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History of Science

Kirk Dunston on Uncritical Faith in Science

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Many people today regard 21st-century science as a shining, monolithic spire of truth rising above the landscape of human ignorance and superstition. As a result, I often talk with people who fully apply all their critical thinking skills, and their full Internet-scouring abilities, to see if they can discover a weak link in evidence for the truth of Christian beliefs, but who have a complete, unquestioning faith in science. … As a scientist, I am increasingly appalled and even shocked at what passes for science. It has become a mix of good science, bad science, creative story-telling, science fiction, scientism (atheism dressed up as science), citation-bias, huge media announcements followed by quiet retractions, massaging the data, exaggeration for funding purposes, and outright fraud all rolled up together. In some disciplines, the problem has become so rampant that the “good science” part is drowning in a mess of everything else. ¶ To distinguish between good science and the other rubbish in 21st-century “science,” one must first understand what constitutes good science. Good science, properly practiced, requires very little faith and can be trusted insofar as we can trust anything that human beings try to do well.

Yuval Noah Harari on What Drives Science

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In academic circles, many are naive enough to believe in pure science. They believe that government and business altruistically give them money to pursue whatever research projects strike their fancy. But this hardly describes the realities of science funding. ¶ Most scientific studies are funded because somebody believes they can help attain some political, economic or religious goal. For example, in the sixteenth century, kings and bankers channelled enormous resources to finance geographical expeditions around the world but not a penny for studying child psychology. This is because kings and bankers surmised that the discovery of new geographical knowledge would enable them to conquer new lands and set up trade empires, whereas they couldn’t see any profit in understanding child psychology.

Noah J. Efron on Opposing Narratives of Science and Religion

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A Newtonian might put it this way: for every myth there is an equal and opposite myth. Consider popular accounts of Christianity’s relations to science. Everyone is familiar with the myth that popes, bishops, priests, ministers, and pastors all saw it as a sacred duty to silence scientists, stymie their inquiries, and stifle their innovations. Lately, a new account of Christianity’s link to science has been put forth, opposite in attitude to the first but equally bold and, in the end, equally wrong. In this account, not only did Christianity not quash science, but it and it alone gave birth to modern science and nurtured it to maturity. And the world is a far better place for it.

Darwin’s Doubt

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When Charles Darwin finished The Origin of Species, he thought that he had explained every clue, but one. Though his theory could explain many facts, Darwin knew that there was a significant event in the history of life that his theory did not explain. During this event, the “Cambrian explosion,” many animals suddenly appeared in the fossil record without apparent ancestors in earlier layers of rock.  In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen C. Meyer tells the story of the mystery surrounding this explosion of animal life—a mystery that has intensified, not only because the expected ancestors of these animals have not been found, but because scientists have learned more about what it takes to construct an animal. During the last half century, biologists have come to appreciate the central importance of biological information—stored in DNA and elsewhere in cells—to building animal forms. Expanding on the compelling case he presented in his last book, Signature in the Cell, Meyer argues that the origin of this information, as well as other mysterious features of the Cambrian event, are best explained by intelligent design, rather than purely undirected evolutionary processes.

Dennis R. Danielson on Copernicus and Scientific Superiority

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In the hands of some, the myth of earth’s dethronement appears more than a mere anachronism or disinterested misunderstanding. For when Fontanelle and his successors tell the tale, they are openly “very well pleased” with the demotion they read into the accomplishment of Copernicus. But a trick of this supposed dethronement is that, while purportedly rendering “Man” less cosmically and metaphysically important, it actually enthrones us modern “scientific” humans in all our enlightened superiority. And often it insinuates, without warrant, that scientific advance is inevitably accompanied by an abandonment of the quest — a quest that may encompass what is sometimes called religion — to grasp humankind’s possible purpose or significance within the universe as a whole. By equating anthropocentrism with the now plainly untenable geocentrism, such modern ideology dismisses as nugatory or naïve the legitimate and still-open question about the role that earth and its inhabitants may play in the dance of the stars. Instead it offers, if anything at all, a role that is cast in exclusively existential or Promethean terms, with humankind lifting itself up by its own bootstraps and heroically, though in the end pointlessly, defying the universal silence.

Scott D. Sampson on Interpretive Paleontology

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The bones were the same, nothing had changed. But people started to look at the dinosaurs differently. Same fossils. New ideas… People keep forgetting that paleontologists are really limited. We have a bunch of bones and teeth — for the most part — to work with. So really it’s the ideas that drive the science. The ideas, of course, are driven by the biases of that particular moment. So we went from a lizard bias to a bird bias, and now the pendulum is actually swinging, once again, back to the middle.

Michael Crichton on Scientific Consensus

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I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had. Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period… I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E=mc2. Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way…

Pearcey and Thaxton on Scientists’ De Facto Realism

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The majority [of scientists] continue to be naive realists, blithely assuming that science yields reliable facts. And given that the number of working scientists far exceeds the number of science historians, that makes realism the dominant view in science today. It is a view, moreover, that appears to be buttressed by the everyday experience of the bountiful practical benefits of science. When science works so well, it is difficult not to conclude that it bears at least some
relation to a world that really exists.

Pearcey and Thaxton on Tendentious Science Histories

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In The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers Carl Becker argues that histories written in the eighteenth century were designed with one purpose in mind — to discredit Christianity. Enlightenment philosophers knew they were engaged in a cultural battle for people’s hearts and minds. In Becker’s words, they felt themselves “engaged in a life-and-death struggle with Christian philosophy and the infamous things that support it — superstition, intolerance, tyranny.” Their historical accounts were intended as weapons in the struggle. ¶ These histories would generally open with the Greco-Roman world, praised as a golden age of reason; move to the Middle Ages, denounced as a dreary period of ignorance and oppression, and end with the contemporary age, the Enlightenment, heralded as a revival of ancient wisdom and rationality. Clearly, this was no attempt at objective, fact-base history.

Phillip E. Johnson on Darwinists Craving to Be Right

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Darwinists took the wrong view of science because they were infected with the craving to be right. Their scientific colleagues have allowed them to get away with pseudoscientific practices primarily because most scientists do not understand that there is a difference between the scientific method of inquiry, as articulated by Popper, and the philosophical program of scientific naturalism. One reason that they are not inclined to recognize the difference is that they fear the growth of religious fanaticism if the power of naturalistic philosophy is weakened. But whenever science is enlisted in some other cause — religious, political, or racialistic — the result is always that the scientists themselves become fanatics. Scientists see this clearly when they think about the mistakes of their predecessors, but they find it hard to believe that their colleagues could be making the same mistakes today.

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

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This is the book where Popper first introduced his famous "solution" to the problem of induction. Originally publish in German in 1934, this version is Popper’s own English translation undertaken in the 1950s. It should go without saying that the book is a classic in philosophic epistemology — perhaps the most important such work to appear since Hume’s "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding." Popper argues that scientific theories can never be proven, merely tested and corroborated. Scientific inquiry is distinguished from all other types of investigation by its testability, or, as Popper put, by the falsifiability of its theories. Unfalsifiable theories are unscientific precisely because they cannot be tested. ~ Greg Nyquist at Amazon.com