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Scientific method

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The scientific method is the methodology of the philosophy of empiricism that produces technical peer-reviewed research detailing observations by way of experimentation attempting to find patterns of predictability in nature. These patterns are interpreted by scientists and then a coherent hypothesis can be found. Regardless of the philosophical presuppositions an individual holds toward the origin of life specifically or reality generally, if strict adherence to the scientific method is maintained empirical evidence will be produced.

A method of procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.[1]

Contents

Cannot be used to Prove a Truth

An important factor is that the scientific method cannot be used to prove anything, only disprove or falsify[2]. In addition, many things are already outside the capacity of the scientific method to address at all[3]. Interestingly, if the scientific method is so exceptional at disproving, the public should "expect" a high level of quality arriving from the scientific community. Instead, fraud is at record levels, especially in biomedicine[4].

Methodology

Scientific Method flowchart

The scientific method employs several steps which form a coherent set of propositions that explain a class of phenomena. The six listed below are present in all scientific endeavors. Further experimentation is conducted using acceptable scientific standards in a lab with the findings published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. If the natural phenomena becomes reproducible under specific conditions no matter how many times tested, classification of a scientific law is then considered.

The scientific method consists of the following steps:

  1. Observe some aspect of the universe or natural world.
  2. Define the aspect through a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
  3. Use the hypothesis to then predict, or essentially form experiments that compare what you predicted through a hypothesis and what actually happens.
  4. Test those predictions by repeated experimentation for further observation.
  5. Modify the hypothesis in light of the results.
  6. Repeat steps four and five until there are no discrepancies between hypothesis, prediction and observation. [5]

Circular Reasoning

The Scientific Method is subject to circular reasoning if the observer is not diligent in balancing prediction and observation. For example, if a scientist "throws out" all observations that disagree with the hypothesis (selective recording) this may result in skewed results or even fraud. Especially in biomedicine, scientific fraud is at an all-time high[6]

Even secular scientists suggest that the peer review process be engaged even earlier to increase the accountability of the researchers toward the original hypothesis. However, with enormous amounts of research funding hanging in-the-balance, the primary accountability protocols need to be much broader to guard against greed, politics and larceny, subject areas that have rarely been a part of scientific research discussions until recent years.

Observation

The scientist observes something interesting, and he wants to know how it happened. He lays down the basic questions as to what is responsible for the phenomena he observed, and from there begins to form his hypothesis.

In asking these questions scientists also look for research that has already been done on their topic to determine if they are duplicating a past experiment, doing something new, or building on a previous experiment. Such research, although tedious and time-consuming, simply builds on the knowledge yet to be gained by the scientist’s questions.

This particular area is why the scientific method is problematic for historical claims such as million-of-years-old artifacts. The scientific method has no capacity to prove such claims and is unable to observe or repeat them for measurement. Thus they are matters of faith. The scientific method is very useful to disprove such claims and has been used very effectively in this area. Abundant evidence, research and study can now handily disprove the notion of an old Earth and Cosmos, and can dismantle the claims and predictions of evolution in a systematic and definitive manner. Secularists deny that this is the case. As expected, neither side will relent with the other because the final analysis is determined by whomever interprets the observation. As all observations are open to interpretation, the secularists will interpret within their worldview and the creationists will interpret within theirs. The interested observer is then charged with drawing their own conclusions.

Hypothesis

Main Article: Hypothesis

A hypothesis is a statement of what the researcher thinks will happen in the experiment. Basically a “guess”, the hypothesis must be observable and testable. An hypothesis may become a theory when substantiated by experimentation and supporting data.

Experiment

When designing the experiment, the researcher carefully controls as many variables as possible. In most experiments there is a control group and a treatment group. The two groups are as similar as possible, but the treatment group is the one that experiences the variable as to what the researcher is studying.

Knowledge of the specific research will deepen and constants within nature can be defined. Experiments should be designed to answer many aspects of the hypothesis and lead to a pattern that provides a theory with great explanatory power for the observation.

