A friend on facebook asked me this question today: “can science yield truth”?

On a side note, it always makes me chuckle a little bit when theists ask philosophically deep questions like these. I mean, most of the time what I hear is  stuff like “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” It seems they’re only willing to really think when the end result could be disproving science. Oh well.

Anyway, I think it’s a relatively decent question.

First we have to think about what truth is. From what I gather, there are two ways to look at truth. The first way is in an abstract, “absolute” sense. I can’t give a perfect example, because this version of truth isn’t really accessible. You can say “I was born on May 3rd, 1956” but that is presuming that you are not just a brain hooked up to a vat, or that the universe didn’t pop into being 3 minutes ago, with your memories and all that simply put there, somehow.

The second way is the way in which we use the word “truth” in everyday language. This is basically “if we aren’t crazy, and the world is as we perceive it to be, what we accept as reflecting reality.”

At any rate, what I’m getting at is that when we talk about truth, we aren’t talking about “guaranteed, no possible way it is false” truth. We’re talking about “based on what we know” truth.

So, can science yield truth?

In a way, yeah. One thing you have to understand about science (and since you’re reading my blog, you probably already do…) is that science cannot prove something is true. It can only prove that something is not true.

An example: we proved the earth is not flat. The theory at that time was that the earth was spherical. However, that was just based upon the data we had at that time. Later, with better data, we found it wasn’t exactly spherical, either. (It is more accurately an oblate spheroid.) But think about this quote from Isaac Asimov:

“When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

Science is the best method we have to come closer to the truth. We gather facts about a process and then try to come up with a theory of how that process works, given the facts we observed.

Science uses truths. Facts are truths. But again, they are only truths in the sense that we all agree that what we see is what is actually there, a claim that isn’t completely supported by itself.

Science brings us closer to truth. Scientific theories describe, as far as we know, how the world works. Again quoting Asimov, “theories are not so much wrong as incomplete.”

And, for our reasonable definition of truth, scientific theories are truth. Science yields to us a framework that we can say reflects how the world actually is. It is independently verifiable, observable, and useful.

This is, of course, in contrast to the other option theists would put forward: theology. Based on speculation, hand-waving, appeals to authority, and popular opinion, to claim as theists often do that theology represents “guaranteed, no possible way it is false” is laughable at best.

The question should be, can you yield truth without science?

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

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