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Friday, February 21, 2014

Who’s Afraid of Science?

I often refer to Wikipedia, that unassailable bastion of compiled wisdom, not because I believe it to be particularly accurate, but because it provides as good an understanding of how people currently use language as can possibly be obtained. A Wikipedia definition is the gold standard for lowest common denominator human knowledge. So while it may not represent what everyone down through human history understood by the term “science”, let’s give their definition a browse:
Science (from Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.”
Sounds reasonable, no? So let’s get some things clear here:

I am not anti-science — and more importantly, neither Christians nor the Scripture itself are anti-science — if by “science” we mean using our God-given intelligence to puzzle out how things work and make life better for each other. Who could reasonably be against the search for objective truth? Who wouldn’t like better hygiene, a cure for cancer or buildings that remain standing in earthquakes?

“Science” in this sense is a perfectly sensible concept, and something man was clearly designed for. It’s in our nature to ask questions and look for answers.

I am, however, profoundly anti-science, if by “science” you mean what most people actually mean by it: agenda-driven, government- or special interest-funded pseudo-authority masquerading as universal truth. 

Boiled down to its essence, it is a propaganda hammer used to bludgeon the most malleable minds into what are — today, at least — the most politically acceptable shapes.

It is about as far from the original concept as it is possible to have come.

The apostle Paul encountered the equivalent of the second type of “science” in his day. He tells Timothy:
“Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called 'knowledge’, for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”                                                                  (1 Timothy 6:20-21)
The KJV here has “oppositions of science, falsely so called”, a lovely, descriptive turn of phrase that remains applicable even if what Paul was specifically referring to was first-century Gnosticism. The point is that men have, throughout history, devised systems of knowledge by which they purport to be able to explain the mysteries of the universe, and that these will inevitably be invoked in opposition to the word of God.

But Paul couldn’t have more accurately summed up the current state of science: irreverent babble and contradictions.

The original scientific method, what we all learn in high school and, most significantly, what we expect of scientists, distilled to its most basic form, is this:

1.    Come up with a hypothesis.
2.    Come up with a series of falsifiable predictions that might confirm or disprove it.
3.    Experiment or observe to confirm or disprove the hypothesis.
4.    Modify, discard, or adopt as a workable scientific theory, depending on the results.
5.    Publish results, along with details of the experiment or observation performed, for peer review to eliminate bias and to be transparent.

By this traditional and rigorous standard, Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection is rubbish and every subsequent modification thereof being taught in public schools should be stricken from the books without further delay. 155 years after Darwin published his theory, there remains a spectacular lack of both successful experimentation and useful observation.

Why do Christians run and hide from this sort of “science” as if it holds any kind of authority at all? Why do we accommodate such nonsense with complicated explanations by which we desperately try to have our cake and eat it too; courting the world by trying to cram the latest pseudo-scientific “flavour of the month” into our theology?

What’s the age of the earth? I don’t know, but neither does science. I have my theories like everybody else, but nothing significant turns on them. Is homosexual desire genetic? Again, I have no idea. Neither does science at present, despite faint protestations to the contrary. Is global warming happening? I doubt it, but it’s unimportant to my theology or my Christian walk and the evidence already out there makes it clear that any invocation of “science” on the warmer’s side is either wish-fulfillment or fraud.

Perhaps this is why Paul warned Timothy to avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, no? Apart from the fact that it frequently and unjustifiably causes people to “swerve” from the faith, it’s a giant time waster. If you can argue the issue of evolution to death with an unbeliever, you are still a long, long way from getting to what is really important and necessary to him: the person and work of Jesus Christ.

If only we would avoid it!

In case you’ve never thought it through, here’s a quick list of where the scientific method can go wrong, and these days, almost invariably does:

1.    The hypothesis can be nonsense, wish fulfillment or fantasy.
2.    The “falsifiable prediction” or predictions may not be falsifiable. How, for instance, could one disprove the existence of God? It’s a classic case of a non-falsifiable prediction.
3.    The experimenter may stack the deck by faking results or discarding those that that don’t agree with his hypothesis.
4.    The experimenter may refuse to discard his theory no matter how much proof accrues against it, or may adopt it without legitimate evidence.
5.    At the peer review stage, the “scientist” may stack the deck by submitting only to those who already agree with his hypothesis and dismissing those who disagree as “deniers”, or refuse to show his results in full or at all in order to allow replication of his experiment.

You may say, “Those things could never happen”. Except they do, on a regular basis.

Michael Mann, the inventor of the climate “hockey stick”, still refuses to provide his proxy data for peer verification. However, Mann manages to retain the cover of “science” for what has been repeatedly demonstrated to be faked-up rubbish data. It’s a classic failure to replicate, even if he’s just being proprietorial.

It doesn’t end with Mann. Not by a long shot.

It turns out that P values, the so-called gold standard of statistical validity, are not as trustworthy as many scientists and economists have long assumed. Why? In this case the original hypothesis was nonsensical.

Then Principia Scientific International breaks the news that the U.S. government is involved in rigging climate data. Wow. Who woulda thunk it?

And The Economist reports on the myth of science as “self-correcting” with this: “Over the past few years various researchers have made systematic attempts to replicate some of the more widely cited priming experiments. Many of these replications have failed.”

Modern science worshipers have built, and continue to build, the foundation for their ever-changing worldview on shifting sands.

Paul’s advice, unsurprisingly, is spot-on: Avoid irreverent babble and contradictions.

3 comments :

  1. The best book on the Philosophy of Science right now is by a secular philosopher who was also a master chemist and physicist, Michael Polanyi. It's called "Personal Knowledge." If you're not a pro philosopher, reading it will give you a headache, just because of the words and concepts he uses...but it's really top level stuff. He points out that far from being a neutral study of universal truth, science is full of human interests, preferences and inclinations, just as Tom says. And he gives plenty of examples and illustrations of that.

    Immanuel Can

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    1. Case in point, look at these examples global warming theory and reality.

      http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/uk-scientists-predict-global-cooling-after-record-arctic-ice-growth/

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    2. Good one. This is another:

      http://www.steynonline.com/6547/when-science-is-settled-by-government

      Mark Steyn is a political commentator/writer/general funny guy who happened to call scientist Michael Mann a fraud and has been in court about it for the last three years. Mann is a global warming darling and I don't think Steyn even finished high school, if I remember correctly, but it doesn't matter: Mann is pulling his evidence out of thin air while Steyn is quoting hard facts. Whichever way the judge rules on this, what Steyn has brought out about the modern 'scientific method' is invaluable. I wouldn't trust anything Mann says about anything.

      And Mann doesn't even have to be 'typical'. Let's say, for instance, he is representative of only 10% of the current crop of scientific 'top guys'. I can't imagine what else is going on and I don't know where this generation's default assumption of near-infallibility for scientific pronouncements is coming from.

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