The Key to Science (and all learning) is…?

… being wrong and learning from being wrong.

Steven Ross Pomeroy:

In 1964, the occasionally enigmatic but always energetic physicist, Dr. Richard Feynman gave a lecture at Cornell University to a packed hall of eager, young scholars. Feynman’s demeanor was crisp and purposeful that day, a style reinforced by his sharp appearance. The professor’s hair was neat and tidy, and he was keenly attired in a trim, tailored suit.

His right hand grasping a piece of chalk, his left had nestled in his coat pocket, Feynman started to speak. “I’m going to discuss how we would look for a new law,” he said in his unvarnished Queens accent, referring to his work as a theoretical physicist.

Feynman walked over to the chalkboard and began to write. His oration continued, almost in a manner synced with his scribbling. “First we guess it… Then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what it would imply. And then we compare those computation results… directly to observation to see if it works.”

Feynman paused, removed his left hand from his coat pocket, and strode back over to the lectern to briefly peruse some notes. He then launched right back into his sermon.

“If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong,” he asserted, craning his neck forward and adroitly pointing his left hand at the chalkboard to accentuate the point. “In that simple statement, is the key to science.”

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Ah Feynman. I’m currently listening to a audio version of “Surely you’re joking, Mr Feynman”. He was a fellow who did not compartmentalize – he observed, tested, and thought about everything.

    “Does it (idea, law, theory) fit the evidence?” is an excellent principle, a trustworthy guide. Of course, it helps to follow it up with “Why?”, or “Why not?”.

  • Norman

    This also has implications for performing good Theology. We should project an idea and then search the historical records (History, scripture, extra biblical scripture) and compare the original state of Christianity and how it came about with how the church since has historically performed these task. Where the church since its original first century inception has made miscalculations then we need to re-examine whether adjustments in theology need to be made or implemented. Theology has not really IMHO followed good standards of investigation as we hold to old paradigms under the auspices of acquired Tradition which in science is the ruination of good investigative work.

    A good example of this is how the church is presently working through issues regarding Genesis and is making us perform our due diligence rigorously where in the past we have been sloppy. There are numerous issues that relate which will bear further work as we can open up constructive climates for investigation.

  • Jon G
  • Mike M

    Neat and tidy indeed.


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