Monday, March 11, 2013

Madness in the method

How does science work? How is science done?

Of course, a term like "science" is itself hard to pin down.

But leaving that aside, many people believe science is done solely, predominantly, optimally, or fundamentally through the scientific method.

In fact, some take hold of this idea (or something like it) to then use as part and parcel of their argument for metaphysical naturalism. For example, that's what happened in Steve's recent debate with an ex-Christian commenter named Ryan (1 | 2 | 3 | 4).

But is the traditional scientific method the only, main, best, or most essential way to discover "scientific" truths about nature or creation? By contrast, physicist Gregory N. Derry's chapter titled "A Bird's Eye View: The Many Routes to Scientific Discovery" (pdf) in his book What Science Is and How It Works presents other lines of inquiry.

Derry lists five different ways scientists have discovered new knowledge:

  1. Serendipity and Methodological Work: Roentgen's Discovery of X-rays
  2. Detailed Background and Dreamlike Vision: Kekulé's Discovery of the Structure of Benzene
  3. Idealized Models and Mathematical Calculations: The Discovery of Band Structure in Solids
  4. Exploration and Observation: Alexander von Humboldt and the Biogeography of Ecosystems
  5. The Hypothetico-Deductive Method: Edward Jenner and the Discovery of Smallpox Vaccine

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