Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

Science and Truth

One of the hot subjects of contention in America at the moment is the matter of evolution versus intelligent design. For those who haven't noticed, the Wikipedia entry defines intelligent design as follows:

Intelligent design (ID) is the concept that "certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection." Its leading proponents, all of whom are affiliated with the Discovery Institute, say that intelligent design is a scientific theory that stands on equal footing with, or is superior to, current scientific theories regarding the origin of life.

An overwhelming majority of the scientific community views intelligent design not as a valid scientific theory but as pseudoscience or junk science. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has stated that intelligent design "and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life" are not science because they cannot be tested by experiment, do not generate any predictions and propose no new hypotheses of their own.

I am not going to enter the debate but would draw your attention to the word that both sides of the argument claim as the validator of their theories: "scientific". This is the word that we accept as the stamp of approval, the final arbiter that decides whether something is true or false. When the great god science proclaims its judgement, we all bow in submission and feel reassured in our understanding of the world.

Being as contrary as I am, I do not accept that we have to be quite so respectful of this particular god. It seems to me that science is not an immutable statement of truth but rather an interim suggestion of what might be true in view of what we know so far. Looking at its history, we have to admit that, every so often, it undergoes a sea change and emerges as a very different animal from the one we knew before. And, to me, this indicates that science is something to be aware of as an interested observer but not to accept as the final arbiter of anything.

Those who worship the god would have us believe that science explains clearly what is going on around us and that we would be fools not to accept it as true. But, if we examine it with an open mind, we find that it is just as "fuzzy" and undecided as any other of our systems of thought. The reality of science is that it names and suggests but cannot give a final answer.

Take gravity, for instance. In my post, O Water, I made this statement:

Your human laws
Of gravity and surface
Do not describe the natural fact
But only lend it reason

This is an assertion in poetic form that science does not have the understanding that we so often ascribe to it. Note that the word "lend" indicates an impermanence, a suggestion that what is given now will later be rescinded.

We are told that Newton discovered gravity but really that is an overstatement; we have always known that "what goes up must come down". All that Newton did was ask the question, "Why?" To begin to answer that question, he decided that gravity is a force, one that we now accept as fundamental to the existence of the universe.

But what the heck is it and why is it so? The plain and simple fact is that we do not know; we can measure it, explain what it does, use it in our calculations of the beginning of the universe, but we cannot say what and why it is. All we have done is to give it a name. This is reinforced if we look at Webster's definition of the word:

Main Entry: gravity
The gravitational attraction of the mass of the earth, the moon, or a planet for bodies at or near its surface (2) : a fundamental physical force that is responsible for interactions which occur because of mass between particles, between aggregations of matter (as stars and planets), and between particles (as photons) and aggregations of matter, that is 1039 times weaker than the strong force, and that extends over infinite distances but is dominant over macroscopic distances especially between aggregations of matter.

The definition turns in upon itself; gravity is, apparently, a "gravitational attraction". The rest is mere obfuscation to disguise the fact that nothing has been explained. So we can measure it but we can't say what it is. How exact and sure is this wonderful science we worship!

In case you think I've just picked on a single instance of the weakness of science, let's have a look at another one. Closer to the business of evolution is the word "instinct". And this is what Webster has to say on it:

Main Entry: instinct
A largely inheritable and unalterable tendency of an organism to make a complex and specific response to environmental stimuli without involving reason b : behavior that is mediated by reactions below the conscious level.

It looks like an explanation but is really just a statement of what we already know: that organisms react in predictable ways without the intervention of reason. There is no explanation of the mechanism that creates these responses.

You might say to me that this is just a definition and that we must look to science for an understanding of what instinct really is. But you will find that there are no answers from that quarter either. "Instinct" is the convenient grab-all that science uses to explain all behavior that is not instigated by reason; no attempt is made to explain how it works or what it is.

In effect, science merely names what we observe. We see that there is a difference between behavior motivated by reason and that motivated automatically and we choose to call the second "instinct". When asked why an organism behaves in a certain way, we can then answer "Instinct", as though this explains everything. But really we are just saying that it behaves that way because it behaves that way. What an astute observation!

