Saturday, July 31, 2010

Consistency Among Disciplines

Everyday thousands of scientists around the globe perform experiments and observations of the natural realm. They note a certain condition, make (or allow) a change, then note the new condition. Many times, the same experiment or observation is conducted repeatedly to be certain the results of the first (second or third) were not just "flukes". Scientists combine many of these to come to conclusions about the natural realm. But what is it that allows these conclusions to hold any validity? They are based on experiments and observations, but what allows those to be trusted to reflect the natural realm?

Consistency In Nature
The entire scientific enterprise is based on one assumption: the natural realm is consistent. That means that in multiple instances when all conditions are the same, identical results will be produced. Experiments and observations are repeatable. You can be certain that if you perform the same experiment in the precise same way a second time, you will get the same results. If scientists were able to produce water from the combination of two hydrogen atoms with one oxygen atom in one experiment, then gold with the same ingredients in the second (then another substance third, and so on), they could conclude that this was not a consistent phenomena. Further, if scientists found that their experiments, when performed exactly the same way, produced different results without any consistency, they could conclude that the natural realm was not predictable, and investigation of it is futile.

The University
The very purpose of our universities is in the term. "University" literally means "unity in diversity". Recognizing the vast amount of knowledge in the vast number of areas of specialization, the original goal of the university was to find, not just commonality among the areas of knowledge, but complete unity. The university grants that a great diversity of disciplines exist, but unity exists among the disciplines at the same time.

The fact that consistency within the natural realm exists, dictates that all observations, experiments, and the following theories of all the disciplines in the scientific enterprise must be consistent with one another if they wish to be found accurate. In other words, science interprets science; the disciplines interpret the disciplines.

Interpretation is Required
What makes this difficult is that all observations and experiments require an interpretation. We already know that the natural realm itself won't contradict itself, but our interpretations might. If two interpretations of evidence from the natural realm conflict, both interpretations must be reevaluated in light of the rest of the evidence. In the end, the interpretation that matches the most evidence from the natural realm must be the one that is preferred.

Consistency Is Key
I'm talking about every discipline from cosmology to biology; from archeology to psychology; from astrophysics to quantum physics. If the interpretations of the data from one conflicts with the interpretations of one of the others, the data that spawned both of those interpretations needs to be checked and possibly reinterpreted to be consistent with one another. The new interpretation must then be checked against other interpretations of data of other disciplines, and the process continues.

All disciplines must be taken into account if one wants to make sure they have the correct model of the natural word (see the series on The Power of a Cumulative Case).

If you wish to create a worldview from a model, it is required to take this even further. You must find consistency not only among the scientific disciplines but among those and the disciplines of theology and philosophy. Especially if a theology or philosophy claims infallibility in its claims about the natural realm. I discussed this more in my page "Nature vs. Scripture".

Astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross discusses the importance of consistency between theology and science, and spends some time specifically on consistency among scientific disciplines in his book "More Than A Theory":

Other Recommended Books:

Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
A World of Difference by Kenneth Samples

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