Do we have to learn to think scientifically
in order to find the truth? In order to answer this question, I will explore how we find truth
. By demonstrating that our methods for finding truth all require scientific thought, I will show that scientific thought is a necessity
in the search for truth. This, however, leaves one aspect of the question unexplored. To be able to answer the question in its totality, I will show that, although scientific thought is required to find the truth, we are unable to learn to think
scientifically. Therefore, because the word "learn" is included in the question, the answer is 'no,' whereas otherwise
it would indeed be 'yes.'
Before we discuss truth in further detail, there are several assumptions we must take into account. Aristotle gave us two laws that are essential for discussing truth: the law of noncontradiction, which states that A is not non-A, or in other words, A is A, and the law of the excluded middle, which states that something is either A or non-A. In essence, something is either true or false. There is no state in between, and something cannot be both true and false. Without these two premises truth is an impossible issue to handle. If I were to say something is false and you were to say something is true, or even just semi-true, then without these two laws we would have to accept both at equal value. Under such terms, the search for truth becomes pointless, for, anything can be true, and/or false at the same time.
It is important to consider that the actual methodology of finding the truth is unimportant compared to the tests we use to ensure that something is in fact true. Regardless how the truth is found, you cannot claim to have found it until it has been tested. Until that point, it cannot reasonably be called truth, for there is no certainty in the truth claim. If someone were to tell you that a teleportation device was invented yesterday, you would demand to see proof before accepting this as true. Even if this device were demonstrated on TV, you would be skeptical because you have seen special effects duplicate these results before. Only once you have been able to give, or have seen from a reliable source, the proper truth tests, will it finally be acceptable as truth.
Although some ways of finding the truth have built in truth tests, for example the Scientific Method, which obviously require scientific thought, they are limited in their applications. To really determine whether we need to think scientifically in order to find the truth, we must look at the three general truth tests that can be applied to any truths: the correspondence test, the coherence test, and the pragmatic test. Although these tests are still somewhat limited and do not always apply to every situation, between them we can ascertain with a good degree of certainty if something is in fact a truth.
Let us examine the properties required for each of these truth tests. The correspondence test requires something to correspond, or fit consistently, with an object or an event. Comparing the height of Jim to Bill tests the statement, "Jim is taller than Bill," be it by measuring each person, or simply by standing them side-by-side. The coherence test involves measuring the consistency of something with a system. For example, if a new math theorem was created, by determining whether or not its results are consistent with other theories in the same area, and how accurate the results are when used in conjunction with proven rules. The pragmatic test simply stated reads, it is true if it works. The pragmatic test does not worry about the reasons behind why something is truth, but simply takes the claim, and tests it to determine its truth. To refer back to the aforementioned teleportation device, the pragmatic test determines if the claims are true or not by testing the machine.
Science is based on induction and repeatability. By observing the same events or links repeatedly, we use inductive reasoning to make conclusions about the veracity of a premise. However, there is a small problem with inductive reasoning. Because the conclusions are based on a finite set of information, it is always possible that the one example that breaks the rule is missing from the sample set, and as such that the conclusions are incorrect. Although this is indeed a problem, inductive reasoning is the best tool we have and usually gives accurate results. Because entire books exist, dedicated to the debate as to whether or not it is possible to fully substantiate any truths, we must accept, for the duration of this writeup, that by truth we speak of that which is as close to truth as we can find.
In all three tests, the skills used are based on scientific thought. For the correspondence test, we are required to relate and to compare. Observation, which is an important step in all scientific processes, as outlined in the scientific method, allows us to accurately perceive what is being tested. The coherence test requires scientific analytical skills to be able to observe a system as a whole, and to then be able to understand its inner workings and to make sure that everything properly adheres. The scientific skills of classification and organization are also essential for this test. Finally, the pragmatic test is based almost solely on observation, and being able to test to see if something works. To properly observe, repeated tests are required, and these well planned out experiments also are part of the thought process that is scientific thought. Together, the truth tests all require the scientific skills of logic, and the ability to investigate and form conclusions using scientific methodologies.
All that remains is to determine whether or not we can learn to think scientifically. The fact that we know how would suggest that, yes, we can. Once we move below the surface, however, it becomes evident that the answer is actually no. The key question is, "how do we learn to think scientifically?" In presuming that 'scientific thought' is a skill we learn, an answer is wanting for the question, from whence does it come? An infant begins to exercise this skill from birth without any implicit teachings. It is natural for him to try new things and to learn from his mistakes. This all falls under the category of scientific thought, in fact, all factual learning is a result of scientific thought. Yet, this appears to be a skill we are not implicitly taught. If that were the case, can it really be something we must learn?
To be able to accept the idea that we do not learn scientific thought, an alternate source for it is required. The traditional answer would be that these concepts are a priori in nature. That is to say, in a Platonic sense, the concepts behind scientific thought are located in the Realm of Forms to which our mind somehow links for all absolutes. We can avoid some of this confusion, however, by taking a more modern standpoint. Modern biology suggests that we are genetically predisposed to seek patterns. To seek patterns is precisely what scientific thought is: experimenting, discovering, and learning through experience. It is built into our minds.
As a child raised through an excellent educational system can think scientifically, so too can the child raised parentless in the wilderness. Nor is scientific thought a recent development. As long as mankind has existed he has been able to logically solve problems. Even the cavemen, who we consider to be less intelligent, managed to analyze the problem, be it staying sheltered from the rain or cutting meat, and to solve it, by hiding in a cave, using a sharpened stone, or whatever else applied to the current problem. To think scientifically is in our genes, and we can no more learn it than can we choose not to learn it. Though some people may be superior at scientific thought to others, those skills are with us whether we like it or not, so long as our brain is functioning properly.
Without scientific thought, truth would forever elude us. Scientific thought is not, however, something we can take credit for. Although we need it to discover the truth, it is a natural human property rather than something we can learn. Genetics provide that so long as our mind is properly functional we will have these functions. Therefore, although scientific thought is necessary to find the truth, it is not necessary for us to learn it, for it is a property we possess by default.