A Few Thoughts on Science

I recently bought Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith, and the Search for Order, by George Johnson. I’ve only just started reading it – I’m only a dozen or so pages in. and so far it is quite enjoyable, well-written, engaging, somewhat in the vein of Timothy Ferris’ books like Coming of Age in the Milky Way and Seeing in the Dark. The introduction, however, contained a couple interesting passages:

‘There are two opposing ways to view the scientific enterprise. Almost all science books, popular and unpopular, are written on the assumption that there actually are laws of the universe out there, like veins of gold, and that scientists are miners extracting the ore. We are presented with an image of adventurous explorers uncovering Truth with a capital T. But science can also be seen as a construction, a man-made edifice that is historical, not timeless – one of many alternative ways of carving up the world.’ (p. 5)

So what we have here are two theories of science – discovery and creation. I actually wasn’t aware of such a debate in science, but apparently there is. But at any rate, it seems to me that to posit a dichotomy between doesn’t make much sense – it makes perfect sense to me to think of science as both a process of discovery and one of creation/creativity. Actually, it seems to me that unless one takes this view, one ends up with some a pretty deficient view of science. Humans are creative beings – a central theme of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is that because we are made in the image of God, who is a creator god, we are also in a sense creators. It would make sense, then, that there is a definite creative element in the process of science – the greatest minds in science have been the most creative (one thinks of minds like Planck, Einstein, Galileo, etc, etc). But this view doesn’t necessarily entail any kind of theism – one can note and praise the brilliant creativity in science whether or not one holds a belief in God.

Science as discovery also seems to me to be a pretty fundamental aspect of science – the discovery of the laws of nature, specifically. Recently, however, there have been attacks and criticisms of this view, that there aren’t laws of nature. This, I’m afraid, seems to be pretty incoherent, for reasons I’ve gone over before here.

But at any rate, to separate the discovery aspect (discovering the laws of nature, etc, etc) of science from the creative part of science (various quantum mechanical models, developments of mathematics, etc) is just silly.  How can there be a coherent, unified process of science if either of the two aspects required to harmonize the process are turned into the process itself?


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