Sunday, June 19, 2011

Science and truth: Couldn't have said it better myself.

This comment was posted by commenter Johan(tm) Strandberg in a discussion of a Richard Dawkins piece on preferential sex selection. Unlike numerous other Internet venues, on BoingBoing there's remarkably little Bible thumping and irrational sky gazing. Like numerous other Internet venues, though, there's a good bit of narrow or otherwise selective argumentation. Johan(tm) Strandberg makes some clear, well-considered points about science and its corollaries:

Science as a collective iterative process to get closer to The Truth. This goal is never attainable as such, but we can get arbitrarily close to it over time. Science in this sense is neutral and judgment free. In retrospect, it might also be wrong.

Scientific Investigations are not value neutral — although the best ones strive to be.

Applications of Science is by default to be considered biased and with selfish motives — but sometimes it rises above that. This should in no way reflect on the value of science itself, only on the entity who is [claiming to be] applying science. Sometimes the claimed use of science is based ignorance or other motives [e.g., homeopathy]. This should only reflect on the entity making the claim, not on Science itself.

You will never know for sure. The very essence of Science is that is a collective refinement over time. At best you later discover that some particular part of Science was wrong. However, once consensus — based on a large set of opinions — has been established, it is OK to assume that that particular piece of science is "true".

Get used to never knowing for sure, and be very suspicious of people claiming to be.

Nice use of simple typographic conventions to indicate distinctions among terms, too. I have long argued that science is the only way we'll get closer to understanding objective truth. The fact that I am convinced there's an objective truth at all is enough to make some people stop listening to me. (Eh, we all have our blind spots.) If someone wants to cling to subjective truth as an item of value, they're welcome to do so, just as long as they don't then try to make it into an objective truth through some fallacious appeal.

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