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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28 I Dialogue are usually judged by their fulfillment of theoretical predictions, and by their agreement with independent methods of measuring the same quantity.27 But powerful as these criteria are, Polanyi comments, "I could give you examples in which they were all fulfilled and yet the statement which they seemed to confirm later turned out to be false." Hence, "Any exception to a rule may thus conceivably involve not its refutation, but its elucidation and hence the confirmation of its deeper meaning/'28 And it is crucial to see that a decision either to reject the exceptional theory or experimental result, or to examine it further in the hope of finding "its deeper meaning" must be based on an act of personal judgment by the scientist.29 Thus the task of identifying a scientific truth in a crowd of competing hypotheses is rather like judging a beauty contest, in which one seeks some pleasing combination of features the particulars of which are only partially describable. Indeed, one may select a theory which has one or two glaring defects, just as one might choose a beautiful woman in spite of a ski-jump nose. Niels Bohr's original version of quantum theory is a case in point: It violated the hitherto successful theory of classical electrodynamics, but was tentatively accepted, rather than being rejected out of hand, because it seemed to be the only reasonable solution to the baffling problem of atomic spectral radiation. It may be objected that the truth of a scientific theory can be recognized unequivocally by its consequences or its fruitfulness. That is true—but when one is in the middle of the search, how is it possible to see that a proposition is true from a knowledge of consequences which are yet to be discovered? Again, one may argue that scientific truth is recognizable because it will be the hypothesis which most closely conforms to the criteria outlined above. However, these "rules of science" do not specify scientific procedures explicitly; they actually serve only as somewhat flexible constraints. It is impossible to put them in the form of a checklist for determining what the scientist will accept as true, because he does not know beforehand what the truth looks like in all its particulars. He has, instead, only an intimation or intuition of how it is likely to appear. Thus these "rules" limit the strategies and tactics employed in the pursuit of science, but do not prescribe them—much as the rules of chess do not determine whose strategy will win or lose, but .only that neither player in a match may move his knight in a straight line.30 But if the rules or principles which guide us to the solution of scientific problems are not discernible a priori, "cannot even be clearly defined,"31 and thus remain forever tacit, how can scientific inquiry survive at all? It is because, Polanyi argues, the premises of science "can be embodied in a tradition which can be held in common by a scientific community" and which undergoes a creative reinterpretation at the hands of every person who enters that community.32 To be sure, many aspects of the communal tradition are controlled explicitly—as, for example, the theory of statistics which governs the handling of experimental errors. But "the major principles of science . . . are continuously remolded by decisions made in borderline cases and by the touch of personal judgment entering into almost every decision."33 A tradition of science can be sustained in this way only if there exists a community which is in principle dedicated to "the fourfold proposition (1) that there is such a thing as truth; (2) that all the members love it; (3) that they feel obliged and (4) are in fact capable of pursuing it."34