What does “scientific in its method” mean?

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The Revelation proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, His followers believe, is divine in origin, all-embracing in scope, broad in its outlook, scientific in its method, humanitarian in its principles and dynamic in the influence it exerts on the hearts and minds of men.

Effendi, Shoghi.  From a June 1933 letter written by Shoghi Effendi to the High Commissioner for Palestine.

What does it mean to say that something is “scientific in its method?” One way to approach the question is to consider what is meant by the scientific method.

First, lets consider a simplistic version of the scientific method that seems to have caught on at the high school level. This is what Andersen and Hepburn writing in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls a legend. Here is what they say:

Often, reference to scientific method is used in ways that convey either the legend of a single, universal method characteristic of all science, or grants to a particular method or set of methods privilege as a special ‘gold standard’ …

Andersen, Hanne and Hepburn, Brian, “Scientific Method”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Here is an example of the legend from the Kahn Academy (link here):

The scientific method

At the core of biology and other sciences lies a problem-solving approach called the scientific method. The scientific method has five basic steps, plus one feedback step:

  1. Make an observation.
  2. Ask a question.
  3. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
  4. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  5. Test the prediction.
  6. Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

The scientific method is used in all sciences—including chemistry, physics, geology, and psychology. The scientists in these fields ask different questions and perform different tests. However, they use the same core approach to find answers that are logical and supported by evidence.

More traditionally, according to Anderson and Hepburn, the activities that make science a success are “often identified as … systematic observation and experimentation, inductive and deductive reasoning, and the formation and testing of hypotheses and theories.”

How these are carried out in practice varies widely. Current debate “has questioned whether there is anything like a fixed toolkit of methods which is common across science and only science”.

Anderson and Hepburn conclude by describing currnt thinking as trending towards characterizing the scientific method as very similar to reasoning in general, except that it is carried out more carefully and systematically.  One thinker, Hoyningen-Huene, holds that:

… scientific knowledge differs from other kinds of knowledge, especially everyday knowledge, primarily by being more systematic” (Hoyningen-Huene 2013: 14). Systematicity can have several different dimensions: among them are more systematic descriptions, explanations, predictions, defense of knowledge claims, epistemic connectedness, ideal of completeness, knowledge generation, representation of knowledge and critical discourse. Hence, what characterizes science is the greater care in excluding possible alternative explanations, the more detailed elaboration with respect to data on which predictions are based, the greater care in detecting and eliminating sources of error, the more articulate connections to other pieces of knowledge, etc. On this position, what characterizes science is not that the methods employed are unique to science, but that the methods are more carefully employed.

A similar approach has been offered by Haack (2003), who says that:

 … there are objective epistemic standards, and there is something epistemologically special about science …  Instead, she offers a new Critical Commonsensist account on which standards of good, strong, supportive evidence and well-conducted, honest, thorough and imaginative inquiry are not exclusive to the sciences, but the standards by which we judge all inquirers. In this sense, science does not differ in kind from other kinds of inquiry, but it may differ in the degree to which it requires broad and detailed background knowledge and a familiarity with a technical vocabulary that only specialists may possess.

William Hatcher, the prominent Baha’i thinker, draws conclusions that are strikingly similar:

What distinguishes the scientific method of knowing, it seems to me, is the systematic, organized, directed, and conscious nature of the process. However much we may refine and elaborate our description of the application of scientific method in some particular domain such as mathematics, logic, or physics, this description remains essentially an attempt on our part to bring to ourselves a fuller consciousness of exactly how we apply our mental faculties in the course of the epistemological act within the given domain. I offer therefore this heuristic definition of scientific method: Scientific method is the systematic, organized, directed, and conscious use of our various mental faculties in an effort to arrive at a coherent model of whatever phenomenon is being investigated.
In a word, science is self-conscious common sense.

Hatcher, William S. “Science and the Bahá’í Faith.” Bahá’í Studies, vol. 1, 1976, pp. 52–86.

That doesn’t mean that hypothesis, logic, and experimentation are ignored, rather:

Instead of relying on chance happenings or occasional experiences, one systematically invokes certain types of experiences. This is experimentation (the conscious use of experience). Instead of relying on naive reasoning, one formalizes hypotheses explicitly and formalizes the reasoning leading from hypothesis to conclusion. This is mathematics and logic (the conscious use of reason). Instead of relying on occasional flashes of insight, one systematically meditates on problems. This is reflection (the conscious use of intuition).7

Hatcher, William S. “Science and the Bahá’í Faith.” Bahá’í Studies, vol. 1, 1976, pp. 52–86.

These recent definitions of the scientific method show substantial agreement between several prominent modern philosophers of science and the mathematician and logician William Hatcher. This definition of the scientific method seems very relevant when Shoghi Effendi describes the Baha’i Revelation as “scientific in its method.”

References:

Andersen,
Hanne and Hepburn, Brian, “Scientific Method”, The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N.
Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2016/entries/scientific-method/>.

Effendi,
Shoghi.  From a June 1933 letter written
by Shoghi Effendi to the High Commissioner for Palestine.

Hatcher, William S. “Science and the Bahá’í
Faith.” Bahá’í Studies, vol. 1, 1976, pp. 52–86.

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