I am not saying that science is nonsense. In point of fact, I believe (what an unscientific word) that science is carrying out one of the Creator's initial instructions to Adam: to name all that is. But we should not get carried away with what we have found out so far. Science is not infallible; it grows and changes with our theories, our current understanding.

To return to the business of evolution and intelligent design, it seems to me that neither side make any great point when claiming to be scientific. Since science is not fixed and decided forever, I do not agree that it can be the final deciding factor in the argument. What really matters is truth. And, quite frankly, I don't care how unscientific a statement may be; if it's true, it's true.

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*dives for the bunker and scrambles to get his tin hat on*
Date Added: 06/03/2006

Gone Away
Hey, it's not that controversial, is it, Mad?
Date Added: 06/03/2006

They say that a scientific theory is observable, testable and one on which predictions of future results can be made. Gravity is considered to be only a theory.

I decided to test it.

I understand that the larger the mass of the object, the greater the gravitational pull. This would explain why two brownies fall into my mouth while only one finds the mouth of my young niece. My mass is greater and therefore my gravitational pull is stronger and much more food is drawn to me.

I then try to alter future results by dieting, which involves highly technical avoidance behaviors to keep the food from being drawn into the black hole of my mouth (a black hole is another scientific theory, explaining why once the food is over the horizon of the black hole it can never escape). The theory is that with a reduced mass, I will exert a weaker gravitational pull and therefore only one brownie will be drawn into my mouth. Using the theory of gravity this surely should be the result of a diet.

The Truth of Science is:

Scientific theories can never be proven, but they can be disproven.

Date Added: 07/03/2006

Gone Away
Twelve, I think you've given a better proof of the theory of gravity than all the scientists! Interestingly, it also gives support to the proponents of intelligent design for I think I detect a certain amout of will behind all these events... ;)
Date Added: 07/03/2006

Oh! and I thought I might get away with "Gravity made me do it!"
Date Added: 07/03/2006

Gone Away
When it comes to brownies, any excuse will do! :D
Date Added: 07/03/2006

John (Syntagma)
Even some scientists are now questioning the existence of gravity as a "physical" force, whatever that means. The ID debate is a strange one and essentially American. By that I mean, on one side there are the fundamentalist Christians and on the other, fundamentalist supporters of scientism. In England we're used to a more nuanced debate, although we're hampered by the fat that the BBC is in the camp of fundamentalist scientism.

I would just ask one thing, what if the very stuff of the universe is also subject to change (evolution) in a way that will invalidate all mathematical models over time? I suspect we need a very open mind to begin to understand the nature of the universe
Date Added: 07/03/2006

Gone Away
I have often wondered about that very thing, John - what if the laws of the universe are subject to change just as the polarity of the earth is supposed to reverse every now and then? Suddenly our cosy little universe becomes unknown and terrifying again, just as it must once have been to those who imagined it to be in the hands of gods who fought and copulated and got drunk and played jokes on mortals. One begins to understand how a religion like scientism can be so comforting.

And yes, the ID debate is something that could only happen in America. But, after all, that's what I'm supposed to be doing in this blog: observing the curious behavior of our American cousins. ;)
Date Added: 08/03/2006

I shall be investigating the same thing...
Date Added: 08/03/2006

Gone Away
Like father, like son... ;)
Date Added: 08/03/2006

I have read books on evolutionary theory for 40 years now. For a while I thought I had read all there was (as a layman) but about 15 years ago I began again. I have come to the conclusion that evolution is intelligent design and the controversary is "much ado about nothing." Science is a means to discover truths, not truth. Truth must be discovered within our hearts or souls. Because scientists have proven evolution, it does not mean that they have discovered every means by which evolution works. Or why it works? Daniel Dennett in his book, "Darwin's Dangerous Idea; Evolution and the Meanings of Life," claims that Darwin's theory can explain the Why? of life. It is a fascinating book, but I do not believe he has explained the why only more of the how. Maybe nobody ever will know why. But knowing how evolution works, and that we are a part of all life on earth will help us understand ourselves and our obligation to our earth and all the creatures that live here. So, I, personally, do not worship the "god" of science nor the "god" of religion. I believe, as I think the Jew of old did, that god is unknowable. And if he (she, it or they) should happen to have a place for me after I die, I hope it is the rings of Saturn. In any case, I live my life as best I can, with love and compassion.
Date Added: 08/03/2006

