Scientists Say….But Do You Trust Them?

Modern culture views truth as having a gold standard, science. It measures all statements against scientific facts, accepting the ones that align with science and rejecting the ones that do not. Somewhere down the list are religious truths, which are either tossed into the pile of subjective statements or rejected outright as hostile to truth.

When we step back from this a bit, we will notice problems with science as a measure of truth. We notice that science does not say anything, but scientists do. Science is a field of endeavor, but humans make the decisions. Science is actually a series of humans who have human cares and desires and motivations, and make decisions on what to tell us and what to leave out. How do we know they are giving us objective truth? We are told the scientific method and peer-review process is designed to weed out falsehood and encourage accurate conclusions. But are we to believe that this process, run by humans, is infallable? This same process was in place a generation ago, but how many of last generations science texts are still considered accurate? Therefore how many of today’s science texts will still be accurate a generation from now?

We also have this pesky problem of objective observation. We have much difficulty finding a view from nowhere, and all viewpoints seem to have some biases and presuppositions. The bias of the observer is not just a conscious thing, but impacts the data that is observed and noted. For example, if I were to view an x-ray, all I would see are smudges and smears. But to a trained surgeon, the information communicated would be significant. Therefore how do we know that the data being observed is not influenced by the worldview of the observer?

The more we try to shake ourselves loose from the impact of the observer, the worse it seems to get. Stage magicians succeed in their craft because they know what we will look at and what we will not. They do the trick right in front of us, but because they are masters at distraction, they know what they can do in plain sight to fool us. This is all good fun, and we go home entertained. But when the scientists’ observations and conclusions end up impacting our nations laws, what we teach our children, how we spend our money, who can work and who cannot, and such, then we owe it to ourselves to at least be careful. When we move to the public arena, how do we know that the scientist just did not see the anomalies as a pattern of causes or symptoms?

We also note that science is a general term. The actual work is done in tiny slices of specialization. We do not actually have scientists as much as we have micropeleontoligists, imuno-molecular geneticists, optical physicists, and a host of other fields, sub-fields, and sub-sub-fields. Each of these areas has its own publications that publish so much material that these capable people have difficulty reading it all. How can we be sure that when they put all this data into a unified whole, they have put the conclusion together in a valid form? They cannot possibly have the cognitive bandwidth to evaluate each others’ areas of specialization, yet they make statements that broad areas of research are established fact.

So when we read in the popular media that ‘scientists say that…’ we typically are not expected to question.  We are all happy…..until an outsider comes along and approaches the issue from a completely different perspective.

When Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor, published his landmark book Darwin On Trial, he took his expertise as an expert in legal evidence and applied it to the creation / evolution controversy. When describing a legal brief filed by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Johnson stated “The Academy thus defined ‘science’ in such a way that advocates of supernatural creation may neither argue for their own position nor dispute the claims of the scientific establishment.” (p.8) He went on, “A second point that caught my attention was that the very persons who insist upon keeping religion and science separate are eager to use their science as a basis for pronouncements about religion. The literature of Darwinism is full of anti-theistic conclusions . . .” (p.8).

Johnson mentions Richard Dawkins, a leading symbol of only-science-is-truth cultural norm:

His 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker is at one level about biology, but at a more fundamental level it is a sustained argument for atheism. According to Dawkins, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’ When he contemplates the perfidy of those who refuse to believe, Dawkins can scarecely restrain his fury. ‘It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)’ (p.9)

So much for calm objective observation about facts. Such statements as Dawkins’ would never pass basic legal or philosophy classes, but are regularly given in the popular media.

We should not be so inconsistent as to condemn all technical researchers, for overall they have done us much good. But we should take a great long look at who we take as authoritative fountains of truth. Many of our science gurus have all the same issues as the rest of us.

Personally, I’ll take the ancient source of truth in the Bible over the sages of modern science most every time, for it has a much better track record over time. 

 

 

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Atheism, Culture, Evolution. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Scientists Say….But Do You Trust Them?

