Human Reasoning and Science

It could be truly said that I draw upon the writings of CS Lewis a bit too much. The man’s writing is top notch as is his apologetic approach, so I make no apologies, no pun intended.

Like most research labs, the one I work in has a dry erase board. Most labs I’ve been in use it to post announcements or what needs to be ordered in the way of lab supplies.

Ours, well our small group is not quite so organized so I took the opportunity to write down the following Lewis quote,

Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true

I chose it obviously because well, it is a research lab where real science is taking place. One of my co-workers asked me about it when he first saw it. I’m guessing he liked it because well it’s one of those “no duh” kind of statements.

Perhaps he would have been less approving had I told him it came from a book titled, Miracles, for you see he does not (like most scientists) believe in the supernatural.

But what of the quote? Can science be used to prove the validity of human reasoning? Especially if the validity of human reasoning is what makes science valid?

10 Responses to Human Reasoning and Science

  1. ogremkv says:

    Hi, I would think that the first question would be, “is that statement correct?” If the statement is not correct, then everything after that is not needed.

    I would submit that this is much like the statement, “If a tree falls with no one around to hear, does it make a sound?” If you mean a sound that humans can interpret in their brains, then no it does not. But if you mean sound, longitudinal vibrations in a medium, then yes it does make a sound.

    I guess, we’ll know if we ever meet an alien intelligence. All of our 11 dimensional string theory could be constant throughout the universe, or it could just be mental wanking.

  2. Laz says:

    Won’t meeting an alien intelligence only push the question back a notch?

    What is to say that the aliens’ reasoning is valid?

  3. j razz says:

    Good post Laz. Good way to engage those you are working with. If we don’t ever think through our presupositions, we will never be as apt to accept the truth regardless of what that truth may be. Keep up the good writing.

    j razz

  4. ChrisR says:

    It is a good thing for you that miracles don’t happen very often else you would be out of a job. I mean if your boss could just pray that the product he wanted and the formula to make it would just appear on his desk, he would not need to keep you and the rest of the crew around. LoL

    As for the Lewis quote, it is too vague to be used to determine the truth of anything.

  5. Laz says:

    Thanks for you continuing readership and contributions.

    Your attempt at humor (admittedly on the surface it is somewhat funny) is noted, but betrays an understood misunderstanding of miracles actually are. If you are interested perhaps we can discuss the nature of miracles as understood by instructed adults.

    Of course it is far easier to build up a six-year old’s notion of miracles for the sole purpose of demolishing it.

    How is the Lewis quote vague?

  6. ChrisR says:

    Mostly the problem is with defining “human reasoning”. Does this just mean thinking about something or is it a certain process of thinking? People can have thoughts and develop arguements which appear to be very rational, yet can be wrong. The sun certainly appears to rise in the east, circle over head, and set in the west. It is clearly possible to imagine that there could be system where a small sun revolved around a large planet. Most people believe however that it is the revolving of the earth about its axis which causes the appearance of the sun to rise and set. And they believe this because their parents told them, they learned about it in school, saw it on TV, or read about it in a book. So belief in the concept a rotating earth requires acceptance of the “human resoning” in the form of acquired knowledge as opposed to one’s immediate sensory experience which is contradictory. So one cannot establish the truth of something simply by saying that it was arrived at using “human reasoning” because it is unclear what the speaker is meaning by this phrase.

    Humans can “reason” something out and find a truth, but they can also reach a false conclusion at times. The same can be said of science. So I find the statement “human reasoning is valid” too be vauge because human reasoning can be invalid at times also.

    I hope this helps.

  7. Laz says:

    Ok I see what you’re saying so let me tell you what Lewis meant by “reasoning”,

    After we are old enough to understand the question, our confidence in the existence of anything else is challenged, our argument in defence of it will have to take the form of inferences from our immediate sensations…

    All possible knowledge then, depends on the validity of reasoning. If the feeling of certainty which we express by words like must be and therefore and since is a real perception of how things outside our own minds really ‘must’ be, well and good.

    But if this certainty is merely a feeling in our own minds and not a genuine insight into realities beyond them–if it merely represents the way our minds happen to work–then we can have no knowledge. Unless human reasoning is valid no science can be true.

    Hope that helps!

  8. ChrisR says:

    It would seem that Lewis is using “human reasoning” to mean the process of putting sensory input experiences into some form of mental picture which then has a tie back to a “real” object which exists independently of the mind. And also that most of the time we get it “right”, in that our mental picture is in-line or representative of the external object. We cannot have any knowledge of the external objects unless we believe that human reasoning formulates the picture correctly most of the time. If Science concerns formulating laws about the action of external objects then these laws are only valid if our internal mental “humanly reasoned” model is also valid.

    All well and good, except if we get it wrong. The magician wants us to believe he made the tiger actually vanish into thin air, but did it really?

    In our nornal day to day existence we generaly make the assumption that there is a real wold external to our minds. However no one, including scientists, has been able to demonstrate that this is actually the case. And there is the concept put forth loosely by Bishop George Berkeley that there is no external world at all, and we are but thoughts in the mind of God.

  9. Neil Aquino says:

    Went to a funeral for a college student last week. I’m pretty certain the church was a conservative church. The pastor in the eulogy made reference to a postive trait he said was “hard-wired in her DNA.” This is a bit off the subject of the post, but I thought how the pastor saw no conflict between science and religion. I’ve never seen the two as in inevitable conflict.

    As for basing anything on human reasoning—That might be a thin basis at times.

  10. Bill Nettles says:

    Neal’s comment sparked my thoughts about this post.

    There are things that exist, that are true. Let’s call them FACTS. (Maybe we’re all just brains in jars hooked up to a computer; maybe not.)

    There are observations of things. Let’s call them DATA. (When I throw a rock up, it tries to come back down eventually, but the moon and sun just stay “up”.)

    The best that humans can do is collect DATA and attempt to extrapolate FACTS. That’s SCIENCE. There are at least two (probably 2^N, N being very large) problems with this. Humans might not collect good DATA and not realize it. Humans might collect good DATA and utterly fail at the extrapolation. Sometimes, they do a good job at both and get close enough in special circumstances (Newton’s laws, Maxwell equations, Einstein’s photoelectric effect, etc.).

    But the assumption that human reasoning isn’t fundamentally imperfect, even at its best, is the biggest problem. And “science” is usually treated as the only method of obtaining reliable FACT, which is an assumption–not a demonstrable FACT– made by humans which is not reasonably defensible.

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