Whew! I barely escaped from Mr. Tingey’s scathing critique over at Vox’s Luddite Lawn Party. No, not really. He was only shooting paintballs, because he had no real ammunition.
It is still not clear exactly what science is: a method, an institution, a body of knowledge, or simply an attitude of skepticism. Tingey provided his own simplification, which you can find in the comments by searching:
And it is possible to define it – Prof Myers did, and so did I. A very ordered collection of facts, giving explanations for underlying causes to events and observed phenomena.
Of course, science is not very ordered, does not routinely provide explanations for underlying causes, and does routinely deal with “events” that have not occurred and with phenomena that have not been observed.
I am amenable to qualifications concerning the claim of order, but the history of science shows that every attempt to impose order on scientific knowledge results in either (a) massive, untestable generalizations or (b) subsequent disproval and obsolescence.
What is Truth?
Because of the provisional nature of scientific knowledge, impelled by the skepticism that PZ’s lackeys consider essential to the scientific worldview, no scientific explanation is ever absolutely true. Without a claim of absolute truth, no scientific explanation can provide an absolute falsification of any other claim.
First of all, the factuality of any particular datum is the topic of tedious argument in every field of empirical inquiry. Anyone who has ever tried to maintain proper calibration of an instrument, or who has ever been tasked with critiquing the work of another researcher, knows this to be true. Every datapoint must be qualified with respect to precision and accuracy of measurement.
After measurement, the reporting of data, or more likely the discounting of anomalous data, must be accounted for. Then there is the interpretation of accepted data and the attempt to fit it into the context of all other related research, while discarding some research as unrelated or flawed. A theory must be chosen to account for all observed behavior, and competing theories must be dismissed as irrelevant. The final conclusion is hung out to dry, ready for other researchers to use for target practice.
What is “truth”? We will not learn this from the scientist, who persistently ignores every factor he cannot account for or measure with sufficient precision and accuracy. Moreover, any factor which remains unchanged throughout the experiment has no bearing on observed changes in data; therefore, the scientist has nothing interesting to say about anything in the background or anything serving as a control. Finally, every study ends with a presumption that the conclusion will eventually be challenged; that is, the researcher assumes that his conclusion is not necessarily true in every case outside of his experiment.
Thus far I have examined only experimental scientific inquiry. Any scientific inquiry regarding theoretical constructs, past unobserved events, “black box” variables, or untestable phenomena is even further from any possible claim of empirical “truth.” For example, multidimensional strings are theoretical constructs; the beginning of life is a past unobserved event; the human mind is a “black box”; and the evolution of humans from nonhuman primates is untestable.
Furthermore, any inquiry that does not follow the proper methodology would be rejected out of hand by a modern scientist. Thus it is disingenuous, or simply dishonest, to equate modern scientific results with any inquiry in the past suffering from defects in precision, accuracy, documentation, control of variables, or any other factor of methodology.
True Until Proven False?
Most scientific conclusions in the past, and many nonscientific statements about the universe, have been subsequently disproven. Even if the pertinent observations were actualities, the derived explanations were found later to be wrong, at least in part. So, at the point in time the explanation was first offered, it may well have been as true as it could possibly be. However, the explanation probably did not account for all observed phenomena, and certainly not for all unobserved phenomena; such that new observations necessitated a new explanation.
Here’s the crucial point: Was the old explanation true or not? In retrospect, one can say it was not true. In fact, it was never true, because the later explanation is more valid retroactively, to when the old explanation was accepted.
But the majority of those who cared about the old explanation thought it was true, and their logic was impeccable, so they felt justified in making grandiose statements about knowing “the secrets of the universe” and “the secret of life,” and calling every freethinker an irrational, uneducated, misanthropic dolt. Such miscreants were deemed unworthy of any ethical or political consideration, being too stupid to accept the obvious truth of the matter . . . the truth that was later found to be false.
This is the folly of generalizing from limited empirical data, and bewitching the superstitious parasites of public opinion (journalists, commentators, and bloggers) into clamoring for the denigration of everyone who opposes a particular scientific conclusion, even though the chatterati understand almost nothing about science. All that the semiliterate science leeches understand is how to proof-text science, how to find in it what they need to justify their precognitive political prejudices.