A primary consideration of designing the experiment is the artificial nature of the construct. For example, the Miller-Urey experiment attempted to provide evidence for the spontaneous origin of life. However, the apparatus was constructed to enforce the assumptions of the observers, including the control of important conditions and results that would be unavailable in the natural world. When attempting to support the evolutionary narrative, scientists have extraordinary difficulty in avoiding imposing their presuppositions upon the experimental protocols, resulting in circular reasoning.

Conclusion

After the data are analyzed and written down, the scientist checks the results against the hypothesis; if the results have proven the hypothesis to be wrong, then it must be discarded. Even if the hypothesis is not correct, conclusions can still be made and significant knowledge gained. If the hypothesis is indicated to be correct, then the results are published and sent to other scientists within the field in question.

Scientists must be able to take such published data and repeat the experiment. This not only confirms the validity of the original hypothesis, but advances it to the level of a “theory”, which in science means an interpretation or explanation of a hypothesis that is well-supported by evidence which is tested and testable. A theory can also be falsified by evidence as well. The level of a “fact” or “law” is simply that which is empirical, and cannot be proven wrong.

A classic example of the Scientific Method being used stemmed from a simple bet. In 1872 a railroad baron named Leland Stanford made a wager that a horse’s hooves do not touch the ground at some point in a gallop. To test the hypothesis, photographer Eadweard Muybridge [7] was hired; he installed a series of trip wires which were rigged from a long wall about two inches from the ground, each one tied to a camera’s shutter facing the wall; the experiment called for the horse to run past the wall, tripping the wires and getting a photo at each point. The results were factual and conclusive: a horse at a running gallop does have all four hooves off the ground.

The agreement of an observation or experiment with a hypothesis does not on its own prove the hypothesis correct. It merely makes its correctness more likely. The hypothesis must agree with other aspects of the scientific framework of knowledge, and survive the test of repeated experiments by other people working independently. Over time, the accumulation of data will tend to confirm or refute a hypothesis.

The vast majority of "science" reported in the media is not the actual observations or the facts, but their interpretations. When the interpretations are repeated often enough, they begin to sound like facts and many researchers begin to use them as factual starting assumptions. In evolutionary terms, Thomas Huxley was approached by carp fishermen to enforce some constraints on over-fishing of carp. Huxley's response was that the carp will evolve into a stronger, more resistant form, so not to worry. The carp never evolved and even today their population is at an all-time low. Further applying Huxley's presuppositions to global warming, the primary concern is the rise of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere. Wouldn't Huxley simply claim that humans will naturally adapt to higher levels?

Philosophy of science

Main Article: Philosophy of science

Philosophy of science is the investigation into the concepts, methods, principles and ideas by which science operates.[8] Natural science operates most often by presupposing a particular philosophy but that should not be the case. Science is primarily a practical discipline; its standard is utility or "whatever works". It is only when science is asserted as justifiably true and the only rational authority for knowledge that it becomes philosophical, or epistemological, and more specifically can be called scientism. It then competes with other philosophies, something which natural scientists like biologists should be and write like they are reluctant to do.

Philosophy of science serves the following purposes:

  • It helps in illuminating a definition of science to determine which realm of ideas are accessible, and which of these is "only religion" or "only philosophy;"
  • Develops criteria for determining which ideas are to be considered science, which are speculation, and which are false;
  • Develops more comprehensive ethics of scientific methods for experimentation and observation to advance science.

References

  1. Scientific Method Google Online Dictionary definition
  2. http://rabtessera.blogspot.com/2011/06/dr-william-lane-craig-gives-5-things.html
  3. http://rabtessera.blogspot.com/2011/06/dr-william-lane-craig-gives-5-things.html
  4. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/an-epidemic-of-false-claims/
  5. Scientific Method steps Science Buddies
  6. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/an-epidemic-of-false-claims/
  7. Eadweard Muybridge American History
  8. Hilary Putnam on the Philosophy of Science: Section 1

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