Some science critics claim that science is absolute and dogmatic in terms of how it approaches the best way of knowing something. Much of our personal knowledge is based upon testimony. Someone may tell me that Bogus Basin, just 30 minutes from Boise, ID, has great skiing. If I believe this even though I have only skied at Snoqualmie or Stevens Pass, my belief is based on testimony. Sometimes the testimony is based on authority, as would be the case if an Olympic gold medalist told me about Bogus Basin. Many religions claim that revelation is a valid method of knowing, whereby important truths about life, impossible to find out any other way, are disclosed to human beings by a divine being or God. Mystics, in general, claim that after years of special training it is possible to know some very important things about life and the universe ``intuitively'' or in a mystical vision while in a deep state of meditation. Mystical visions are not necessarily revelation, because the visions not only involve personal effort and training but also do not necessarily involve divine aid or God.
It is difficult for many people today to imagine that the Earth is moving and not the Sun. We do not experience ourselves moving at 1,000 miles per hour; instead we ``observe'' the Sun to move. That a belief is inconsistent with our common observational experience is not by itself a conclusive argument that it is false. Empirical scientists do believe in the ability of the human mind to figure things out. Any fundamental inconsistency between common sense and reason is seen as nature's way of taunting us, of revealing one of her important secrets. The confidence in the logical and mathematical powers of human thinking has been a key ingredient in the development of modern science.
Of course, not all ideas are fruitful in making connections. Nor have great scientists been immune from detrimental rationalistic tendencies. Tycho Brahe was the best observational astronomer of the sixteenth century. Mathematically, he knew that one of the implications of his extremely accurate observations of planetary motions was that the Sun was the center of motion of all the planets, which further implied that the universe was very large and that the stars were an immense distance away. He could not bring himself to accept this radical conclusion, however, and accepted instead a more traditional view for his time because God would not be foolish to ``waste'' all that space!
Johannes Kepler, who used Tycho's data to finally solve the problem of planetary motion, was motivated by his belief that the Sun was the most appropriate object to be placed in the center of the universe because it was the material home or manifestation of God. Galileo, in spite of his brilliant astronomical observations and terrestrial experiments, failed to see the importance of Kepler's solution of planetary motion because it did not involve using perfect circles for the motion of the planets.
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last updated: June 1, 2007