- Published on Sunday, 15 November 2009 00:24
- Written by John Draper
- Hits: 2864
What is the Scientific Method
The starting point is a phenomenon that you want to describe. You then hypothesize (make a hypothesis) that proposes a possible mathematical , physical or other model that might explain it. Assuming that the hypothesis is true, you make some predictions that are different to the initial data and that might be found. For example, Einstein’s general theory of relativity started as a hypothesis and predicted that light would bend when passing close to the sun. He had not observed that when proposing the hypothesis.
Then experiments are proposed to test the hypothesis. This implies that it must be possible to show that the hypothesis was not true – that is, it was falsifiable. But if the test is passed, then that shows that the hypothesis could be true although it’s not proof that it is.
The next step is to find additional predicted results and test for those. Again, if these tests are passed, then that shows that the hypothesis could be true although it’s still not proof that it is.
The tests (experiments) must be repeated by others to be sure that one individual did not overlook something.
Once the hypothesis is tested repeatedly and always passes, then it becomes a theory. Sometimes, scientists will initially call their proposal a theory but it still must go through the hypothesis testing stage before it becomes accepted.
Apply the scientific method to the existence of God
Let’s start with the hypothesis that God exists - that’s a personal god, not just a higher power. This will have consequences – that is, we can predict things from the hypothesis.
Then look for these consequences in objective observations of the world around us. It will probably need several variations on the hypothesis (models) to cover all the various versions of God (Fundamentalist Christian, Moderate Christian, Muslim etc). Then take the specific attributes and test them empirically. That is, if a God with such attributes exists, certain phenomena should be observable. Any failure to pass a specific test will be regarded as a failure of that particular model. Furthermore, if the actual observations are as expected in the absence of the specified deity, then this can be taken as an additional mark against his existence.
Where a failure occurs, the argument may be made that a hidden God still may exist. While this is a logically correct statement, history and common experience provide many examples where, ultimately, absence of evidence became evidence of absence. Generally speaking, when we have no evidence or other reason for believing in some entity, then we can be pretty sure that entity does not exist. We have no evidence for Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman, and the Loch Ness Monster, so we do not believe they exist. If we have no evidence or other reason for believing in God, then we can be pretty sure that Cod does not exist.
Note that the scientific method has several characteristics that are not understood by Creationists and others.
- All experiments must be repeatable – something that happens once may be interesting but proves nothing.
- And contrary to the cartoon at top-right - the scientific method is way more complex than thinking up conclusions from observed facts. However, the supposed conclusions written down in a book (like Genesis in the bible) are totally irrelevant. You must start at the beginning, not the end.
- It must be possible to predict things from the theory otherwise it is useless and a waste of time. For example, Einstein’s special theory of relativity predicted atomic power and many other behaviours of atomic particles.
- There is no such thing as an opinion or consensus that supports a theory. The tests and observations must not be subjective and must be verifiable.
- There is always the possibility that there is another theory that is perhaps broader that would result in the same predictions and pass the same tests. For example, Quantum theory and the General Theory of Relativity can both satisfactorily explain the behavior of electromagnetic radiation like light.
- A theory is always subject to being proved wrong but that does not mean it is wrong. If a theory has been tested many times and found to be sound, then we can live with the assumption that it is true. Nothing in science is 100% proved. And negatives can never be absolutely proved. Many times a theory is correct for practical purposes but fails in extreme cases. For example, Newton’s laws of Gravitation etc fail when speeds are close to the speed of light. But we can still use his math for everyday use.
Update November 27, 2009
If you prefer videos, here is one that explains the Scientific Method:
Update Dec 2, 2009
Here is another, simpler explanation of the hypothesis used in science
The white swan thought experiment
This refers to the principle that a hypothesis cannot be proven correct; it can only be falsified or proven incorrect. This principle is best illustrated by philosopher Karl Popper's white swan thought experiment. It goes like this:
If you see a large group of white swans, you may be tempted to hypothesize that all swans are white. But you cannot prove this hypothesis. No matter how many white swans you count, there always remains the possibility of a black swan lurking out there. And looking for black swans is a fundamental principle of the scientific method.
Scientists or proposers of an hypotheses must make an effort to disprove their own hypothesis .