Using the ‘science’ word

Most people love to use the words “science” and “scientific” when advocating their own views.  And wouldn’t ya know it?  Almost every time they use those words, oddly enough, their views just happen to align with “science.” Clearly, people recognize science as an authority in our culture and seek to posture as if that authority sides with them.

But when you ask people to define what they mean when they use that word, you’ll find that the word comes with all sorts of meanings.  Consider what PZ Myers writes on his blog:

I am particularly appalled that Larry’s comments contain that hoary old chestnut, “science can’t explain love,” with the bizarre claim that “No scientist that is also a decent human being subjects all her/his beliefs to scientific scrutiny.” I think otherwise. There is a naive notion implicit in that statement that scientific scrutiny is somehow different from critical, rational examination. I’d argue the other way: no decent human being should live an unexamined life.

Pay attention to the part I have highlighted.  Is Myers equating scientific scrutiny with a critical, rational examination? It looks that way to me.  And if so, he is wrong.

Remember folks, just because all crows are black does not mean anything that is black is a crow.  In the same sense, just because scientific scrutiny entails a critical, rational examination does not mean any critical, rational examination is science.  If we insisted that science = a critical, rational examination, then only scientists are capable of critical, rational examination (since only scientists do science) or we are all scientists.  And both of those positions are ridiculous.

The fact is that we can and do engage in critical, rational examination outside of science. It’s called critical thinking.  So if you mean critical thinking, write or say ‘critical thinking.’  Admittedly, it doesn’t have the cultural and rhetorical weight as the word ‘science,’ but it would be more accurate and less likely to create needless confusion.

“No decent human being should live an unexamined life.”  If Myers thinks he has examined his life with science, then where are his hypotheses? The experiments? The measurements?  The data?  The models?  The peer-reviewed publications?  These are not superfluous elements of science, that can he jettisoned so someone can practice a private science.  These are essential elements of science.  And unless Myers can produce his hypotheses, experiments, and data about his life, for scrutiny by the scientific community, his self-examination may surely be valuable and worthy, but it is neither science nor scientific scrutiny.

10 responses to “Using the ‘science’ word

  1. I think just the process of defining science itself makes PZ’s claim self-refuting. We take steps to make critical, rational examinations of how we go about gathering knowledge within the natural realm (calling those constraints “science”).

    Yet, if we wanted to use “science” to decide what science is, we would be begging the question because we would be assuming the demarcation of the very process in question we were trying to label (a.k.a. demarcate).

    Thus, it makes perfect sense to say that the thesis of this post is a rock-solid truth (that critical rational examination and science are separate). Rational examinations can and MUST be done outside of science in order for reasoning to be done at all.

    I don’t quite buy into the entire evangelistic package of William Lane Craig yet, but on this issue I think he brought up some pretty good points against Peter Atkins:

  2. Gorebloodgore

    WOW, PZ Myers had a Freudian Slip! this is great! I love it! When the shoe fits wear it huh Myers?

    BTW RJ, that looks like a good debate. I think im going to try to find the full thing online. Do you have a link in case I am unsuccessful?

  3. Science is only the latest in a long list of systems that humans have used to find answers to questions. Before this, humans thought that the best way to find answers was by logically thinking them out. It stands to reason that there will be another system after it.
    Science is a good system but not perfect. Some use science like a shield. “I have science on my side therefore your opinions are not worth considering.” IMO, science should not be used as a method to convince, but as a tool to investigate.

  4. And unless Myers can produce his hypotheses, experiments, and data about his life, for scrutiny by the scientific community, his self-examination may surely be valuable and worthy, but it is neither science nor scientific scrutiny.

    This was a marvelous article.

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  6. So did anyone read Larry Moran’s piece part of which PZ Myers was attacking?

    Larry Moran article

  7. Or Josh Rosenau? Or John Wilkins? Is there never to be mutual comprehension or at least respect for the idea that different people can genuinely have a different view from oneself? And does it matter, ultimately? Probably not.

  8. Larry Moran’s article was a joke- right?

    Out of one side of his mouth he talks about “grown-ups” yet out of the other he uses childish slander like “Intelligent Design Creationism”.

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