Is the Scientific Method a philosophy?

The Scientific Method is a philosophical approach to learning. Philosophy is the study of and the attempt to gain knowledge and truth about the world and ourselves.  It is a way of looking at things.  It is a collection of ideas and assumptions that are used to interpret reality.  It is “the rational investigation of the truths and principles of being, knowledge, or conduct.”1  If we realize that the scientific method assumes the uniformity of nature and the Laws of Logic and is a way of attaining truth, then it falls under the definition of philosophy.  But let’s not stop there.  In order for the scientific method to work, several philosophical assumptions have to be made.

First, those who employ the scientific method must assume the stability and predictability of the universe.  They must assume the axiomatic nature of logic which they use without testing.  They assume that the scientists will report their findings with honesty and objectivity.  And, the scientists must be willing to have their ideas challenged and tested.  Each of these areas are underlying aspects that must be in place for the scientific method to be valid, yet the scientific method cannot validate them. They are assumed to be the case.

The Problem with the Scientific Method

Don't get me wrong.  The scientific method works.  We have its benefits all around us.  But, philosophically, there is a problem.  The scientific method presupposes naturalism and/or materialism because it relies on testing and repeatability, things that are necessarily focused only on the material world.  Naturalism is the belief that the world can be understood in scientific terms.  Materialism is the belief that matter (and energy) is all there is.  If these assumptions are held, then by definition God cannot be known and must be excused from the realm of knowledge thus established by the scientific method.  If scientists and believers in the sufficiency of the scientific method kept their questions of theology out of the picture, then that would be fine.  But they don’t.  They promote evolution as the truth of how man got here and often state that belief in God is irrational – because it can’t be tested by the scientific method (This is a mistake on their part).  But this is equivalent to wearing a pair of red glasses and proclaiming that green doesn’t exist because all your tests using the red glasses doesn't show green.  The problem, of course, is that when a philosophical assumption is made by which knowledge and truth are judged, what is learned is limited to those assumptions, and the results take on the air of dogmatism -- especially if those assumptions are naturalism and materialism.

If the scientific method were restricted to materialistic phenomena, and if it did not comment on God’s existence, then that would not be a problem (except for it philosophical inconsistencies).  But increasingly, scientists (Dawkins, Coyne, et. al.) are making proclamations about realms not covered in science.  They have adopted the philosophical view that science is the only true means of learning, and that if it can't be tested in a lab, it doesn't exist.  This is an unfounded idea with its own pitfalls.  Think about it.  How does science test and quantify morality, love, mercy, justice, compassion, or the transcendent God who exists outside of the universe, etc., all of which are realities that do not reside in the realm of matter and motion?

So, is the scientific method a philosophy?  Yes, it is.  And when a philosophy is elevated to the level of dogmatism, then truth suffers.


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About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.