The Limitations of Science – Gordon Clark Quotes

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This is a list of Gordon Clark quotes about science.

The books from which these quotes came are published by the Trinity Foundation. You can purchase the books at these links:

Table of Contents

Wheaton Lectures

Wheaton Lectures

We Cannot Say that Scientific Laws Are Universal

If we think we discover a uniformity in a number of cases, for example Boyle’s Law, the principle of uniformity does not permit us to infer that the same uniformity will continue in other cases of the same phenomena. As is well known, Boyle’s Law applies only to some gases at some temperatures. No doubt the Kantian category of cause will incline us to assert that the same gas under the same conditions will behave in the same way; but aside from the fact that it can neither identify the causal event nor determine the way in which they are correlated, the more serious difficulty is that the category cannot fix the limits within which conditions may be called the same.

When conditions are similar, it is said, the same correlation is found. Since, however, we can never fix the limits of similarity, and cannot know that a different gas, a different temperature, or some other unsuspected difference will not destroy our law, it follows that the Kantian category cannot authorize us to assert the universality of any law of physics. If it did, physics would be unalterable.

The difficulty of fixing the limits of similarity is important enough to warrant another example. A young student might be inclined to say that lower ing the temperature of a body is the cause of contraction. In the case of water this works down to 36º F. But the temperature below 36º is so dissimilar from the temperature above that mark that from this point down lowering the temperature is the cause of expansion. Who could have anticipated such a dissimilarity between temperatures only one degree apart? No principle of the uniformity of nature could have warned us ahead of time.

Gordon H. Clark. “Clark and His Critics.” Apple Books. 75-77.

We Don’t Discover Scientific Laws

The answer will be that scientific law is not a discovery, nor does it describe the swinging of a pendulum, the behavior of gases, or any other natural process.

That scientific laws are not discoveries is clear from their dependence on non-observational factors. For example, rather than admitting that water boils at different temperatures, even at a single altitude, and rather than admitting that the period of a pendulum is irregular, as observation alone would indicate, the scientist takes many measurements of the same thing and then computes the arithmetic mean of the readings. Now, however much the use of the arithmetic mean may be a good procedure, it is still a non-observational factor. The subsequent mathematical manipulations of variable error are also non-observable factors. Therefore, one cannot maintain that a scientific law is a pure discovery. Had the scientist limited himself to experimentation as such, he would never have arrived at any law whatever.

Gordon H. Clark. “Clark and His Critics.” Apple Books. 77-78

Scientific Laws Don’t Truly Describe Nature

In the second place, the laws of science do not describe the workings of nature. After the scientist has calculated his means, his variable errors, and has combined them, he may plot his law on a graph. This requires him to pass a curve through a series of areas. Even if he were to pass a curve through a series of points, it would be possible to choose any one of an infinite number of curves. Areas are less restrictive than points. It follows, therefore, that the curve or law is determined neither by observation nor by the previous mathematical manipulation, but is the result of the scientist’s independent choice. There is absolutely nothing in scientific method that compels him to select one law rather than another. Since the choice is made from an infinite number of equally possible laws, there is zero probability that the law chosen describes anything that occurs in nature. The laws of physics therefore are neither discoveries nor descriptions.

Gordon H. Clark. “Clark and His Critics.” Apple Books. 78-79.

The Purpose of Science

…it is quite proper to ask what science actually is or does. If science neither discovers nor explains the processes of nature, what can be the status of a law of science, if it is not a law of nature? What do scientists spend all their time on? In brief, what is science?

The view that science explains nature has in the recent past been challenged by an alternate theory. Operationalism identifies the purpose of science not as description but as manipulation. Laws are not cognitive statements about nature but are directions for operating in a laboratory. They do not say what nature has done; they say what the scientist should do. Thus, even among professional scientists themselves, the old view that science achieved the “real truth” about nature, a view, which has caused Christianity so much trouble, seems to be receding into the past. With or without a priori concepts, science is not a cognitive enterprise.

Of course, I do not mean that science has failed to produce the atom bomb and other wonders of our advanced civilization. Science regarded as manipulation, is astoundingly successful. But the science of scientism, the confident science of naturalism, science regarded as a cognitive enterprise, is a failure.

Gordon H. Clark. “Clark and His Critics.” Apple Books. 81-82, 83-84.

Scientific Laws Aren’t “True” if They Aren’t Permanent

That science is not cognitive, i.e., that science fails to obtain a knowledge of the laws of nature, is evident to all in the rapid rate at which previous laws of science are discarded and replaced by new ones. For example, the law of gravitation conflicts with the observation of galaxies. It implies that the universe has a center where the spatial density of stars is maximum; i.e., more stars per cubic area. Proceeding outward from this center, the spatial density should decrease toward an infinite region of emptiness. But observation, on which the ordinary view of science must depend, shows galaxies everywhere, and this contradicts the Newtonian law of gravitation. A similar change in physics is the failure of the law of inertia because of the non-existence of a fixed point and the consequent impossibility of determining motion in a straight line. The emergence of new theories of light is perhaps a better-known example of the replacement of old laws by new. If the old laws had been discoveries, if they had been true, if they had described nature, they would not have needed replacement.

To forestall the reply that the new laws have now arrived at the truth and, unlike Newton’s laws, will never need to be replaced, one need only note the rapid development of science in the very recent past, the anticipation of still greater changes in the near future, and wonder why the results of the last ten years should be any more permanent than those of a previous century.

Gordon H. Clark. “Clark and His Critics.” Apple Books. 82-83.hhhhhhhhh

Science vs Revelation

Consider the philosophy of science outlined in the preceding lecture. There it was claimed and argued that experimental science produces no knowledge whatever of the processes of nature. The laboratory can devise no method for determining whether the Earth moves while the Sun stands still or whether the Sun moves while the Earth stands still. Nor can the greatest amount of experimentation explain why two smooth pieces of marble adhere so stubbornly to each other. Neither can physics observe anything moving in a straight line. It is incorrect, therefore, to complain that the axiom of revelation deprives us of knowledge otherwise obtainable. There is no knowledge otherwise obtainable.

Gordon H. Clark. “Clark and His Critics.” Apple Books. 189-190.

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