Posted by: Mr. C | August 19, 2009

Does Science Really Have Laws?- D’Souza

Here is are some interesting thoughts from Dinesh D’Souza about “scientific laws.” Really, how concrete are those scientific laws that many people hold to? Just something to think about…

Does Science Really Have Laws?

Dinesh D'Souza

Posted Sep 24th 2008 7:15PM by Dinesh D’Souza
Filed under: Science, Religion, Controversy

Does science really have laws? The proposition that it does is at the root of the argument that science is based on undisputed “facts” while religion is based on subjective “values.” Moreover, if science has laws that are known to be incorrigible, then miracles would seem to be impossible.

So what exactly are scientific laws and what degree of certainty can we attach to them? This question was raised in a recent email I received. “My question concerns your summation of Hume’s position concerning scientific laws,” the writer says. In my book on Christianity, I cited Hume to make the point that “no finite number of observations, however large, can be used to derive an unrestricted general conclusion that is logically defensible.”

This raised for my correspondent the following question: “How do you suppose a modern-day Hume would answer someone who points out that all humans are made from DNA? Surely he would not be so stubborn as to insist on the possibility that there are a few of us walking around without DNA. What say you?”

Here is my answer. Consider the proposition that all life forms–including all humans–are made from DNA. Hume would say this is not a “law.” Rather, it is an observation based on common experience and testing. The reason we cannot speak of a “law” is that we haven’t checked every human and every life form that has ever existed to ensure that every one is made of DNA.

So where do we get this so-called “law”? And where do we get other laws, such as Newton’s inverse square law or the law that says “light travels at the speed of 186,000 miles per second in a vacuum”? Hume would argue that we have measured many humans and other life forms and found DNA and therefore we infer that all humans and other life forms are made of DNA. Similarly we have measured the speed of light frequently and from this we derive the idea that light always and everywhere travels at the same speed.

Hume’s point is not to deny the practical utility of these conclusions, but to deny that we know something as a law just because we have measured it many, many times. As Hume writes in his Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, from the proposition “I have found that such an object has always been attended with such an effect,” it is impossible to derive the conclusion, “I forsee that other objects which are in appearance similar, will be attended with similar effects.” Logically, Hume notes, this is a non-sequitur.

In particular, just because we have measured light at a given speed a hundred or a thousand or ten million times doesn’t mean that light always and everywhere travels at that speed. How do we know that on a distant star, light travels at the same speed as it does here? In truth, we do not know. Along the same lines, if tomorrow a life form was located on, say, Mars, and this life form did not contain DNA, we could no longer hold that all life forms are made of DNA.

From this we can conclude that: scientific laws are not really “laws” but merely generalizations based on previous tries. Once we recognize this we see why miracles are entirely within the realm of scientific possibility. Since we cannot name a single empirical scientific law that is in principle inviolable, we cannot rule out deviations from these so-called laws. I’m not arguing for the validity of this or that miracle. I’m simply saying that the idea that these things cannot happen is based on an ignorance of what science shows and doesn’t show.

Hume, generally regarded as an exploder of metaphysics, was also an exploder of the pretensions of scientific knowledge. Recognizing the power of Hume’s argument, the philosopher Karl Popper conceded that science is incapable of “verifying” truth; it can merely “falsify” hypotheses and thus (we hope) draw us a little closer to truth. This truth, however, remains elusive, just over the horizon. The biblical notion that “we see through a glass darkly” turns out not to be theological hocus-pocus but a clear-eyed summary of the human situation.

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