Science and Not Science

  • Science seeks knowledge and understanding of reality, and it does so through the formulation, testing, and evaluation of theories. Science is a way of searching for truth.
  • Science is not a worldview, and we can’t identify it with a particular ideology. Science is also not scientism—it is not the only way to acquire knowledge. It is, however, a highly reliable way of acquiring knowledge of empirical facts.

The Scientific Method

  • The scientific method cannot be identified with any particular set of experimental or observational procedures. But it does involve several general steps: (1) identifying the problem, (2) devising a hypothesis, (3) deriving a test implication, (4) performing the test, and (5) accepting or rejecting the hypothesis.
  • No hypothesis can be conclusively confirmed or confuted. But this fact does not mean that all hypotheses are equally acceptable.

Testing Scientific Theories

·        Following the steps of the scientific method, scientists test hypotheses in many fields, including medical science. One example is the testing of the hypothesis that taking high doses of vitamin C can cure cancer.

·        To minimize errors in testing, scientists use control groups, make studies double-blind, include placebos in testing, and seek replication of their work.

Judging Scientific Theories

  • Theory-testing is part of a broader effort to evaluate a theory against its competitors. This kind of evaluation always involves, implicitly or explicitly, the criteria of adequacy.
  • The criteria are testability, fruitfulness, scope, simplicity, and conservatism.
  • The criteria of adequacy played a major role in settling the historic debate about planetary motion, and they are used today to effectively judge the relative merits of the theories of evolution and creationism.

Science and Weird Theories

·        Inference to the best explanation can be used to assess weird theories as well as more commonplace explanations in science and everyday life.

·        Scientifically evaluating offbeat theories can often be worthwhile in determining their truth or falsity and (sometimes) in discovering new phenomena.

Making Weird Mistakes

  • When people try to evaluate extraordinary theories, they often make certain typical mistakes. They may believe that because they can’t think of a natural explanation, a paranormal explanation must be correct. They may mistake what seems for what is, forgetting that we shouldn’t accept the evidence provided by personal experience if we have good reason to doubt it. And they may not fully understand the concepts of logical and physical possibility.

·        The distinction between logical and physical possibility is crucial. Some things that are logically possible may not be physically possible, and things that are physically possible may not be actual.

Judging Weird Theories

  • In both science and everyday life, the TEST formula enables us to fairly appraise the worth of all sorts of weird theories, including those about crop circles and communication with the dead, the two cases examined in this chapter.

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