Rationalism and the Scientific Method
Back to Course Guide
Read the following note written for the class by the late Cal Clawson, author, analyst, and math instructor at Bellevue Community College. I asked him to describe the what and why of rationalism's role in critical thinking. After reading and reflecting, respond to the task at the end of the assignment.
As adults, students must become good consumers of information. This information will be presented as claims to truth by others who are after the students' money, time, or vote--three precious commodities. How do we, as human beings, judge claims to truth?
Authority: parents, ministers, governments, holy scripture. You must trust the authority to accept the claim to truth.
Common sense: if it feels right, it must be true.
Mysticism: you learn by direct experience, e.g., music, art, riding a motorcycle, God.
Rationalism: you accept or reject the claim to truth based on EVIDENCE--measurement, counting, observation, data.
Modern rationalism began with Rene Descartes claim, "I think, therefore I am." Today, rationalism is embodied in the scientific method:
...Observe phenomena/events which cannot be explained.
...Develop (guess) at a hypothesis that explains the phenomena/event.
...From the hypothesis, make a prediction about future observations.
...Verify future observations (verification/verifiability).
...Repeat steps 3 and 4 until hypothesis becomes theory (repeatability).
...Use the theories to create technology, e.g., build cars, make beer, fly to a rock concert, harness wind energy.
One of the great powers of the scientific method is that it is self correcting. If a theory no longer applies (explains a problem or predicts the future), throw it out and repeat the process to get new theory.
...stating the hypothesis that is to be tested.
...making predictions about future observations.
...collecting and organizing data (future observations). This is descriptive statistics.
...using the data to accept or reject the hypothesis. This is inferential statistics and the likeliness of the truth claim.
What is your take away from Cal Clawson's brief description of rationalism and the scientific method. What method do you use to accept/reject a claim to truth? Apply your method to the Law of Natural Selection. On what basis does your method accept or reject the claim?