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Essay/Term paper: The sight of science

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Philosophy

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The Sight of Science

It is a truth universally acknowledged that he whose mind is ahead of
his time and above that of his peers may not be understood by his fellow people
and be subject to critisizm and persecution. Galilei Galileo, Francis Bacon, and
Rene Descartes were among the first to break away from the conventional views of
their times to find a place for science in a society and propose the way it
should be practiced. All three authors agree on some points but differe markedly
on others. Bacon insists on the importa nce of experimentation and relative
uselessness of senses and experience, while Decartes thinks them imporatnt for
understanding of nature. Galileo stresses the need for separation of science and
religion, while Descartes deems the correctness of the method of scientific
thought to be most important. Yet all three writers agree that natural science
should be freed of the grip of theology and human ethics, what sets them apart
from previous generations of scientists and thinkers.
In his Discoveries, Bacon goes at great length to discuss the influence
the prescientfic mode of thinking has had on generations of scientists, and
tries to Descartes asserts that the mathematical method of examining the
relationship between objects and expressing them in concise formulas, applied to
the entire realm of knowledge, permits him to exercise his own reason to the
best of his ability. Since nothing in philosophy is certain, it is evident that
he must discover his own philosophical principles.
Galileo's views on science and religion, as seen from his Letter to the
Grand Dutchess Christina are very radical for his times. He suggests that
physical sciences must be separated from theological studies because the goals
of the two disicplines are totally different: theology is concerned with
salvation of the soul, while the sciences are concerned with understanding of
nature. He believes that the clergy apply faith where ther is none involved --
one cannot undersand nature just by quoting the Scripture because the nature, a
fruit of God's infinite wisdom., defies the simple explanation men's feeble
minds attempt to find in the Bible. To truly understand nature, one has apply
the little of the reason that God has given to him and look "between the li nes"
for the true meaning of the Bible. There are a number interpretations one can
find because the Bible is often general and simplistic; Galileo suggests that
the best way to find the true meaning is to disprove the false conclusions by
finding contradicions in nature, as determined by accurate experiments rather
than fervent meditation. It is a job of scientists to examine nature and it is
the business of theologists to make sure the Bible agrees with it, for nature is
no less a manifestation of God than the Holy Bible itself:
"A thing is not forever contrary to the faith until disproved by most
certain truth.. When that happens it was not the Holy scripture that ever
affirmed it but human ignorance that ever imagined it." (St. Augustine, De
Genesi Ad Literam i, 18,19, p. 206). Ultimately, the true faith and physical
sciences take two different but parallel pathways in an attempt to understand
God, one by following His canons and the other by exploring His creations, "by
Nature in his works and by doctrine in his word" (183).
Bacon differs somewhat in his view of science and religion. Indeed, he
claims that a true scince must be free of religious tenets where they do not
apply: "It is therefore most wise soberly to render unto faith that are faith's"
(317). However, Bacon goes further to describe the different uses and abuses of
religion that can either further or impede the adavancement of science. Perhaps
most notable of them is the idea of differentiating true faith from
superstition. The true faith is derived from th e scriptures and applied only
to the matters of salvation, while superstition is a dangerous mixture of
philosophy and religion that is applied to the matters where there is no faith
involved, such as politics and natural sciences. Unlike Galileo and Descartes,
Bacon not only states that religion is not a means of establishing physical
truths because it does not rely on practical experimentation. He also suggests
that the since the Bible was written centuries ago, it lacks the information
scientists established from natural experiments over that perfiod of time; using
it to explain the natural phenomena is nothing more than "seeking thus the dead
among the living."
The role of the philosopher in science is different for Bacon and
Descartes. Although both of the thinkers are sceptical of the benefits a
philosophy may bring, Bacon denies a place for it in science, while Descartes
believes that it may still be of some value. Bacon rejects conventional
philosophy mainly because it rests on what he considers to be a "weak
foundation" or logic. Logic has no place in scientific method because it rests
on few, if any, experimentally proven facts and then attempts to extrapolate or
deduce further conclusions. Logic is based on applying human mind in effort to
explain nature, while, as Bacon claims, " The subtilty of nature is far beyond
that of sense or of the understanding." Apparently, he believes that nature so
beyond t he grasp of human mind that it goes against all the conclusion that
human rationality prescribes. Therefore he abandons logic as a tool for
understanding nature. Instead, he proposes to conduct science by the method of
"true induction" -- proposing a reasonable conclusion based on a set of
thorough and deliberate experiments.
Bacon's inductive reasoning is perhaps the main principle that separates
him scientists of his times. Almost all of contemporary scientits, he tells us,
are concerned with finding basic generalizations common to different scientific
phenomena, and then attempt deduce the truth behind them by applying the newly
established axioms to more specific problems. First, the nature is far too
complex to be taken superficially; it defies both understanding of the human
mind and perception of human senses. The only way to make sure that an axiom is
true is by conducting a series of apt scientific trials, and then attempt to
combine the experimentally found facts by the powers of induction to produce a
more general statement.
The importance of careful and systematic experiments is perhaps the
certral principle that separates Bacon's understanding of science from the
opinions commonly held at his time. He proposes that science should no longer be
practiced by haphazard experimentation, superstition,
Acknowledging the significance of contributions of the ancient
scientists such as Pythagoras and Aristotles, Bacon disapproves the use of the
methodology they prescribe for several reasons. First, he argues that practice
of science should be essentially aimed at the discovery of truths behind natural
phenomena, which is confirmed by centuries of careful analysis and
experimentation rather then on authority, stature, or popularity of the
scientist. Since the world has matured and advanced since the times of the
ancient thinkers, the contemporary scientists are in a better position to
explain nature. In searching for a method of arriving at knowledge,
Descartes considered ancient logic. It is apparent that he believes that logic
can only be used to com municate those concepts that are already known and
accepted. He rejects geometry and algebraic analysis because of the restrictions
which limit these subjects to figures alone. Instead, he prefers mathematics
since it is controlled and limited by rigid rules. Just as the best government
is the government which has few laws rigidly administered, the best method has
few rules resolutely followed. On the assumption that a few rules closely
adhered to are superior to lengthy set of precepts, he limits himself to the
following four laws. First, never accept anything as true unless you understand
clearly that it is true. Second, reduce all problems to small component parts
and thoroughly analyze each part by itself. Third, proceed in a orderly and
regulated manner in analyzing matters step by step, from the simple to the
complex order of knowledge. Fourth, present a thorough enumeration of all
possibilities and review thoroughly to make sure that nothing has been left
out. Under constraints of the above methodology, logic can be applied to
scientific principles with great success. It follows then that reason must be
nothing more than regulated logic. It is the misdirected or randomly applied
logic what he is against.
Descartes' search for certainty and absolute truth, by using his own
reason rather than the traditions and dogmas of the church, represents a
distinct departure for his time. This position rivals the medieval claim that
truth can be found only in religious doctrine. The methodology he proposes
implies that a man can and perhaps should amass knowledge on his own. This idea
seems to be in contradiction with the doctrine professed by the catholic church
at the time, and Descartes prudently decides not to publish some of his work to
avoid religious persecutions that befall the fate of Galileo.
Although the three thinkers disagree markedly both conception and
methodology of science, the message they convey is clear. The progress of
science is essential for advancement of a nation; inventions, both in method and
instrumentations, are the only means by which the human mind can grasp the
subtleties of nature. Science must be free of religious and ethical constraints
to achieve the master of humans over nature.


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