Opinions on faith and life

Anti-Science: An Analysis

2012-03-27

There’s nothing like peer pressure and shame culture to stifle what is loosely called free thinking. As people have always done, they vigorously defend the prevailing scientific view as what thinking people accept rather than clinging to outdated or backward views held in the past. By elitist mockery they force conformity of thought and call it free just because it doesn’t involve a supernatural entity or deity. They deem anyone not conforming as fearful or stupid, whether directly or by inference.

I mentioned in my previous blog post that the sciences of geometry and physics are showing signs of cracking in their foundations regarding the supernatural. They are reaching the point where they can no longer observe without changing the thing they’re trying to observe, or measure without altering the thing they’re trying to measure. When observation or measurement reach a certain point the accepted scientific methods can no longer be used... as if they were not to be seen with naturalistic eyes. And without direct observation or repeatable experimentation, it is, by definition, not science.

Now when we discuss the matter of origins, whether living or nonliving, we are outside the realm of the scientific method. In fact, the past cannot be scientifically observed or measured at all, even for something that happened yesterday. Everything science can do is limited to the present; it can only measure or observe what exists right now. Knowledge can be accumulated and stored of course, but the experiments were observed at the time and verified by repetition. So when science theorizes about something that happened only once in the past and was not observed, it is no longer science; likewise, when it projects the future, it is not acting according to science but to faith in its present calculations or theories.1 A theory may be derived by observations/measurements, but unless it is testable (falsifiable)2 by scientific methods, it is just a guess or belief.

By science philosophy’s3 own definition, then, any view that purports to define YEC4 as an unscientific or anti-science theory is itself unscientific/anti-science. If evolutionism itself refuses to discuss or include origins5, then any claim that YEC is anti-science or unscientific is disingenous or ill-informed at best. Yet I see many, many people, with a wide range of educational levels, all insisting that YEC is a laughable, backward, ignorant, fearful, and above all anti-science belief. So it is they who do not understand the definition and limitations of the scientific method, and who do not admit the faith they have in it as being every bit as religious, fanatical, and anti-science as YEC.

This blog post was prompted by the discussion of an Answers article.6 Keep the things I just discussed in mind as you read it, and look for misconceptions about both theories as well as logical fallacies. One important point to keep in mind is that scientists on both sides observe and measure the same things; the data is identical. The debate is thus not over raw data but interpretation, which in spite of the claims of the anti-design side is not science but philosophy. Each side insists that the raw data prove this or that, when in fact data can do nothing of the sort; people interpret the data. And when the true scientific method is employed, meaning sticking to the strict definition, all scientists agree on what is observed or measured.

Clearly, then, there can never be a conflict between the YEC and science, but only between one philosophical interpretation and another. That is, the question, Can evolution and creation coexist? is strictly and only a philosophical debate, NOT a science vs. religion debate. Whether the topic of discussion is origins or how the world and what it contains has changed over time, it will never be a scientific debate at all. I can hope/dream that someday both sides will admit this, but that’s all I can do.


    1. theory, fact, law
    2. def. of falsifiable: ’Falsifiable’ does not mean ’false’
    3. philosophy of science
    4. Young Earth Creationism: the earth and all it contains was created in six literal 24-hour solar days
    5. evo has nothing to do/say about origins
    6. Notes on the referenced article in particular: OECs (old earth creationists) will of course insist that evolution is an observed, tested, and measured scientific fact, but I find the basis for that claim groundless and circular. Measuring devices must first be calibrated; that is, one must first of all have some idea of the scale of the anticipated results. For example, an oven thermometer does not have the same scale as a body temperature thermometer, though both use the same unit of measure (degrees). In the same way, one cannot measure the age of a rock without first having some preconceived idea of the scale. Thus, if the scientist presupposes a scale on the order of millions of years, that’s how the device to measure it will be calibrated. Conversely, if the scientist presupposes NOTHING (truly the scientific approach), they will try a variety of scales. This principle of scale and calibration can be extended into other scientific disciplines as well. (Of course biology is much more complex, but here again we can only observe what exists in the present; all theories about the past are outside the realm of science. There are many other obstacles to biological evolution as well; see this blunt article for example.)

7 Comments

Muff Potter

Good observations!  Many well intentioned folks in BOTH camps (OEC & YEC) tend to gloss over or discount altogether the measuring grids we impose on reality.  The great Einstein & Bohr argued amicably over this and could never quite agree whether or not "bigness" and "smallness" play by the same rules.

timo d.m.

I protest some of your points. Quote: "The debate is thus not over raw data but over interpretation ... not science but philosophy."  Science is not a collection of data; it is a very formal, structured collection of methods for building general knowledge from a *starting point* of raw data--i.e., INTERPRETING it, in a very careful way.  The evolution/YEC "debate" has been squarely resolved by science.  Intelligent Design, or a universe set in motion by the Creator in the distant past are valid religious beliefs (not in conflict with reality), but young-earth Creationism is completely at odds with what science has shown us. Secondly, quantum mechanics. (By the way, I do have a physics degree, I know a tiny bit about this.)  The theory tells us that our observation changes the quantity observed.  The Uncertainty Principle *itself* is not at all uncertain, it is quite firmly placed within the science of quantum mechanics.  It is not, as you say, no longer a science.  Simply untrue.

