[Vision2020] nature of science; an anniversary

tbertruss at aol.com tbertruss at aol.com
Mon May 9 17:04:04 PDT 2005

Steve et. al.
I'm breaking my pledge to give up on this topic.  Steve's post is too tempting to resist.  Just one more post on this subject...
Steve wrote:
"The best you can ever
say about a scientific theory is that it has not yet been disproved."
The above statement cannot be proved.  You cannot prove there is not an eternal all powerful all knowing God that is indestructible that has set the universe up according to laws that human beings can discover via the methods of science, laws which are eternal and unchanging.  In fact many theologians argue that without God backing up unchanging laws of science and ethics, we are lost in an uncertain world with no foundation, and indeed they have a good point.  If this view of God and our universe is true, which is possible, we can say much more about a scientific theory than merely that is has not yet been disproved.
When I wrote that time dilation is a verified scientific fact, I was not stating that in the future the equation expressing time dilation could be contradicted by further fact gathering.  Of course it could.  The whole damn universe could suddenly turn on its head, with mass suddenly repelling other masses, causing human beings by the billions to suddenly fly off into the vacuum of space.  We have no absolute "proof" this will not happen.
This debate, if you wish to call it that, perhaps resulted from confusion over the use of the terms "fact" and "theory."  Facts are the details gathered to support or contradict the predictions of theories.  When I state that time dilation has been verified by scientific fact, this does not imply that the time dilation equations can be proved to be correct in all places and times in the universe or any number of possible universes.  It merely means that certain facts have been recorded that support the predictions of the time dilation equations.  These facts are recorded within the body of scientific fact gathering that the human race records, and can be researched.
Maybe we are all just events in the virtual reality of a vast unimaginably advanced super computer using neuronal processing located on another planet in another galaxy.  Then all our "facts" are in fact an illusion.  This "theory," which of course is laughable, is not very far away from the theory that all we experience is an idea in the mind of God.  
The brilliant philosopher George Berkeley postulated that the best way to make sense of our world is to assume everything we experience is an idea in the mind of God.  Bertrand Russell, one of the greatest thinkers of the last century, an avowed agnostic, admired Berkeley's arguments, suggesting that his critique of empiricism, which led Berkeley to his version of Idealism, deserves serious attention. 
Ted Moffett
-----Original Message-----
From: Stephen Cooke <scooke at uidaho.edu>
To: vision2020 at moscow.com
Sent: Mon, 09 May 2005 14:23:42 -0700
Subject: [Vision2020] nature of science; an anniversary

Dear Visionaries,
    Karl Popper has shown that theories in science cannot be proven but
only disproved.( Popper, K. R. The logic of scientific discovery. London ;
New York: Routledge, 1992.) Deductive ideas or theories are subjected to
inductive or empirical tests. Since there are conceivably an infinite number
of empirical tests and since any one of them could disprove a theory, a
theory can never be verified once and for all time. The best you can ever
say about a scientific theory is that it has not yet been disproved. This is
the falsification methodology of science as opposed to a verification
approach. The latter is often implied when mention is made of scientific
facts. Science doesn't work that way.
    You can see the mischief that is possible by those who would prefer
to discount science by preying on this subtle but important distinction in
the scientific method. For example, the "intelligent design" advocates of
the origin of life would equate a Book of Genesis idea that is not  testable
(and therefore not science at all) w/ Darwinian evolution that is not only
testable but has withstood countless tests and declare "these are just
theories, neither is proven, therefore both are equally possible." This is a
half true statement at best and misleading to say the least.
    On another note. This is the 10th anniversary of the Vision2020 list
service set up by Greg Brown in Spring 1995 if I am not mistaken. May the
conversation continue for another ten.
Steve Cooke 

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