Originally posted by Chris Cuilla
So, my question is, what is wrong with this definition of science[?]
The agenda behind it?
Actually, there's nothing wrong with the definition depending on what you mean by "adequate". There's also no need to change the old definition, depending on what you mean by "natural".
In the broadest sense of the word "natural", there is nothing which is not natural. Should anything worthy of the label "deity" exist, then a deity is a natural thing. The distinction made by the word "supernatural" merely expresses the concept of something which lies outside the limits of our understanding of nature, not the idea of something actually existing outside of nature. This is not as close-minded some might take it sound, merely a reflection of a simple tautology that to exist is to be a part of nature.
Before getting to what's "adequate", there's a common attack on the practice of science that I'd like to mention, which goes something like this: Let us assume for the moment that there exists some entity akin to the Biblical God, or some other Powerful Intelligent Entity (PIE?
), and that this Entity is indeed responsible for creating life and the universe as we know it.
Isn't it terribly unscientific to simply, flatly rule out that which could be true? If the above is true, how could science ever find its way to this truth?
Perhaps one answer (which should make at least some religiously inclined folk happy to contemplate) would be that some truths are simply beyond science. Science may have inherent limits. Of course, it does not
automatically follow that whatever science can't discover, religion or spirituality can. Some knowledge may simply be beyond human reach.
The main conflict, however, between science and so-called supernatural explanations is not that they are flatly ruled out simply for being supernatural, but that those supernatural explanations which are typically offered are inadequate
as scientific theories.
The best measure of adequacy in science is certainly not
how many questions a theory can be used to answer. It is far better to answer a limited range of questions well than to answer many questions generically. When the subject is evolution, I've quite often seen evolution's detractors hold up every single question unanswered by evolution, every single mystery, as a strike against evolution, presumably thinking that because "God did it", or "that's how God wants it to be" can be used by these detractors as an answers to any unknown makes those explanations somehow better.
An adequate scientific theory also has to do more than simply label a phenomenon. It need not explain a phenomenon entirely, but it has to give you something more than you had without the theory. If Newton had merely said "Gravity is that which holds the planets in their orbits" he'd not have contributed much to science. With nothing more said, "gravity" could merely be a synonym for the old "crystalline spheres". Our ability to predict the positions of the planets would not have moved forward a bit.
But Newton did go further. He defined gravity as an attractive force between all objects, and provided a quantitative description of this force, in the form of the equation F = GMm/(r^2). Suddenly, not only did the movements of the planets make much more sense, but they were much more predictable. Even more, completely different phenomena, like how apples fall from trees, could be seen, measured, and experimentally proven to be expressions of the same law of gravity.
Suppose, however, Newton instead had said that the movements of the planets were due to a Giant Invisible Hedgehog (GIH). The planets move as they do because the GIH wants them to move that way. Apples fall from trees because the GIH has declared it so. The sky is blue and grass is green because the GIH thinks that's pretty. Wow! The GIH explains everything gravity explains... and more!
Of course, the GIH theory doesn't help you explain the movements of the planets any better than you could before you learned of his Furry Greatness. Well, perhaps Newton could say that the GIH has declared that there is an attractive force between the planets defined by F = GMm/(r^2). Oh, and the GIH says this force works on apples too. So, now we have a theory that gives us all of the advantages of the simple gravity theory, explains the color of the sky and grass too, and as a bonus will give many generations of schoolchildren something to draw, trying to imagine what the GIH looks like... apart from being invisible, or course.
Most scientists, however, spoil sports such that they are, will start asking impertinent questions like: "Why a hedgehog, and not a zebra or an artichoke or an unemployed chimney sweep?" "How do you know the GIH is invisible? Could he just be good at hiding?" "Why does the GIH favor blue skies and green grass?" "Why not just leave it at that F = GMm/(r^2), and leave out the hedgehog thing? The sky and grass color stuff is pretty feeble anyway, don't you think?"
Aside from the usual important standards of being testable and supported by evidence, a good scientific theory can be said to:
- Do more than simply give a name to a known phenomena.
- Do more than replace one unknown with another unknown.
- Be limited and focused in the types of questions it answers.
- Tell you something that you didn't know before.
- Contain no extraneous details which do not derive from the supporting data, nor which do not add to the explanatory or predictive value of the theory.
Here is where supernatural explanations typically show so little promise that they don't merit serious consideration. If Biblically-literal so-called scientific creationism is what you're trying to pass off as science, the sad fact is that, for scientific purposes, there's little to distinguish the Biblical God from the GIH. How does God having a son named Jesus help explain dinosaur fossils? What does appearing to Moses in a burning bush have to do with vestigial leg bones in whales? The Biblical God carries too much extraneous baggage to be pertinent to the problems scientists try to answer. The Biblical God can be used to answer too many questions too generically.
As for Intelligent Design, the problem is this: Reduce the concept of an Intelligent Designer down to only that part which could possibly apply to questions of biological or cosmological origins, and what do you have left? Certainly not anything that looks like the Biblical God -- no Moses, no Jesus, no burning bushes there at all, except by wishful thinking. You in fact don't have anything left which can be distinguished from an alien race or a Primordial Robot or a GIH.
The only question the existence of a Designer can be used to answer is "where did all this amazing, complex stuff come from", and the only definition left for this Designer when extraneous detail is stripped away is "the source of unknown amazing complexity". In other words, the Designer merely becomes a label to place on the unknown, and nothing more.