Is There Objectivity in Science?

Last year I went on vacation to the Grand Canyon. I took one of the tours from the park ranger, who talked about the canyon. One of the questions posed to him was about how the canyon was formed. The ranger responded that every so often there is a geologist convention there, and the experts from all over the country come to study the canyon. There have been several theories proposed, but no one really knows how it was formed.

One of the people in the group spoke up. He claimed to be a professor of geology, and confirmed what the ranger had just said. The good professor then said that “it’s true we don’t really know how the canyon was formed, but at least you didn’t mention that silly flood theory.”

Now I had just heard two experts talk about the origins of the canyon. They both came across as intelligent, and appeared to be sober.  There were no men in white coats following them around, so I assume they were sane. They both told me that no one really knows how the canyon was formed, but then in the same breath one of them, the expert, dismisses one cause out of hand. Now I ask you, is this objective? Or is it evidence that the religious bias of some people impact what data they perceive? I know this: such an answer in philosophy class would earn one an F, for we can’t dismiss causes out of hand without proving or disproving them. Later that same vacation, I saw a sign the park rangers had put up, which said that local Indian legend said the canyon was formed by a flood.

I was reminded of this last night in a discussion with an atheist. After explaining to him that there is a mountain of historical accuracies in the bible, the atheist said he didn’t believe the bible because of miracle accounts such as Noah and the flood, saying there was no evidence for a worldwide flood. I immediately recalled a story from years ago by University of Texas scientists who had found a huge layer of silt in the Brazos River bed in Texas. The experts claimed that for such a large deposit of silt to form, there would have had to have been 300 feet of water over Texas in recent geologic history. They speculated that perhaps a comet had hit the gulf of Mexico and caused such an event. Again, no mention of Noah, who was apparently dismissed out of hand.

Now I have no idea how the grand canyon was formed. For all I know, Disney made it it for a theme park. Perhaps a comet did hit in the gulf of Mexico. I cannot speak of the origins of such things, and if the experts have a hard time explaining them, I’m not going to try to provide an answer. My observations are about how scientists approach the data, and how they make conclusions. The “theory ladeness of observation” says that the pre-conceived theories held by the observer impacts human perception. The beliefs of the observer help determine what data is perceived. This is proven every time we see a stage magician do a trick; he is doing his sleight of hand right in front of us, and the reason we are fooled is because we have a pre-conceived set of perceptions on how things ought to be. The magician understands human perception, and knows what you will perceive and what you will not.

I submit that science can be objective, but scientists have a much harder time doing so. To suggest that all those in natural science fields are completely unbiased and unskewed by personal beliefs is to believe in the easter bunny. Science is made up of scientists who are subject to all the human frailties as the rest of us, and we should take into account their biases when they try to give us truth claims. If they assume in advance that miracle accounts in the Bible are fantastic and untrue, then by golly, the data they find seems to support such a case.

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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1 Response to Is There Objectivity in Science?

  1. David Bower says:

    A pastor once taught me an important lesson about cultural bias. To illustrate the challenge we all face he gave random volunteers a clear piece of colored plastic, each volunteer receiving a different color. He then told the volunteers to hold the colored plastic in front of their eyes as he had a color projected on a screen in front of the congregation.

    Those of us seeing the projected color without the colored plastic sheets saw the color as it was, but those with the plastic sheets each saw a different color. He did this with a variety of projected colors and got different responses each time from those looking at the image through the colored plastic.

    The pastor then went on to explain the significance of what we had just witnessed; the point he made was because of the cultural influence of being born and raised in a specific cultural environment we all develop “cultural contacts” that effectively color our perception of reality. We see things through these cultural contacts and are profoundly influenced by them even when we read the Bible.

    I was impressed by this explanation of our problem as I had seen it manifested in my life. The conventional wisdom, the “everybody knows” sort of knowledge that circulates in our society and embeds itself in our thinking influences all of our perceptions of reality.

    The first step toward freeing ourselves from this influence is to acknowledge that it is there; the second step is to try to evaluate the nature and impact of the cultural bias that is part of our thinking. This process, although slow, is very liberating and most assuredly worth the effort.

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