SaberTruth

You say, "interpreting it in a very careful way", so how am I wrong for saying the same thing, just because I didn’t say "carefully"? Interpretation is interpretation, and you cannot assert without evidence that creationists do NOT use care in so doing. So your first objection fails. You say that this debate has been resolved, but clearly it has not. Both sides use "science", and both use interpretation, and both disagree on the latter but not the former. The science simply does not interpret the data itself or apart from interpretation, and both sides filter the data through their presuppositions. So your second objection fails. You label ID as "religious", yet it cannot be fairly labeled as such any more than evo, which in older articles I have shown to be more rabidly religious than ID by a long shot. Yet the only reason you might call it "valid" is because you think it only departs from evo at the point evo refuses to discuss: origins. But that is not true; ID denies even biological evolution, not merely origins. Again, "science" has only shown us data, and YEC never denies the data. So your third objection fails. As for quantum physics, did you read what I actually wrote? I said exactly what you’re saying: that observation interferes with data at the quantum level. But the reason it interferes is the key: is it because of some mystical religious property (e.g., "the moon is demonstrably not there when nobody looks at it"... in spite of its gravitational pull remaining), or is it because the particle size of the observational apparatus is too large, such that it’s like throwing baseballs at tennis balls and wondering why the tennis balls deflect? I hope you’re not trying to say that the scientific method must bend to a knowingly flawed observational method. And don’t try the "appeal to authority" fallacy again; your expertise has had no effect upon my argument or that of quantum physics. As for the uncertainty principle, remember the meaning of "uncertainty"? It is no longer science when you redefine common terms to the point they mean just the opposite of their real definitions. You might as well say that theory = fact, which no reputable scientist would do. It seems that regardless of educational level, many today have forgotten where the boundaries of science are, or even that they exist. And when you venture outside of that boundary into the realm of logic and linguistics and philosophy, you’re on my turf and no longer the expert. It is undeniable that to go beyond observation and falsifiability is to leave the realm of the purely scientific.

SaberTruth

Hi timo, I’m not sure what the source of our communication problem is, but I have no disagreement with any of this comment. My point in even bringing up theoretical physics is that theories that once seemed so airtight are now know not to be, as we approach the limits of our ability as humans to measure and observe. And without that, we are no longer in the realm of the falsifiable, thus outside the realm of science as something "provable" or demonstrable. And all of this is why the common epithet "anti-science" is so false and baseless an accusation. When people make this accusation they are merely defending a favored philosophy or interpretation rather than science. Again, the focus of my article was not quantum physics at all, but showing that calling an interpretation "anti-science" is the pot calling the kettle black.

timo d.m.

Quantum mechanics is actually pretty airtight.  String theory and other things like that are still exploratory.  There will always be room for exploration in science.  A lot of it will turn out to be wrong, some of it will be right, and then there will be a new boundary to be explored.  That’s how science works. QM *is* demonstrable.  What I tried to explain about the Uncertainty principle (about the *exact* mathematical relationship between position and velocity, sorry I didn’t mention that there is an equation that exactly relates the *amount* of uncertainty) ... that’s been demonstrated again and again, along with all other tenets of QM.  If you are actually interested in learning something about the methods of science and/or QM, there are lots of good books written for a lay audience.  I could give you some titles if you like.  If you’re not interested, well, then go on being anti-science! I ended up here by accident last night, following links from some of my regular blogs.  Didn’t mean to troll.  This will be my last post here.  (Unless you actually want book recommendations, in which case I’ll provide.)

SaberTruth

 If one only considers the internal calculations of quantum physics, of course it seems airtight. But the problem is when it clashes with other theories that also seem airtight. Conflicting theories cannot all be right, and yet all claim to be established beyond doubt. But once again, the problem is that when a theory cannot be falsified by real scientific observation, any theory that differs cannot be labeled "anti-science". I don’t know how else to convey this primary point of my article. There is simply no escaping the fact that the anti-science charge is baseless in such cases. Also, of course scientific observation and testing keeps making theories change; that’s their purpose, to falsify or confirm. Again I’m puzzled as to why you felt the need to say this. And just FYI, it’s somewhat condescending to offer to help me learn "something about the methods of science", since you presume I am ignorant of them--- in spite of my explanation and reference to definitions of the same. In addition, to admit the serious problems with observation on the quantum level and then say it is demonstrable is self-contradictory. So it seems to me that there will be no need for more such comments since they are beside the point of my article and we are having difficulty communicating. Thanks for stopping by.

timo d.m.

Hi SaberTruth, I’ll just expand on and clarify the quantum mechanics; hopefully this is helpful.  Quantum effects generally cancel each other out once you get more than a few hundred atoms together.  The moon weighs a billion trillion kilograms (roughly), so we can be certain of it’s mass and velocity to as much accuracy as anyone cares about.  The moon’s gravitational pull is good evidence not only that it still exists, but that it is the same size and it is in the position we expect it to be at all times. Even at the level of individual electrons, the electron is there even when we’re not looking at it.  What the Uncertainty Principle actually says is that if we want to know it’s position, we have to shoot a photon at it to see it, and that upsets its velocity.  Same thing the other way: if we want to know it’s velocity, we can do so, but only by upsetting it’s position.  Basically, knowing one thing more accurately makes us know the other thing less accurately.  Still, the electron exists no matter what, and if there’s a collection of exactly 97 electrons in a box, and you turn your head, there are still exactly 97 electrons in that box.  (However, we may not know their positions or velocities very well.)  And the answer to the old riddle about the tree falling in a forest... yes it does make a sound, even if no one hears it. I hope that explanation of quantum mechanics was a bit more clear... I know my first post was a lot more brief on the details.