Students might be surprised to discover that science grew out of philosophy. Without the “right” thinkers, today’s methods of scientific investigation might not exist. This is no truer for anyone than Francis Bacon, a late 16th century philosopher who almost literally flipped the scientific community over with his new ideas on how to conduct scientific investigations.
From Top to Bottom
To understand how Bacon shook the scientific community, you should first understand the science of Bacon’s time. Scientists during the late 16th century used a “top down approach” to science. According to Steven Gimbel, associate professor of philosophy and author of “Exploring the Scientific Method,” these “top-down” scientists started with a theory and ran experiments to “prove” that theory; to ensure that their findings met their theories, scientists would sometimes “conveniently” ignore or change the results of their studies. Any serious student of science knows that this method differs greatly from the science of today, and for that you have Bacon to thank.
Bacon argued for what is literally the exact opposite of what the scientific community at that time was doing; Bacon wanted to start from the bottom and move up. His idea was to start with experiments, not theory, and to develop theory from the results of the experiments. You can think of Bacon’s idea as a staircase: Whereas the entire scientific community liked to come down from the theory to check on results at the bottom, Bacon wanted to start at the bottom and “walk” his way to the theory.
Bacon Induced Inductive Reasoning
Inductive reasoning refers to performing science in a way to build upon results, independent of the current theory. An independent thinker himself, Bacon “induced” that this method of science would create more independent thoughts and ideas in science as well as lead to more reliable theories. He tossed the Bible and other unscientific texts out of the laboratory in favor of testing and experimenting. He favored the unknown hypothesis instead of the assumed theory. And the scientific community gasped.
Bacon Was Right
But Bacon succeeded in propagating his ideas. Bacon, in a way, rebuilt all of human sciences. He began with a clear mind, only observing phenomena. From there, he found patterns and developed hypotheses. Only after validating his hypotheses did he consider creating a theory. As you know, scientists today start with hypotheses, then go on to test them and only support an overall theory when enough results support that theory. What you see in the science laboratory today is Bacon’s mark on scientific history.
- Exploring the Scientific Method: Cases and Questions; Steven Gimbel
- University of Miami: The Scientific Method
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Francis Bacon
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