Science speaks well, but not the final wordPublished 11:34am Monday, January 16, 2012
We live in a scientific world and flourish because of science. From physics to biology to psychiatry to medical technology, we live better because of scientific understanding and procedures. We are, then, tempted to think there is nothing science cannot know eventually. However science does not have the final word, and the reason is science does not have the first word.
Science is committed to — but also limited by — empirical observation of particulars from which scientists induct toward the final word of existence. That final word, not reached, is the grand universal of reality, both material and spiritual.
There are two methods of reasoning, i.e., inductive and deductive.
The former begins with particulars and inducts (builds upon) to universals (what are always facts, everywhere). The latter begins with universals and deducts (reduces to) particulars. However, inductive reasoning cannot reach a universal, because all particulars cannot be known, either because we cannot find them or we cannot know if we have found them. Moreover, past particulars can no longer be observed and future particulars cannot yet be observed.
Because inductive reasoning — the methodology of science — cannot reach certainty, all it can approximate is probability, and this in varying degrees of probability. Sometimes the probability is so strong, it can be treated as if certain but, nonetheless, it is not certain.
Science in the modern sense was conceived to learn by empirical (using the physical senses) observation of material particulars. It proceeds from one particular to another and keeps adding particulars and learning more about them and getting a more adequate sense of what might be the universal. Science is limited to particulars and probability of universals.
Science wisely does not claim certainty but probability, and scientific investigation is predicated upon the theory of probability. When an individual scientist claims more, he leaves science and ventures into speculative philosophy.
We now understand, for instance, that the earth rotates around the sun so that the sun appears, to our line of sight, in the east and disappears in the west. The first time someone made and recorded this observation, humans observed one particular. So far as we know and can now conceive, the same phenomenon has recurred every day in history and we have reasonable expectancy it will recur every day for the rest of time. This is inductive reasoning, which yields probability but not certainty (however satisfied we all are with this degree of probability).
It did not require a scientist to formulate this hypothesis; what science contributed to our understanding is that the sun appears to appear in the east and set in the west, because the earth rotates around the sun (which neither appears nor disappears). But, adhering to the logic of inductive reasoning, we cannot be certain of this. Science has not, nor will it ever, reach the universal principle that this occurs necessarily. The particular of tomorrow is not yet observed, and we have no empirical evidence that it will.
Now, you and I feel certain because we accept confidently this extremely high probability as if it were certain. Even when an astronomer states this, he does so as an ordinary person using common sense. Again, astronomy is incapable of asserting this as a universal principle, because the hypothesis was formulated inductively.
The inductive scientific methodology does not have the final word, because it has not yet observed the final particular so as to formulate the universal with all particulars in. Yet more significant is the fact science does not have the first word. No scientist observed the very first particular of existence. Whatever science has demonstrated about development or even evolution, it does not account for the first particular of existence, because no one was here to observe it and induct upon it.
Listen with respect to what scientists tell us they observe, and take seriously what they say about its meaning. But understand science does not yield certainty because it cannot. It does not speak the final word, because it does not hear the first word.