These are some links that I
gathered as a result of a discussion on science. It is my position
that scientific results and knowledge, which are dependent on experiment, do not
represent absolute proofs as in mathematics for example. Science is
probabilistic and tells us what is more or less likely to be true in Nature.
This is what separates science from religion and philosophy, where absolutes are
not subject to scientific falsification. It is important to remember that
scientists are also human beings and are subject to the biases of history,
bureaucracy and culture as Thomas Kuhn eloquently pointed out in "Structure
of Scientific Revolutions".
in science also applies to our everyday world, which in effect means that
nothing is real in any absolute sort of way. Our facts and knowledge of
the natural world should always be be taken with a skeptical grain salt.
That aside, however, I will always place my bets on the laws and theories of
science over philosophy or religion. I think Bertrand Russell said it
"Science is what you
know, philosophy is what you don't know."
Richard Feynman: What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further
Adventures of a Curious Character
The Role of Doubt in Science.
The scientist has a lot of experience with ignorance and doubt and
uncertainty, and this experience is of very great importance, I think. When a
scientist doesn't know the answer to a problem, he is ignorant. When he has a
hunch as to what the result is, he is uncertain. And when he is pretty darned
sure of what the result is going to be, he is in some doubt. We have found it of
paramount importance that in order to progress we must recognize the ignorance
and leave room for doubt. Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of
varying degrees of certainty -- some most unsure, some nearly sure, none
Richard Feynman on Uncertainty
In the first of his lectures, entitled "The Uncertainty of Science," Feynman
postulates that uncertainty is likely a good thing, because if you know the
answer, or think you do, then you will no longer seek further knowledge about
that particular subject. He questions the value of science: "I think a power to
do something is of value. Whether the result is a good thing or a bad thing
depends on how it is used, but the power is a value. Once in Hawaii I was taken
to see a Buddhist temple. In the temple a man said, 'I am going to tell you
something that you will never forget.' And then he said, 'To every man is given
the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.'"
Stephen Hawking: Does God Play Dice?
"Many scientists are like Einstein, in that they have a deep emotional
attachment to determinism. Unlike Einstein, they have accepted the reduction in
our ability to predict, that quantum theory brought about. But that was far
enough. They didn't like the further reduction, which black holes seemed to
imply. They have therefore claimed that information is not really lost down
black holes. But they have not managed to find any mechanism that would return
the information. It is just a pious hope that the universe is deterministic, in
the way that Laplace thought. I feel these scientists have not learnt the lesson
of history. The universe does not behave according to our pre-conceived ideas.
It continues to surprise us."
McComas, William, "Ten myths of science: Reexamining what we think we
know....," Vol. 96, School Science & Mathematics, 01-01-1996, pp 10.
TEN MYTHS OF SCIENCE:
Myth 5: Science and its Methods Provide Absolute Proof
The general success of the scientific endeavor suggests that its products must
be valid. However, a hallmark of scientific knowledge is that it is subject to
revision when new information is presented. Tentativeness is one of the points
that differentiates science from other forms of knowledge. Accumulated evidence
can provide support, validation and substantiation for a law or theory, but will
never prove those laws and theories to be true. This idea has been addressed by
Homer and Rubba (1978) and Lopnshinsky (1993).
The problem of induction argues against proof in science, but there is
another element of this myth worth exploring. In actuality, the only truly
conclusive knowledge produced by science results when a notion is falsified.
What this means is that no matter what scientific idea is considered, once
evidence begins to accumulate, at least we know that the notion is untrue.
Consider the example of the white swans discussed earlier. One could search the
world and see only white swans, and arrive at the generalization that "all swans
are white. " However, the discovery of one black swan has the potential to
overturn, or at least result in modifications of, this proposed law of nature.
However, whether scientists routinely try to falsify their notions and how much
contrary evidence it takes for a scientist's mind to change are issues worth
What Is Science?
Science is a way of understanding the world, not a mountain of facts. Before
anyone can truly understand scientific information, they must know how science
works. Science does not prove anything absolutely -- all scientific ideas
are open to revision in the light of new evidence. The process of science,
therefore, involves making educated guesses (hypotheses) that are then
rigorously and repeatedly tested. For a better understanding of the nature and
process of science, check out these links, books, and articles.
hat is meant by scientific evidences
and scientific proof? In truth, science can never establish "truth" or "fact"
in the sense that a scientific statement can be made that is formally beyond
question. All scientific statements and concepts are open to reevaluation as
new data is acquired and novel technologies emerge. "Proof," then, is solely the
realm of logic and mathematics. That said, we often hear "proof" mentioned in a
scientific context, and there is a sense in which it denotes "strongly supported
by scientific means." Even though one may hear "proof" used like this, it is a
careless and inaccurate handling of the term. Consequently, this is the last
time you will read the terms "proof" or "prove" in this essay.
The following definition of science was agreed upon by 72 Nobel laureates.
(From the Amicus Curiae presented in the US Supreme Court Case of Edwards vs
"Science is devoted to formulating and testing naturalistic explanations for
natural phenomena. It is a process for systematically collecting and recording
data about the physical world, then categorizing and studying the collected data
in an effort to infer the principles of nature that best explain the observed
The essential characteristics of science are:
It is guided by natural law.
It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law.
It is testable against the empirical world.
Its conclusions are tentative (are not necessarily the final word).
It is falsifiable (Ruse, from Montagu, pg. 340)
What is Science?
Science is a way of thinking, asking questions, and combining observation
with knowledge to understand the physical Universe.
Science is ongoing, we never stop questioning our current scientific
knowledge, particularly in light of "new" observations. Every law, theory, or
hypothesis in science is subject to change if new observations show a flaw in
the ideas or concepts involved.
Carl Sagan lists three essential elements in scientific studies:
Experiment (or observation) Willingness to challenge dogma An openness to see
the Universe as it really is Underlying all science is the fundamental
assumption that we can know the Universe.
THE NATURE OF SCIENTIFIC PROOF
A. Is there proof in science?
1. In the sense that the word proof is used in mathematics and philosophy,
nothing is ever proven in science. There is always some uncertainty about the
actual value of results obtained from some experiment or their interpretation.
2. The more times an observation is repeated and the greater number of
different observations and theories that it ties into and agrees with, the more
confident we are about how well we actually understand something.
3. However, in the strictest sense, we never arrive at "proof"; we simply
arrive at a very high degree of probability that we understand something. Thus,
it is important that you shift your frame of reference from one of proof and
certainty of knowledge and interpretation of facts to one that is PROBABILISTIC
in nature, where our confidence in whether or not we understand something
properly is not and never can be absolute. Thus, you are well advised to remove
the word "proof" from your vocabulary as far as science is concerned.
This should be no big surprise -- truth and proof in our own lives are
generally probabilistic in nature. In fact, it is only in philosophy and
mathematics where the criteria are rules of logic where the idea of proof, in
its purest sense, ever has absolute meaning.
Modern science has its limitations:
1. Observations are confined to the biological limits of our senses, even
with technological enhancement.
2. The mental processing of our sensory information is unconsciously
influenced by previous experiences, which may result in inaccurate or biased
perceptions of the world.
3. It is impossible to know if we have observed every possible aspect of a
phenomenon, have thought of every possible alternative explanation, or
controlled for every possible variable.
4. Scientific knowledge is necessarily contingent knowledge rather than
absolute knowledge: --a. Scientific knowledge is based only on the available
evidence which must be assessed and (and is therefore subject to more than one
possible interpretation), not on indisputable "proof". --b. The history of
science is filled with numerous examples of scientific knowledge changing over