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He said it: Present-day science cannot speak for future science

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Nicholas Rescher/Lou Sander


The inherent unpredictability of future scientific developments—the fact that no secure inference can be drawn from one state of science to another—has important implications for the issue of the limits of science. It means that present-day science cannot speak for future science: it is in principle impossible to make any secure inferences from the substance of science at one time about its substance at a significantly different time. The prospect of future scientific revolutions can never be precluded. We cannot say with unblinking confidence what sorts of resources and conceptions the science of the future will or will not use.

Given that it is effectively impossible to predict the details of what future science will accomplish, it is no less impossible to predict in detail what future science will not accomplish. We can never confidently put this or that range of issues outside ‘the limits of science’, because we cannot discern the shape and substance of future science with sufficient clarity to be able to say with any assurance what it can and cannot do. Any attempt to set ‘limits’ to science—any advance specification of what science can and cannot do by way of handling problems and solving questions—is destined to come to grief.

– Nicholas Rescher, The Limits of Science (1984), 102-3

4 Replies to “He said it: Present-day science cannot speak for future science

  1. 1
    Petrushka says:

    One can safely predict that without research or proposals for research or a testable hypothesis, not much will happen.

  2. 2

    While this is true from a pure logical standpoint, we still have to work off of what we know now, our current understanding of the world, and draw the best conclusions we can, recognizing, of course, that science is provisional.

    In any event it cuts both ways. Certainly our Darwinist friends are hoping for a “future scientific revolution” that will somehow explain abiogenesis, massive increases in complex specified information through natural causes, etc. I’m not at all willing to say, as they would like me to, “Well, you might be right. Some future scientific revolution might discover some new law or principle that will help your case.” I want to pin them down now, today, on what the current best state of knowledge is.

    An interesting comment from Mr. Rescher. But it cuts both ways.

  3. 3
    Petrushka says:

    I want to pin them down now, today, on what the current best state of knowledge is.

    I’m more interested in what the most fruitful lines of research would be. I’m not aware of any proposals from ID advocates for research that would demonstrate a specific intervention event.

    I’m also left wondering why the interventionists and front loaders don’t get together to discuss their differences. Folks like Michael Denton have arrived at the conclusion that the universe is designed to support naturalistic evolution.

    Mainstream scientists disagree all the time, publish their disagreements, and have conferences to hash them out.

  4. 4
    tjguy says:

    It is also important to note that present day science cannot accurately speak for the past either. There are clues that have been left about the past, but the idea of uniformitarianism is nothing but an assumption.
    Although a slightly different issue, fossils too need to be interpreted as is clearly seen by all the arguments about hominid fossils and where they belong in the animal to human line. We don’t even know for sure that there was an ape to human transition that took place. Most of the “evidence” comes by interpreting the fossils in light of this theory.
    When dealing with the past or present, we are at a disadvantage because we cannot directly observe anything. Assumptions need to be made. However logical they may seem to be, they are still assumptions. Science that deals with the present is very accurate and trustworthy, but science dealing with either the past or present is on a whole different level and not as trustworthy. Evolution falls in this group.

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