  1. So instead of relying on a system that you yourself can put to the test, that tries to minimize the influence of personal bias, allows for reality to correct it, etc. you decide to take the system that some guys have made up and written down without even trying to hide their personal bias and its completely random nature?
    Sorry, but you obviously missed the important points with the scientific method and chose make-believe instead.

  2. humblesmith says:

    The response to a criticism like this has already been given in many instances. Just type the word “evidence” in the search box for this blog.

    I also note that the point of the blog post was not dealt with.

  3. alpha079er says:

    I thought that this statement you made was interesting:

    “How do we know they are giving us objective truth? We are told the scientific method and peer-review process is designed to weed out falsehood and encourage accurate conclusions. But are we to believe that this process, run by humans, is infallable [sic]?”

    Anyone could say the same about religion. In fact, religion lacks the self-correcting processes of science. How do you know that the bible, whose composition began in the bronze age, is infallible? Parts of it have not changed in thousands of years, yet our understanding of the world and our moral sensibilities have changed significantly.

    Of course, science sometimes gets things wrong but the scientific field has the courage to admit that – something that religion cannot do. Generations of scientists explore, test, recalculate, re-hypothesize, and re-theorize to continually build upon the base of scientific knowledge. Religion is static.

    If you have any doubt about which is more effective in producing world-bettering effects, just ask yourself: “Which of these methods created vaccines, airplanes, computers, and weather satellites, and which of these methods has created terrible injustices to the gay community, exacerbated the African AIDS crisis, and has relegated women to second-class status?”

    • humblesmith says:

      You are correct that the Bible was written long ago. But I would make the case that age of a teaching has no affect on whether it is true or false….it is not the case that newer is truer, or that older is golder. There is an informal logical fallacy called chonological snobbery that holds that the age of a statement does not impact whether or not it is true. Some things, such as human nature, are the same today as long ago. So the teachings of the Bible regarding the nature of mankind are as true today as they were back then. Books such as The Art of War are as valid and useful today as they were 2500 years ago.

      You are also correct in that religious people make mistakes as well as non-religious people do. If I implied otherwise, I stand corrected. The point of the post was that statements of science should be viewed with the realization that there are humans making the claims, with all the corresponding implications. I think both Christians and anti-Christians will admit to the weaknesses of religious people.

      Further, that religious or non-religious people are capable of mistakes and bias should not impact the truth or falsity of the objects being measured; e.g., the melting point of lead or the effect of Jesus’ death has nothing to do with the ability of the people thinking about these events to make accurate conclusions. Therefore external standards, such as the Bible, should not be judged by the weaknesses of the people drawing conclusions about the Bible. So while science leans on the assumption that natural forces act in a regular manner, and that we can cross-check our processes using method, Christians lean on the objective truth of the Bible and the established science of textual interpretation, called hermeneutics. Neither side is based in subjectivity, as is commonly and falsely accused.

      As for the “world bettering effects,” we could have quite a long discussion about that. Benefits and atrocities have been committed both in the name of religion and of science, so neither has a corner on good or evil. No one disputes the bettering effects of all the practical machines we produce for ourselves. But again, science does not put the machines to work, humans do, and when the machines are totally separated from objective value systems, we have trouble separating the use of gunpowder for fireworks or for mass shootings. Pure science would not have the tools to make anything good or evil, it would just make things. As for religion, specifically Christianity, I have traveled quite a bit, and have yet to find an Atheist General Hospital, but in almost every city I find hospitals, relief agencies, homeless shelters, all named after Christian saints, denominations, and churches.

      As for religion being static, I would disagree. The job of both science and religion is to accurately explain reality. Sometimes science is correct, sometimes it is wrong; sometimes religion is correct, sometimes it is wrong. We should be mature enough to recognize when we have made mistakes, then adjust. So far, the Bible has done a very good job of explaining human nature, much better, I might add, than modern psychology has at any given point in time. Things should indeed remain static when they are true, but corrected if not.

      To point out but one of the gross misrepresentations commonly attributed to Christianity, namely the treatment of women, see here:

      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/what-does-the-bible-say-about-women/

      http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/what-does-the-bible-say-about-women-part-2/

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