The Scientific Method…Revised

            The application of a formal method to investigate the workings in the natural world is correctly recognized and credited as the start of the modern Scientific Revolution.

This begins with the discovery and use of the scientific method of research, universally applied from that time going forward to today.

            Borrowing from a classic illustrative example, if someone in the late 1500’s wanted to investigate the behavior of various objects having different weights, sizes, and shapes free-falling through space, the scientific method might have that person dropping these various objects off the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, being an excellent research platform at that time. 

This would be accompanied by another researcher positioned as an observer on the ground using a mechanical timing device that could determine elapsed time, preferably divided into fractions of a second (a sand hour-glass would not work).

            The new scientific method of doing formal research would record the physical description of the shape and size of the objects being dropped, the number of times each object was dropped, the measured distance from the top of the tower to the ground, and the elapsed time duration for each free-fall through space. 

Secondary information might be the air temperature, time of day, wind speed, and wind direction.

            These “findings” could then be recorded in a written field journal that could be copied and read by other people in the growing body of natural scientists around the world, who could then repeat similar follow-up experiments at their local regions using different conditions from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to generally confirm or disconfirm these findings and to improve upon the accuracy of the research methodology.

            The precise recipe of the sequential steps the first pair of researchers followed at the Leaning Tower of Pisa can be repeated and improved-upon by each successive group of researchers investigating this particular phenomenon of free-falling objects in space.

            Both the sequential steps of the research protocol and the data produced in this example are entirely naturalistic, as long as we are talking about generating measurable, quantifiable, fact-based evidence alone.

            This is the feature of the Scientific Revolution that enabled mankind to replace “old-wives” tales, magic, witchcraft, mythology, superstition, first-glance appearances, and wild speculation with true explanations for the causations of the phenomena in the natural world.

Combined with the two modern Industrial Revolutions that introduced the new advancements of technological inventions, this produced over the past four to five centuries the modern world we inhabit and enjoy today.

When I listen to the debate over whether the scientific method excludes divine agency, I sense that people are simply talking past one another, not recognizing that the scientific method is only one-third of reality, be it divine or human.

            What is not obvious in the Leaning Tower of Pisa example given above of the research program devised by people attempting to find empirical answers to how and why objects fall to the earth, is that it assumes the ingenuity of the human thinking process in devising the sequential steps of a research program going in the direction of discovering truth about reality.

But it does not, as a matter of research protocol, identify the greater ingenuity of the cognitive thinking coming from the other direction that created the truth of the thing in existence that humans are researching.

            We perform the experiment of dropping objects off the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which eventually leads over time to Isaac Newton discovering mathematical equations that describe the force of gravity.

            The historical trajectory of research in this one area of explaining gravity is in the direction starting from near total ignorance to the ability to successfully send and return men to the moon and back. 

The laudable appreciation in this human research program to get from A to B should have an equal recognition and appreciation for what it took to come from the other direction of B to A, of the greater ingenuity to create the reality of gravity in the first place. 

This requires admitting the contemplation of divine agency subsumed within the design of organized complexity in the natural world.

            The ingenuity of James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 to unravel the mystery regarding the structure of DNA, by connecting the dots of information from other researchers, the technology of x-ray infraction through DNA fibers, and their own dogged persistence, reads like a suspenseful spy-thriller novel (see chapter 3 The Double Helix in Stephen C. Meyer’s 2009 book Signature in the Cell).

            The takeaway here is that the ingenious methods leading-up to our understanding of the structure of DNA as an information bearing molecule capable of explaining both the variability and the continuity of genetic heredity, pales when compared to the actual performance of the double-strand helix of DNA inside the cell nucleus having a four-letter chemical alphabet 3.5-billion characters long (six-feet in length when stretched-out), which forms the basis of the vast diversity of life on earth.

This is an excerpt from my book Pondering Our World: Christian Essays on Science and Faith.

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