What is science? I know this question cannot be satisfactorily summarised in one or two blog posts. But I will try my best to provide a brief, and thus probably inadequate, response. And my answer will draw upon the story of a young man who, in 1919, was incredibly intrigued by a solar eclipse.
But before I explore his story, I just want to highlight two things I initially observed when I started reading up on the whole evolution/creationism debate:
- At first, I was struck by a seemingly unsolvable dilemma: both sides of the debate claim to have 'scientific evidence' for their respective views. TalkOrigins has pages and pages of claimed evidence for evolution, so does Answers in Genesis for creationism. So how could I decide between the two?
- Creationists often argue that biological evolution is not scientific. This article, for example, argues that macroevolution cannot be scientific because it does not adequately meet the criteria of science (i.e., the criteria of experimentation and observation). Macroevolution cannot be observed, the argument goes; thus evolution is not science.
When I started reading up on the philosophy of science, I slowly realised two important things related to the points above: (1) that not all evidence is of equal quality, and (2) there is a lot more to science that creationists let on.
There is some debate, especially amongst philosophers of science, over what actually constitutes science. I will not cover all differing views (read here to find out more), but in the context of this series I will adopt a pragmatic view of science that most scientists are probably familiar with.
And one of the chief founders of this view was the young man I alluded to in the beginning of this post, a man whose answer – to the question of how one can determine if an idea is scientific or not – was inspired by astronomer Arthur Eddington's observations of the 1919 eclipse; observations that resulted in a confirmation of Einstein's general theory of relativity.
This man was Karl Popper, and I will cover his story in the next post . . .
Next post: 1.7 seconds of arc
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