Science: An Effective Method?

In this post on the CR blog, Lee Kelly draws a great analogy between the critical rationalist view of science and Darwinism, contrasted against the conventional, inductivist, view of science which is more analogous to Lamarckism, an obsolete theory:

“Scientific theories are like mutations. We do not need to specify a mechanical rule to create new theories, but merely standards of criticism (selection pressures) to subject them to: logical consistency, falsifiability, problem-solving potential, simplicity, explanatory power, and possibly others. The ecological niche we create for our theories should be one designed to weed out error and falsehood, irrationality and redundancy. Induction, concerned as it is with the origin or source of theories, serves no purpose in such a critical discourse.”

On Being an Absolute Skeptic

“Remorseless though the logic is, it is at this point that reasonable people dig their toes in. Can it be seriously maintained that present-day science is no more than a string of lucky (and unlucky) guesses, guesses that are no better than are those of ufology, dianetics, and similar unseemly bunkum? It is important to understand why this is not what is being maintained by critical rationalists. Scientific hypotheses are guesses, yes; these guesses are no better backed by observation and experiment, and have no more claim on our credulity, than have the (unrefuted) fancies of pseudoscientists, again yes. But science is more than the sum of its hypotheses, its observations, and its experiments. From the point of view of rationality, science is above all its method—essentially the critical method of searching for errors. It is the staunch devotion of science to this method that makes the difference. What is wrong with pseudoscience is the manner in which it handles its hypotheses, not normally the hypotheses themselves (though if they are designed to be unassailable and unfalsifiable, then unassailed and unfalsified they doubtless remain). But although a hypothesis that survives all criticism thrown at it is preferable to a hypothesis that dies, it does not become a better hypothesis through being tested. It may have been a better hypothesis from the outset, of course; it may be true. True hypotheses are what we seek.”

-David Miller

Absolute Skepticism



Rather than try to formulate it in my own amateur-ish way, the kind of philosophical skepticism I endorse is articulated masterfully by David Miller in this article which I think serves as a great introduction to critical rationalism – a generalization and progeny of Sir Karl Popper’s philosophy of falsificationism (often and mistakenly, in the views of CRists, understood to have been decisively refuted).