The Scientific Method

One of the things that pushed me away from the religion I grew up with was the intrusion into the scientific realms. My religion tried to explain the dinosaurs, genetic diversity, the planets, geology, etc. But, when I encountered the scientific reasoning for the theories and the evidence my religion couldn’t hold up. Faith couldn’t trump evidence for these things. I’m not saying that science has all the answers at this point, and they may not ever have all the answers. There may always be a need for spirituality or religion, but more and more people are going to turn away from churches if they spend their time and energy trying to contradict science.

Anyway, I’ve occasionally heard that my feelings about science are really just “faith” in science instead of faith in god. This is a misunderstanding of what the scientific method is. I don’t read an article about evolution and have faith in the author, it is that I trust that the scientific method is the best way that we’ve come up with to understand the natural world. The scientific method has natural checks and balances that push towards truth. There are plenty of dead-ends and misunderstandings, but the general direction of scientific inquiry is towards truth.

The same can’t be said of religion where new information is not analyzed critically, instead it is suspect. Tradition and a few ancient texts are said to be the final word on truth. New understandings of the world are rejected and considered an enemy to the divine truth. When new scientific discoveries are made this is often portrayed as proof that science doesn’t know what it is doing, or that it can’t be true because things keep changing.

It isn’t the natural world that is really changing, it is our understanding of it. Take, for example, the 1977 issue of Time Magazine that discusses “Global Cooling”. This issue is often shown as “proof” that climate change is some sort of a conspiracy. Why would we call it global cooling one decade, global warming the next, and then climate change after that? Isn’t that proof that there is a secret cabal of communist scientists who want to hijack the world and establish a Marxist utopia all under the guise of saving the planet?

Well, no.

The global cooling, global warming, and climate change labels are an example of the strengths of scientific inquiry. It is science’s ability to change as new information and research becomes available. This isn’t flip-flopping, it is learning.

Now, maybe someday soon, scientific research will see that the climate change we are experiencing is a weird natural cycle that has nothing to do with humans. Or maybe research will show that it is partly to do with humans. I really don’t know, it isn’t my area of expertise (though, I tend to think it is likely that humans are having an impact on our environment). One thing science doesn’t really do is tell us what the best policy positions are to alter our environment or if we should do that even if we have the capability.

Anyway, I love science. I love that our understanding of the world changes with new information. I love that nothing is really off limits for science, at least in an ideal world. Scientists are humans and many of them are resistant to new paradigms that would overturn their life’s work. The Scientific Method is generally able to push past human desires, it eventually evolves new theories and hypothesis to explain the world, even if individual humans resist. Religion can’t do that, and it should really stop trying to push it’s method for discovering truth into the world dominated by science.

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