In a post entitled “Why science cannot be the only way of knowing: A reply to Jason Rosenhouse” at Uncommon Descent web site, Vincent Torley writes:
The following is a short (but not exhaustive) list of background assumptions about the world, which the scientific method presupposes. Science would be impossible as an enterprise, if the vast majority of scientists did not hold these assumptions:
(a) There exists an external world, which is independent of our human minds: it’s real, regardless of whether we believe in it or not;
(b) Objects in the external world have certain identifying characteristics called dispositions, which scientists are able to investigate;
(c) Objects in the external world behave in accordance with certain mathematical regularities, which we call the laws of Nature, and which tell us how those objects ought to behave;
(d) Scientific induction is reliable: scientists can safely assume that the laws of Nature hold true at all times and places;
(e) Solipsism is false: there exist other embodied agents, with minds of their own;
(f) Communication is possible: scientists are capable of talking to one another, and sharing their observations, as well as their thoughts (or interpretations) relating to those observations;
(g) The senses are reliable, under normal conditions, within their proper domain, which means that scientists are capable of making measurements on an everyday basis;
(h) There exist standard conditions, under which ordinary people (including scientists) are routinely capable of thinking logically, making rational discourse possible;
(i) Scientists are morally responsible for their own actions – in particular, they are responsible for their decision to tell the truth about what they have observed, or to lie about it; and
(j) Scientists should not lie under any circumstances, when doing science.
Science would also collapse as an enterprise, if these background assumptions were not objectively true.
So, I wonder if Vincent’s list of assumptions that must be true is a fair summary of how scientific endeavour proceeds. I can’t see anything to dispute regarding a): Dr. Johnson’s test works well enough for me.
Point b). Don’t like the look of that word “disposition”! Why can’t we stick with characteristics, properties or observable phenomena? If “disposition” is synonymous, then, OK.
Point c) Disagree. We observe phenomena and attempt to model them mathematically. Good models are descriptive and reliably predict outcomes that fit the data. Particles and waves don’t carry rule books.
Point d) Why “safely”? Induction is a useful process in mathematics and mathematics produce good models for science. Whilst past performance does not guarantee future success, we can make provisional working assumptions until they, well, cease to work.
Point e) Back to Dr Johnson!
Point f) Communication is key to human success as a social species.
Point g) Human senses can be easily fooled. Eye-witness evidence and memory are notoriously unreliable. Nullius in verba. This is why peer review and repeatability are important aspects of scientific endeavour.
Point h) Don’t see the relevance.
Point i) Individual scientists can be mistaken, selectively ignore data that are problematic for their hypothesis, and have been known to falsify data. Repeatability is an effective counter to false claims.
Point j) Humans lie. Scientists are human. Again repeatability is there as a safeguard.
The claim that science would collapse if any of Torley’s points did not hold is not correct.
ETA grammar, ETA 2 spelling