you gather a great amount of evidence supporting the conclusion that those same results will continue to occur. Many tested hypotheses (i.e. if event A happens, then it will result in event B) consistently lead to the same results, which points to the conclusion that there is uniformity in the natural world. Using this assumption about uniformity in nature, scientists have drawn conclusions about natural “laws”. These laws indicate that a particular experiment or event, under the same conditions, will lead to the same result.
A simple example of this method involves the law of gravity. You make a hypothesis that if you drop a pencil (assuming no anti-gravity conditions), it will move downward, towards the Earth’s core. You perform the experiment once, and it holds true. Then you drop the pencil one hundred times, same results. Then one hundred people also perform the experiment, pencil still drops. As more evidence is gathered, you gain more confidence that the pencil will always drop.
This method has led to expansive knowledge about the Earth and the Universe. However, there are some shortcomings to science that prevent it from being the only way we can find truth. Here are some examples and brief explanations of these shortcomings:
1. The scientific method cannot be used to gather evidence for necessary scientific assumptions – The assumption that the scientific method can be used to gain knowledge about nature cannot be backed up through scientific experiment. Instead, this is a philosophical assumption. Also, the assumption that we can trust our intellect or senses in the first place is philosophical. I’ll write about philosophy in a future post.
2. Scientific knowledge can only be gained through observation with the use of the five senses – This is pretty obvious and may not seem like a big deal. However, if there is any truth that cannot be discovered through observation using sight, taste, hearing, touch, or smell, science cannot form conclusions about that truth.
3. Science is limited to drawing conclusions about repeatable events – Example: The experiment of dropping a pencil can be repeated many times. However, a particular instance of me performing the pencil experiment cannot be repeated. When I dropped a pencil at 10am on 5/3/12, I cannot go back in time and repeat that exact event. Science cannot lead to the conclusion that I performed that experiment at that moment. This is an example of a past event. The conclusion that a past event actually happened would need to be drawn through history, which I’ll discuss in my next post.
4. The scientific method cannot be used to determine truth about many questions involving life and human existence – Some examples include, “What is the overall purpose of my life?” “What is truth?” “Was it immoral to steal that candy bar?” These questions cannot be answered through repeatable and observable events. These are questions that philosophy and religion can potentially answer, but not science.
Why am I pointing these things out? The worldview that science is the only method humans can use to determine truth is common today, and I do not think it is a very reasonable view to hold. My main point in this post is that while science is a trustworthy area of truth, especially pertaining to knowledge about the natural world, we need to consider other areas of truth. Science does not solely rule our search for truth. If it does, some very significant questions about life are passed over without consideration. To look into those questions, we need to consider non-scientific areas. Three of those areas that I mentioned in this post and that I may expand on are history, philosophy, and religion.
To close, I would like to point out that my understanding of science is by no means complete. I may be incorrect about some of the things I posted above. This post gives a pretty shallow look into science, but I think it is sufficient to explain my main point. There are also more examples of the shortcomings of science. But this post cannot provide a full discussion about the topic, just like all my other posts.