The following dialogue is an expansion of a brief conversation I had with my biology teacher, however, both members of the Dialogue are constructed by me and do not necessarily fully reflect the thoughts of my teacher or me.
Edmund: It's so strange to me how people like Aristotle or Dalton are often considered scientists when their theories were so far from the truth.
Peter: Well, science is a process, and part of that process is putting out hypotheses that later prove to be wrong.
Edmund: Even so, it's not only that their answers were wrong- their process that they used to get their answers was not a process at all- it was based on wild guesses more than observable reality. It makes you wonder if you can consider so-called early scientists scientists at all.
Peter: So if we are basing the title scientist on participation in observation and experimentation, does that mean the first scientist was Galileo? Even Copernicus who is often credited with the start of the heliocentric model of the universe focused on theoretical math. Galileo is renowned for actually looking at the sky to provide evidence.
Edmund: I'm not convinced even Galileo makes the cut. He did take a step in the right direction, but it wasn't until Darwin that we see the full scientific process.
Peter: I agree that the modern scientific process did not fully develop until around the time of Darwin but can't you argue that the development of the scientific process through the trial and error of previous scholars can itself be considered an essential part of the scientific process? After all, you can't judge someone according to a formal system that was created separately from their existence.
Edmund: I'm not saying that scholars like Newton and Galileo didn't contribute to science, rather that they can't be considered scientists themselves. You can argue that the development of the scientific process is part of the process itself, but I'm not convinced. The process of writing a song is distinct from the song itself.
Peter: I think it's problematic to define a scientist as you do. Your definition relies on the idea of an end, that is, that there is some end result to the development of the scientific process– that end, you claim, is found in Darwin. However, despite our egotistical claim of us reaching the "modern" age, there has been much progress even since Darwin in the development of the scientific method. Peer review, for example, is a long and strenuous process that scientists go through today in order for any of their work to be established as scientific fact. Yet, during the time of Darwin, peer review consisted only of being accepted into a journal. In other words, your definition of a scientist requires a constant re-evaluation of scientists who are subject to new aspects and innovations of the future scientific method.
Edmund: I believe you are pulling a straw-man and misrepresenting what I mean when I refer to the scientific method. Of course the process itself has changed and progressed over time, but the foundation of the scientific method is the idea of answers to these big questions being answered only in a natural way with no reference to supernatural forces. Even Issac Newton the father of the mechanical universe left his negative space to the elusive power of the almighty, a significant barrier in the way of true scientific innovation.
Peter: Hmmm. I think we are really getting somewhere now. Let me clarify. Your argument essentially revolves around the relationship between science and religion– you say that science done in tangent with the framework of a theistic world view will necessarily yield itself to using the supernatural instead of seeking the natural. A "God of the Gaps" if you will.
Edmund: Yes! You cannot be a scientist if you are relying on axioms that cannot be proven to fill the gaps where you have yet to find an answer.
Peter: But many argue that indeed all atheistic scientists do this very thing! Thinkers like David Hume and Friedrich Nietzsche point out that the entire institution of science is founded upon theistic axioms, presupposing the consistency and order of the universe as well as the reliability of human observation in order to come to any accurate conclusions about how the world works.
Edmund: This is the difference between a foundational assumption and a interpolating assumption*. Believing in observation and the order of the universe can be questioned but scientists take it as fact not because it is, but because it is practical in scientific work. Putting "God" in as an explanation does not help scientific work; it prevents a real genuine search for natural answers.
Peter: I think we are at the point where we would need to look more closely at specific theistic scientists and their work in order to precede.
Edmund: But wait, before we wrap up, what can we conclude? Who was the first scientist?
Peter: I'm not convinced we can nail down a particular figure as the first- after all, humans have been trying to understand the world systematically for most of their existence.
Edmund: I have yet to be convinced that pre-Darwinian thinkers can be considered to be using the scientific method. But I think there's a lot more to be said on this issue.
...to be continued
I really enjoyed exploring this new form of thinking. Let me know if you liked this mode of posting. I also fixed the comments section so try it out!
*these are not actual terms used in the professional academic world, but rather of my own creation.