Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 27, 2006

What Is Science?

The other day in my Schonborn post (a thousand points to anyone who read the whole thing, I'm trying to kick the long post habit but it's not working) I linked to a piece on (a skeptics site, so far as I can tell) as an example of people trying to use quantum physics to explain away the need for God. Later, I browsed around the site some more. Certainly, the parts that deal with religion are pretty flawed. There's an article titled Do Religious Life and Critical Thought Need Each Other that tries hard to be fair, but doesn't really get it.

However, they do have some pretty decent (and more to the point "metaphysically modest") stuff about what science is. Here's their Test Your Scientic Literacy quiz:

The Internet Infidels Test of Scientific Literacy
Answer each question with 'true' if what the sentence most normally means is typically true and 'false' if it is typically false.

1. Scientists usually expect an experiment to turn out a certain way.
2. Science only produces tentative conclusions that can change.
3. Science has one uniform way of conducting research called “the scientific method.”
4. Scientific theories are explanations and not facts.
5. When being scientific one must have faith only in what is justified by empirical evidence.
6. Science is just about the facts, not human interpretations of them.
7. To be scientific one must conduct experiments.
8. Scientific theories only change when new information becomes available.
9. Scientists manipulate their experiments to produce particular results.
10. Science proves facts true in a way that is definitive and final.
11. An experiment can prove a theory true.
12. Science is partly based on beliefs, assumptions, and the nonobservable.
13. Imagination and creativity are used in all stages of scientific investigations.
14. Scientific theories are just ideas about how something works.
15. A scientific law is a theory that has been extensively and thoroughly confirmed.
16. Scientists’ education, background, opinions, disciplinary focus, and basic guiding assumptions and philosophies influence their perception and interpretation of the available data.
17. A scientific law will not change because it has been proven true.
18. An accepted scientific theory is an hypothesis that has been confirmed by considerable evidence and has endured all attempts to disprove it.
19. A scientific law describes relationships among observable phenomena but does not explain them.
20. Science relies on deduction (x entails y) more than induction (x implies y).
21. Scientists invent explanations, models or theoretical entities.
22. Scientists construct theories to guide further research.
23. Scientists accept the existence of theoretical entities that have never been directly observed.
24. Scientific laws are absolute or certain.

Answer Key:
After each correct answer [(T)rue or (F)alse] is a number in parentheses that identifies the point of discussion below that explains the answers.

1. T 9. T 17. F
2. T 10. F 18. T
3. F 11. F 19. T
4. T 12. T 20. F
5. T 13. T 21. T
6. F 14. F 22. T
7. F 15. F 23. T
8. F 16. T 24. F

There's some quite good and fair explanation of these anwers here.


Fred said...

Not bad. I wonder, however, what the literacy rate might be for accomplished individual scientists.

Jenny said...

Well, I would consider myself an accomplished individual scientist, and I scored a C. I think they have an overly narrow idea of experiment. They even flat out say that geologists don't do experiments! No way, Jose! What do you think I've been doing the last 4 years!?! (sorry, rant over) I have some serious quibbles with the language used in some of the statements. The explanations are pretty good. I'm probably overthinking the questions (as scientists are wont to do).

Darwin said...

To be honest, I didn't exactly take the test, I was reading the questions and then checking their answers to see where they were coming from. I'm dead sure I would have got several questions "wrong" because of differences over vocabulary.

I did especially like some of their stuff on how there isn't one scientific method, the difference between a law and a theory (I don't know how many people I've run into who think a law is a theory that's been "proved"), and also their point that a theory to a certain extent involves a creative gloss that makes sense of known data (and thus that there's more to science than "just the facts").

Jenny said...

Chesterton said "The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions." I think that's a perfect description of what science is about. I just read the quote yesterday, but I'm going to use it with my students since we've been talking a lot about serparation observation from interpretation.