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The Limitations of Scientific Truth

A review of a book by Dr. Nigel Brush.


I read a book entitled: “The Limitations of Scientific Truth” by Nigel Brush. Dr. Brush has a Ph.D. from UCLA and is an assistant professor of geology at Ashland University in Ohio. He has conducted archaeological, geological, and environmental fieldwork in England, Canada, New York, Ohio, and California. I would like to share some of the quotes from his book for your consideration. 

Scientists Are Human

“Scientists have thick skins. They do not abandon a theory merely because facts contradict it. They normally either invent some rescue hypothesis to explain what they then call a mere anomaly or, if they cannot explain the anomaly, they ignore it, and direct their attention to other problems.” p. 79.

“Science is simply made up of individual human beings behaving like human beings, using both their knowledge and their biases to interpret information and arrive at conclusions (2).” p. 261.

Scientists Need Funding


“Scientists need funding to conduct their research. If they attempt to answer questions that are highly relevant to their culture or government, they will have a much greater success at fundraising than if they attempt to answer questions that are of interest to only themselves or a small group of fellow scientists. Moreover, scientists, like all other human beings, need recognition and praise for their work. Again, there are severe cultural restraints as to what type of work is most visible and appreciated by the general public.” p. 93.

(My note - One man said: “Tell me who is funding your research, and I will tell you the results of your research.”)

Scientists Are Not Totally Objective

“…scientists should not throw their hands up in despair. Instead, they should recognize the limitations that culture and historical bias impose upon their work, and attempt to take these factors into account rather than delude themselves with the belief that they are being totally objective.” p. 102.

“Scientists, naturally having a vested interest in the outcome of their work, are far more prone to justify than to falsify their theories.” p. 80.

The Influence of the Human Mind


“Modern science is built on empirical observations of nature but empirical observations must be interpreted by the human mind before they have any meaning. Therefore, the weakest links in this dialogue between scientists and nature is the human mind itself. Although scientists can strive for objectivity in their analysis and interpretation of empirical observations, they are never entirely free from the subjective influence of their backgrounds, experiences, educations, beliefs, hopes, fears, theories, and biases. The answers that nature provides to scientists’ questions are in the form of raw data. How scientists interpret this data is the problem.” p. 202.

“…scientific truth can readily be shaped into configurations that defame religion, or support it. Scientists, like their fellow humans, see what they want to see.” p. 204.

“Because science cannot provide us with absolute truth, our interpretation of the limited facts we do have available is very much subject to our preexisting desires, beliefs, and attitudes. Our senses become filters that allow certain types of information to pass into our minds but selectively screen out other types of information.” p. 206.

“So long as individuals want to disbelieve, they will find ample support for their unbelief.” pgs. 207-208.

“Our senses are governed by our minds, and too often we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear. Once again, facts do not speak for themselves; they must be interpreted!” p. 248.

Writing Science or History?


“The theories generated by the hard sciences to explain how natural phenomena originated (e.g., the dinosaurs, the continents, or the planets) are historical, rather than experimental. The focus is upon unique, one-time events that can’t be duplicated in the laboratory.” “Therefore, the creation of the visible universe is a one-time event that is not continuing to happen today. Astronomers who are studying cosmology are very much like historians who are studying human history; both are dealing with one-time events; both are trying to reconstruct what happened in the past based on the fragmentary evidence that still exists in the present.” p. 94.

Stephen J. Gould himself stated: “Many large domains of nature – cosmology, geology, and evolution among them – must be studied with tools of history.” 

Brush went on to say: “Thus, when scientists attempt to explain the present by looking into the past, they have entered the realm of history. When they attempt to reconstruct what the world or the universe was like in earlier periods, they are not conducting experiments or quantifying, they are in actuality writing history. It is an unfortunate circumstance, though, that the writing of history is influenced strongly by the culture in which that writing occurs.” p. 96.

“Indeed, some of the most interesting information that science can give us is about historical events: the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies and solar systems, the appearance of life, Snowball Earth, the Cambrian Explosion, supercontinents, dinosaurs, asteroid impacts, mammoths and mastodons, early civilizations, and so on. However, these are all unique, one-time events that cannot be reduced to laws or replicated in the laboratory. Scientists who are studying these events are not only doing science, they are also doing history.” p. 102.

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