Tuesday, June 07, 2005

When a theory is not a theory

Pharyngula::A historian disgraces himself Well, supposedly at least.

Why is it that otherwise rational people forget what the scientific method is, because of prevailing public opinion? Ok, what is all this about. We have one guy arguing against evolution and another guy maiking fun of him. I am not going to get into the particulars because I have not made it a point of serious study. There are some serious problems with the prevailing theory, and some anomalous data, but I am not concerned with that at the moment.

What is wrong here is the fact that some things in science have been evalated about theory to fact. When does a theory become so well established that it becomes fact? Either when we have performed every possible experiment and excluded every alternate explanation, OR when God tell you so. In a word, that isn't going to happen to society anytime soon. Let's think about theories for a moment. Copernicus had revolutionary idea. It made calcuation easier, though the old way did work just fine. However, the authorities of the day saw no need to look through Galileo's telescope, because they already knew.

Around the turn of the century physics had been solved, with a few very small exceptions. Albert Michelson had data that told him otherwise, but he could not believe it. A few years later, Relativity and Quantum Mechanics blazed onto the scene and upset everything.

Right now, we have theories that no one would dare argue with. And those are the ones most likely to be in need of revision. Being a physicist myself, I have understand why it is said that the only thing that allows new theories to gain acceptance is the old generation dying off. I am going to mention a few theories that have had societies Final Judgement.

Gravity - At this point, it is called Law, but at least there are many that are looking for cracks in its armor. Einstein has become the patron saint of scientific knowledge. Not many people, certainly not many without pre-existing credentials, dare to critize him. And yet, there are problems. The gravitational constant is the most poorly measured constant of all the fundimental constants and some have argued for a whole new theory. Fascinating stuff, but the details are not the point at the moment.

Cold Fusion - NOBODY takes this seriously, except a few crackpots, right? Well, some of these crackpots have better credentials than I and have done some detailed research. This story is not over yet. If you want to read papers, check this out.

Evolution - Unless you just don't care what people think, don't even think of arguing against this one. Note that I am not specifically arguing, at the moment, that it is wrong. I may try to have a nuanced argument one of these days, but not today. The problem here that makes me want to scream is that no one will even take the opposition seriously. No one will think about it. Ok, I have to admit that some creationist are kooks. They take an overly literal reading, and don't even try to understand how God did it. And too many of them take intellectually weak positions like Intelligent Design, in some perverted attempt to merge both positions. Some of you will argue at this point that I am one of THEM, this guy is a Creationist. Yes, I am. And I don't pretend to have all the answers. But it really bugs me when other people without all the answers act like they do. The particular argument that I mentioned at the top is two people, neither of which are taking a proper look at the evidence. Yes, that is right. NEITHER. Is there some evidence for Evolution? Sure. Does that make it a sure thing, even if there were no evidence for Creation? (And yes, there is evidence) No, it does not. It takes a very honest man or woman to admit it is just a theory. Yes, folks, just a theory. And will it ever become a fact? Not by the scientific method it won't. It can't. We can not do every experiment and God does not seem to be in the habit, lately at least, of talking to large groups of agnostics. And until he says yay or nay, it will be a matter of faith.

That is why such arguments are generally so vitrolic, it is a matter of faith for both parties, but one sides denies it and the other doesn't like to admit it. How many people honestly search out the evidence and can clearly give you the arguments for and against? Almost no one. No one I can remember having met at least. The Evolution position is an act of faith in Authoritarianism and in certain pieces of evidence. Yes, an act of faith. Are all authorities worthy of being ignored or condemned? Certainly not. Should contrary evidence be ignored? No. Should we bare in mind the strengths and the weaknesses of the scientific method before we condemn religious positions, Always.

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