Gone Away
I think, Mama, that we are agreed on everything but whether God is knowable or not. Personally, I have no option in the matter - since I've met Him, I can hardly say He is unknowable... ;)
Date Added: 08/03/2006

I met Jesus when I was about 8 at vacation bible school at my grandmother's in 1950. He spoke to my child's mind in a way that had to come from the outside as I was too young to come to this conclusion on my own. It's why no matter what I learn about science it cannot shake that knowledge, but I would in no way say I know God, or what he thinks or wants. One of my pet peeves is people who "know" what God thinks or wants, such as those funeral protesters who believe the soldiers are dying because of gay rights. But back to evolution, all the wonderful things that happen are so exciting and marvelous that all it does is increase my awe of the creator.
Date Added: 08/03/2006

I've never understood why the two concepts had to be mutually exclusive.

I consider as true, the existence of a “Higher Power” which is not a single entity (the white bearded man LOL) and certainly not male only. Humans have a difficult time wrapping their minds around such a concept though, so we 'humanize" God (as the white bearded man LOL)

My personal belief is this “Higher Power” has male and female characteristics. I believe this entity is responsible for creating the universe and all that is in it, but not in a “creationist” sort of way. Rather that all created has free will and evolves.

Scientific study isn't perfect and it isn't evil. What mankind does - in the name of religion OR science...sometimes is.
Date Added: 08/03/2006

Gone Away
And now I must agree with you completely, Mama. :)
Date Added: 08/03/2006

Gone Away
With your last two sentences, you sum it all up perfectly, Marti. :)
Date Added: 08/03/2006

Well let me put on the hat too... I get annoyed when they call it the Law of Evolution, since it's still a theory. When people call it a law that means it has been proven and can on be contested when someone makes the theory of Anti-Evolution. I believe in a God, who created us all, and does not wear a toga and have a white beard, at least not one that I have seen. I believe that Science and God can exist in the same universe, and I believe that Don't know even a fraction of what their is to know. So I have no idea with people having theories, just get all aggravated when someone tells me that they have proven all this and that what I believe is Pseudoscience..and...I need to go to bed I am way too cranky
Date Added: 13/03/2006

Gone Away
Cranky or not, I agree with every word, Janus.
Date Added: 14/03/2006

Throughout human history religion has been used to explain natural phenomenon which are not understood. From the rising of the sun and seasonal variations to birth, disease and fire. One by one these Gods have all been replaced by a scientific understanding of the natural phenomenon to the point that there are now only a couple of areas of nature that any sort of religion can lay claim to even requiring theological answers 1) The creation of the universe, 2) The creation of life. We now have wildly successful (in terms of explanation and prediction) scientific theories (BB cosmology, Quantum theory and Evolution) that do allow for all of these three areas to be considered without any need for theistic or mystical answers. However we cannot create a new universe or simulate billions of years of evolution in a lab thus the theists are able to resist the final nail in the coffin of mystical answers to questions of nature through pure stubborness. Whether the current scientific theories are exactly correct or will undergo modifications in the future as new evidence is gathered is almost irrelevent. It has been shown that there is no need for mystical answers to the fundamental questions and there is no reason to think that the gods used to explain these natural phenomenon will not go the same way as the Sun gods, fire gods and all the other forgotten gods of history. There will always be those who need to believe for their own comfort but there is already no need to believe to account for our existence in this universe, some just have not accepted that yet. “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
Date Added: 26/03/2006

Gone Away
It sounds great, Humbug (I too was once an atheist), until one meets the Living God. Somehow all this then appears for what it is: an attempt to explain an ordered and continuing universe without possession of all the facts. I understand the need for explanations before meeting God; after such a meeting, all such explanations are entertainment only.
Date Added: 06/04/2006

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