Saturday, February 26, 2011

On the Objectivity of Science

I think Bob's point has to be modified in certain ways, in that I think that science has the means to eventually correct its biases and mistakes over time. It is a human enterprise, subject to peer pressures and what not, but eventually it has the ability to snap out of its biases. Take, for example, the behaviorist phenomenon in psychology. I remember when I was an undergraduate that the entire psychology department at ASU was one big rat lab. Eventually this broke down, and now this period of the history of psychology is made fun of. But you would have been made fun of in those days if you thought behaviorism wasn't the wave of the future. Sometimes science gets out of a rut simply because the major figures keeping it in that rut die off.

In short, I would say that science has ways of moving in the direction of objectivity, but the wheels of the science gods may move more slowly than most people realize. Hence a strong apparent consensus in the scientific community may represent nothing more than a passing phase, not a guarantee that science has reached genuine certainty.

I'm not saying Bob would deny this. I do think what you have to say that science, as a intersubjective human enterprise, moves in the direction of objectivity, though it never achieves complete objectivity.

11 comments:

cl said...

Great point about behaviorism. What's that old saying, "science proceeds one funeral at a time?"

Steven said...

An immediate response that comes to mind is that the objectivity of science is only saved if those conditions which make typical hypothesis-creation and testing less than perfectly objective do not also obtain in those processes which allegedly make the enterprise more objective. If this is not so, if worries about objectivity would equally rise in the "objectifying processes", then the objectivity of science has not been saved.

Anonymous said...

Science is often wrong, having made mistake after mistake, but it is excused because it is said to be "self correcting". (And come to think of it, how would you ever know if the mistakes had been "corrected?)

The "scientific method" is often a hit or miss guessing game.

Anonymous said...

I think many of the misconceptions about the objectivity of science could be solved if more people read more history of science. Your internet science defenders insist that scientists are always trying to prove that their theories are false, and that they welcome data that disconfirms current theories. But historically, we know for a fact that this is not the case. Scientists are, if anything, more reluctant to give up the theories that were their mother's milk than people in other disciplines. This "tenacity" has often, ironically, been a boon to science, as it keeps scientists from giving up on theories too quickly and too easily. But still, we need to disabuse ourselves of the absurdly naive notion that scientists are people who would be happy to learn, on their 50th birthday, that their life's work had been one big lie. They're human beings. They'd put up as big a fight to avoid reaching that conclusion as the rest of us would.

I'd also point out that the extent to which the supposed "scientific method" can provide a hard limit as to how much a theory can be protected by determined adherents is being overstated. Objectively, logically, there is no limit to the extent to which a theory can be protected from disconfirmation. If you're willing to endlessly complicate your theory, you can save it from falsification forever. The limit is not objective, it's sociological. There comes a point at which your defense of a certain theory makes you unemployable within the scientific community, and that's the point at which the theory is no longer defended. Not because the evidence is overwhelming that your view is false, but because no one in the scientific community "takes that view seriously anymore."

Bilbo said...

Vic,

I think you would find the following article fascinating reading:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/12/13/101213fa_fact_lehrer?currentPage=all

Jim McCosh said...

We've addressed some of the issues surrounding scientism here

http://saintsandsceptics.blogspot.com/2011/02/can-science-save-world.html

The blog is a "dry run" for a Saints and Sceptics apologetics website and minsistry. The website should go online soon. We'd appreciate any thoughts, insight, comments, ideas, advice, and of course ,help

Jim

Jim McCosh said...

(The posts on the blog are dry runs for articles that will go to the web site. Once the site is up and running, posts will get much shorter)

Mike Darus said...

Is the claim of science that it is "objective" the same type of claim as Fox News' "Fair and Balanced?"

Gimli 4 the West said...

If scientific theories are refutable by additional evidence then every one of them can conceivably be a bunch of hogwash thrown together on incomplete data. It seems then that we have two choices, we can remain scientific agnostics forever waiting for additional data and never believing any current theory because in all likelihood they will be overturned or we just believe the current theories with a shrug and tell ourselves it’s the best we can do with what we know and what we know is enough to solve certain problems, invent a few devices, and make a few predictions.

All believers may die having accepted all the wrong theories and lived a lie as proved by later generations who were able set up more sensitive and sophisticated experiments and make more careful and repetitive observations. But, alas what can anyone do but make something akin to Pascal’s wager.

GREV said...

Something I posted elsewhere and if it tis foolish, please ignore:

I have a question ... may be entirely out to lunch. If it tis ... toss the comment.

Ran across this phrase in a PDF file on Logical Fallacies:

"logical reasoning is not an absolute law which governs the universe"

If science works on the process of evaluation of data and making logical inferences based on our observations. How do we then draw from this process of logical reasoning the right to make ultimate statements concerning the universe? Acting as if we have pronounced some form of absolute law that is based on our logical reasoning. Thinking of Carl Sagan's famous declaration.

If a foolish question just dispose of it. No offence to me at all.

GREV said...

Their belief in God, far from being a hindrance to their science, was often the main inspiration for it and they were not shy of saying so. The driving force behind Galileo's questing mind, for example, was his deep inner conviction that the Creator who had endowed us with senses, reason and intellect intended us not to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. Johannes Kepler described his motivation thus: “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” Such discovery, for Kepler, amounted, in his famous phrase, “to thinking God's thoughts after him.”
-- page 21 – God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? John Lennox