Realistic Science

Zappy comments about my views on science:

You may be judging science by the academic establishment definition, but I’m judging it on what I used to repeatedly hear the science folks say in Usenet newsgroups, “repeatability and observation.”

It’s good to narrow down your criteria. Making the criteria for scientific knowledge very simple removes the justification for modern science worship.

The mythology is that before a discovery by a certain genius (pick an idol: Galileo, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, etc.) everyone was basically too stupid to realize the truth about the world. After the magical event, everyone was enlightened, and they threw off the shackles of religious dogma and danced in the sunshine . . . except that apparently most people didn’t. Nowadays, the burden is shouldered by intellectual giants like PZ Myers who do all the hard thinking and pass down their insights to the lesser beings crowded around the altar.

When you simplify the nature of scientific insight, however, it becomes clear that what modern superstitious people might consider to be Pure Scientific Truth used to be called common sense. I’m not talking about homilies from some cracker sitting on the front porch, spitting tabacky out through his missing teeth in between gulps of whiskey. I’m talking about the common sense of a subsistence farmer in a pre-industrial situation who is faced with a complicated engineering problem. He has to figure out how to get it done without some overeducated professor to “help.” So he asks the older farmers how they did it, and they might tell him about some repeatable and observable natural phenomena and, if he understands these phenomena well enough using his natural intelligence, that knowledge could help him out.

Recorded history shows that most of the population of the world has lived in this manner, either as farmers or as hunter-gatherers, coping with repeatable and observable natural phenomena using personal or traditional knowledge gathered from actual experience. In fact, most of the population of the world still lives this way, without caring if some fat, lazy guy in a faraway city thinks that a million years ago his ancestors looked like monkeys. The farmer isn’t looking for some crazy, unsupportable stories that he is supposed to accept on “blind faith.” He doesn’t want his family to die of starvation, so he only cares about repeatable, observable effects.

[At this point the science shaman would pull out his magic geek amulet and wave it at me. “If you no believe in monkey ancestor-god, big techno-mojo no save you! You die horrible death because you no worship monkey ancestor-god!” Then I would pull out a Colt M4A1 and blow him away.* I know the difference between developing useful technology and promoting monkey ancestor worship.]

*No witch doctors were harmed in the writing of this blog.

So what was special about the great innovation we call Science? I would say that the important factors were written records, precise measurements, and controlling variables. The first two depended merely on improving technology. The latter was the true innovation. By progressively controlling more and more independent variables, the scientist narrows his focus until he is able to observe one action causing one effect, in a repeatable and observable event. Then he can make up a theory about why that one action causes that one effect in that particular situation, a situation that only he understands (maybe) and which would never naturally occur in exactly the same way. However, this knowledge may enable the development of a narrowly focused technology to control the observed phenomenon.

This knowledge is actually completely different from the knowledge gained by real-life experience, because rather than controlling for all the independent variables, real-life experience includes all independent and dependent variables together in the event itself. Therefore, any generalization has to account for every aspect of natural, cultural, spiritual, psychological, physiological, and political circumstances surrounding the event. But the knowledge of this event is accessible to everyone in the culture, because it is a part of the culture.

Anyway, I would say that faith is an extension of science. We come into this world. We look around and make observations about our surroundings, and then we start to try and reason about what is beyond what we see.

I’d also say that God has catered to our need to see evidence in order to justify believing in something. Abraham, Moses, and those who saw Jesus after the resurrection were given demostrable evidence. It’s part of the way the world works. You take some evidence, and then you reason beyond that to a conclusion about something you haven’t seen.

This is a kind of realism extended by reason. It is available to everyone, as it has always been. It is what the book of Hebrews is talking about when it describes people of faith in the Old Testament, and it is what Jesus is talking about when he praises people for their faith.

The science worshippers, however, already assume that their shaman’s knowledge is more “real” than anyone else’s, and his reason is more logical than anyone else’s, so that his conclusions are more true than anything they or anyone else could come up with. They have faith in Big Science Daddy to not just solve specific technological problems, but to tell them how to think, how to act, and how to talk. This results in the science shaman virtually disconnecting their brain stems and scooping out most of their brains, leaving only a tiny peanut-sized piece that allows them to eat, watch television, and write blog comments.

So what’s my beef with creation science? Creation science proponents see correctly that the crux of the problem is the way people idolize certain scientific ideas without even understanding them, just trusting their science shamans to tell them what to think. Their conclusion is that Creation Science is an indispensable, immutable foundation for the doctrine of salvation. Perhaps, for some brainwashed people who are out of touch with real life, or simply out of fellowship with other believers, it is essential to first remove their false beliefs about science.

However, it is blasphemous to put the transient, speculative interpretations of inconclusive scientific evidence, written by modern men, on the same level as doctrines that are clearly stated in the actual text of the Bible. Then they go further and place on others the burden that accepting their writings is necessary for eternal salvation, along with the actual doctrines of salvation found in the New Testament. That is where they have jumped the shark. They are in effect agreeing with the science worshippers that Science is a magical idol whose power they must co-opt and redirect before it destroys God and His people. It sounds like one of those really stupid supernatural horror movies.

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3 thoughts on “Realistic Science

  1. The Colt M4A1 crops us again. The last time was in the story about the 2 wolves, the sheep, and the two pigs.

    The science fraud keys on the fact that observable fact should go uncontested. So if somone can pass something off as science, and these days, because so many people don’t try to pin down what the definition of science is, what gets labeled as science is assumed to be observable fact. Anyone who then contests the claim gets discredited. Because what reasonable person would contest observable fact?

  2. The Colt M4A1 crops us again.

    It’s the best I can come up with. I haven’t read any Mack Bolan books in awhile.

    what gets labeled as science is assumed to be observable fact

    You can see this most clearly if you study science journalism as distinct from actual research conclusions from practicing scientists. The science journalists are as knowledgeable as any nonscientist will ever get, but there’s still a limit to their understanding, and scientists constantly carp about how stupid their stories are.

    The science journalists are responsible for most of the hype, and they will admit it. They are proud to be promoting a “worthy” cause. Then you have a guy like Myers, who is a totally irresponsible political huckster.

  3. He’s got a big following. His sitemeter show 25,000 to 30,000 visits a day during the week.

    I think astrophysicists and astronomers are among the worst. The experimentalists who have to produce hard-science results, their science is good, but all those who get to makes claims about the past that can never get confirmed, they can get away with all sorts of bogus stuff.

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