Periodicals; Mormons; Religious thought; Philosophy and religion
Independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Mormons who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints; although every effort is made to insure accurate scholarship and responsible judgment, the views expressed are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Mormon Church or of the editors.
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Rees, Robert A.
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Religion and Science: A Symbiosis I 2.7 Still more compelling arguments against Harping's view of the scientist can be found in the history of science. The Copernican revolution, for instance, was based not so much on new data as on a reinterpretation of extant observations in light of Copernicus' metaphysical ideas.20 In fact, the Babylonian and Ptolemaic theories could probably have given better fits to the available data at that time than could the heliocentric theory. "Contemporary empiricists," notes E. A. Burtt, "had they lived in the sixteenth century, would have been the first to scoff out of court the new philosophy of the universe."21 Copernicus' hypothesis was sustained at first more by his unshakeable confidence in the inherent beauty and simplicity of his theory than by the data—a pattern to be repeated in the monumental discoveries of Einstein, Planck, Schrodinger and Dirac in our own day.22 A more accurate description of the workings of science must still begin with the premise that the sensory experiences of the scientist—whether casual observations or measurements from carefully-contrived experiments—remain the primary data, the "givens," of scientific theory. But according to Planck, these brute facts remain a "chaos of elements" without any discernible pattern "unless there is the constructive quality of mind which builds up the order by a process of elimination and choice."23 The scientific propositions founded on experimentation "are not derived by any definite rule from the data of experience," says Polanyi. "They are first arrived at by a form of guessing based on premises which are by no means inescapable and which cannot even be clearly defined; after which they are verified by a process of observational hardening which always leaves play to the scientist's personal judgment."24 This process of guessing, in turn, influences the future course of experiment or observation. When a scientist begins work in the laboratory, he has already imagined a tentative order in the phenomena he intends to study. The experiment may be designed either to verify that conjectural picture of the world, or to prove it false; it may well be, after all, as helpful to know what kind of universe is impossible as to know what sort of world is probable. But in either case, both the experiment and the data it produces are already "theory-laden."25 This view of the scientist muddling toward cosmic truths by way of inspired or lucky guesses may not be as awe-inspiring as the operationalist picture of the disembodied Eye of science surveying the world by the cold light of reason and discerning inductively the underlying order in its apparently random processes. Nevertheless, this more accurate perspective displays the most remarkable feature of the scientific enterprise—which is not, as we sometimes erroneously suppose, its closely-defined universe of discourse, but rather its amazing tolerance for ambiguity. "One of the secrets of science carefully kept from the layman," remarks E. F. Taylor, "is that scientists can proceed fruitfully for many years in a given field without really knowing what they are doing. Indeed, one of the principal goals of scientists is simply to find out what they are doing."26 Thus the scientific method is as much a way of defining physical reality as of understanding it. This is not to say that there are no rules to guide the conduct of science. One usually requires of theoretical constructs that they be logically fertile, satisfactorily connected to other theoretical ideas, simple, and elegant: in addition, it is demanded that they satisfy the requirements of causality; and that their major premises be relatively permanent and stable. Experimental observations