A Rational Definition of Science

How we define science can make all the difference in what we accept as “scientific” evidence.  As thinking individuals, we must decide between rationality and irrationality, rejecting the latter.  As an example of irrationality, the outspoken and prominent evolutionist Professor Richard Lewontin said:

‘We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfil many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.’ (‘Billions and billions of demons’, The New York Review, January 9, 1997, p. 31.)

While I’m sure much of this quote is his own opinion, it under scores the common definition of science that is out there.  That there is an absolute a priori exclusion of any supernatural explanations.

One of the most common arguments goes something like this, “Science is only interested in natural causes, and so only naturalistic explanations will suffice.”  This is an irrational definition of science.  This definition excludes an entire area of inquiry without cause or reason.  The word “science” comes from the Latin word scientia which means “knowledge”.  The word science does NOT mean “natural knowledge”.  So since a scientific endeavor is one in which a scientist searches for knowledge, to exclude a way of gaining that knowledge without cause is irrational.

Another common argument is that “In order for something to be science, the scientific community must accept it as such.”  Under this definition, eugenics and alchemy would be accepted as science if only the scientific community would accept them.  This is also circular reasoning, “Science is defined as what the majority of scientists define it as”. 

Science doesn’t have a monopoly on the word “knowledge”.  I can gain knowledge by reading a book of literature.  However, how we define scientific knowledge is the method by which the knowledge is gained.  The basic scientific method, since it’s broad acceptance 400 years ago, has been Observation ->  Hyphothesis ->  Experimentation -> Results -> Conclusion.  Is this not a definition that we can all get behind?  There is no irrational exclusion of inquiry and no circular reasoning.  

Let’s evaluate the validity and scope of a certain piece of scientific knowledge on the validity and scope of it’s method and nothing more.  That way, we can have rational, informed discussions about what the scientific evidence is really telling us.

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