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Can science explain everything? Part 1

What is the scientific method?


Can science explain everything these days?

Is there a need for a supernatural hypothesis to make sense of life?

Why should we believe in an invisible God?


Modern science and its multiple successes has since the 17th century has been based on a procedure called the scientific method.

The scientific method consists of a methodical approach that involves the systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and the modification of hypothesis for the study [1].


We should also note that a critical approach to each stage forms the backbone of the scientific method and that the process must be based on currently validated scientific methods.


Here is an example: The scientific method and the development of the smallpox vaccine [2]


Edward Jenner (1749 – 1823) was a medical doctor and scientist who lived in England [3].

At that time smallpox was a dangerous disease for humans, with a mortality rate of around 30% of those infected and also leaving survivors badly scarred or even blind.


However, Jenner knew that smallpox in cattle was comparatively mild and could be spread from cow to human through sores located around the cow’s udders. Jenner discovered that cattle workers thought that if they had already contracted cattle pox (which was cured quickly) then they would not get human smallpox.

  • Observation: The starting point of Jenner’s work was that the belief that immunity from smallpox might be obtained from the subject having had the lesser infection of cattle pox. From this observation Jenner went on to the next step of the scientific method, starting with the hypothesis that this belief was true and developing the necessary experiments to prove or refute it.

  • Hypothesis: Infection with cattle pox gives immunity to human smallpox.

  • Experiment: The experiments that Jenner performed would be considered highly unethical today, since they were performed on humans. Although at that time there was no other way to evaluate the hypothesis, experimenting on a child today would be completely unthinkable. Jenner took cowpox sore contents from the hand of an infected milkmaid and applied it to the arm of a boy. The boy was ill for several days but then fully recovered. Jenner later took material from a smallpox sore and applied it to the same boy’s arm. However, the child did not contract the disease for a second time. After this first test, Jenner repeated the experiment with other people and later published his findings.

  • Conclusions: the scientific method confirmed the hypothesis. Therefore infecting a person with cowpox protects against a smallpox infection. Subsequently, the scientific community was able to repeat Jenner’s experiments and obtained the same results. This is how the first “vaccines” were invented: applying a weaker strain of a virus to immunize the person against the stronger and more harmful virus.


[1] For a useful overview of the scientific method see https://www.britannica.com/science/scientific-method

[2] The smallpox example was adapted from Examples of Scientific Method - Examples Lab


In Part 2 we investigate what questions can be answered by the scientific method and also the type of question it cannot answer.

 

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