Sunday, November 27, 2005

Science 101

Shana, one of my rare commenters on this here blog engaged me in a discussion regarding young-earth creationist "Dr." Kent Hovind in the the comments to post below this one. She provided this little tidbit in defense of "Dr." Hovind:

I agree with most of his points, but they are things that I learned long before I knew he even existed. I don't agree with everything he says, but he has a lot more solid, unchaning information than any other scientist I know. You say that science is absolute, yet the answers are constantly changing. Either something is right, or it isn't, and to keep chaning the answers in lieu of 'better information', shows that you have faith that it will eventually be 'right'.

After reading this, I thought that Shana could use a little introductory science lesson since she clearly doesn't understand what science is. Also, I never said that "science is absolute." But we'll get to that in a minute. I think this is an important issue to address right now. This whole evolution versus ID/creationism debate hinges on the fact that many many Americans are not scientifically literate. Shana is a prime example.

So what is Science?

Science is the investigation or study of nature through observation and reasoning, aimed at finding out the truth. It is important to note that science is the process I just described, not just the actual discoveries the process might yield. Most scientists employ the Scientific Method.

Scientific method uses observations and reasoning to propose tentative explanations for natural phenomena, termed hypotheses. Scientists make predictions from these hypotheses. An important aspect of a hypothesis is that it must be falsifiable, in other words, it must be conceivable to prove the hypothesis to be false. If a proposition is not falsifiable, then it is not a hypothesis, and instead an opinion or statement not based upon the scientific method. These hypothesies are tested by various experiments. These experiments should be reproducible.

Once a hypothesis is repeatedly verified through experiment, it is considered to be a theory and new predictions are based upon it. Any erroneous predictions, internal inconsistencies or unexplained phenomena, initiate the generation of correction to hypotheses, which are themselves tested, and so on. Any hypothesis which is cogent enough to make predictions can be tested in this way.

It is important to understand the terms "hypothesis," "theory," "law," model," and also "fact." It is important to understand that a theory is not something less than a fact. All of these terms refer to different and important things.

Shana points out that "Dr." Kent Hovind's information is solid and unchanging. She says this in the same breath in which she refers to him as a "scientist." Solid and unchanging information does not equate to good information. In fact, it usually equates to bad information. Hovind is not a scientist. He didn't begin with a hypothesis and test it. He began with a theory. He then worked backwards and tried to fit all of the observable evidence in the world into his theory. When people do this, they usually twist their evidence to fit their theory. What a true scientist does is twist his theory to fit the evidence. The beauty of science is that it is NOT solid and unchanging. If good science was solid and unchanging, you would still see leeches and rusty drills in the hospital; Man would not be able to fly; the Earth would be flat and at the center of the universe. And the world would suck ass.

Shana assumes that I have "faith" because I think that by changing theories to suit "better information" I will eventually find the "right answer." This is the danger of thinking in absolutes. In many cases, there is no "right answer." In others, such as the origin of life and the universe, there may be a right answer but no scientist emphatically believes that we will ever have a complete answer. Science seeks better answers. And I'm comfortable with that. Religion seeks, or rather religion believes it has, "right answers." The sad thing is that science has proven so many of these "right answers" to be wrong and religion still exists.

1 comment:

DannyNoonan said...

Yeah, Shana doesn't understand a lot of things. I hate it when the religious goofballs pull out the "you have faith too" argument. It's just so silly. My favorite is when they suggest that believing in gravity is a matter of faith. Sometimes I think the world is doomed.