The truth is out there
May 16, 2010 § 6 Comments
My recent blog piece “At the edge of knowledge” spawned an awesome amount of feedback and brought up a really good point from some of the commentators. The main thing I walk away from in the debate which ensued was that denial of accepted facts is not a valid argument.
The point that so many make, science denialists in particular, is that science is just as much a leap of faith as religion is. As I say in “At the edge of knowledge” sure there is a certain amount of faith involved on the part of a science advocate, because not only is it very difficult to know all the facts and figures that go a long with the immense breadth of scientific knowledge, there simply isn’t enough time to read all the papers, all the magazines, all the articles etc. But it is possible to pick up on the general gist of an idea, and relate it in a universal view back to what we already know.
Scientists themselves use scientific method when investigating and proposing new ideas, which Wikipedia summarises nicely.
“To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.”
So it’s not as if someone just comes up with these theories and principles, they are developed over a long time, added to, removed from, rethought, sometimes completely scrapped, when new and more valid information comes to hand. Scientific findings are always changing, and with every change comes a better understanding of the nature of the universe.
But then the old chestnut arises, “But it’s only a theory!”
I think some further explanation is needed. The word “theory” as it pertains to science is so often misused and misunderstood. So let me start here. The word theory os commonly defined as “An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.” If you go to that link you’ll notice that the definition I just gave you is the sixth definition offered. This should say something right away, but it is precisely this definition that the naysayers of science use to discredit scientific theory. Again, using Wikipedia, I find this definition of scientific theory
“…a scientific theory (also called an empirical theory) comprises a collection of concepts, including abstractions of observable phenomena expressed as quantifiable properties, together with rules (called scientific laws) that express relationships between observations of such concepts. A scientific theory is constructed to conform to available empirical data about such observations, and is put forth as a principle or body of principles for explaining a class of phenomena.”
Now what does this say? In layman’s terms, it says that scientific theory is co-dependent on upon other pieces of scientific theory in order to to formulate a principle or set of principles upon which further theories can be based upon or derived from. So it’s not just an idea that is easily refuted, for if you start refuting one theory, you have to start refuting the basis upon which that theory is built too. And if you keep digging, eventually you’ll find a theory you can’t refute, because as I said scientific theory is built upon the knowledge and theories that have come before it.
The other thing I need to mention to people who refute science as “just a theory” is that every day people use the products of science, the tools of science and the inventions of science to perform everyday activities. A science denier who uses a computer is a fool, for without decades of science in the development of computer hardware and software there would be no computer at all. In fact just about everything a person uses in their everyday life has its basis in the scientific method of investigation. Your computer, your shoes, your watch, your car, your fridge, TV, the electricity in your home, lightbulbs, your food, home and hair-product. And in fact, unless you are a very strict Amish person and use no electricity, you are using the products of science all the time!
It’s from these theories that we are able to make planes fly, and make food safe, and all of science adheres to these principles. And science consults natural phenomenon to make its assertions.
I often read posts and comments from people who discredit a scientific theory because it doesn’t make sense, or seems like nonsense. And this I can understand, because it is very easy to become confused especially if the person isn’t equipped with the right knowledge, or the right amount of knowledge on the chosen topic. To these people I say, “The truth is out there!” And it is not difficult to find reputable information on scientific theories online or at a library.
So next time you decide that something like evolution is “just a theory”, you know what? You’re completely right! It is a very sound scientific theory!