Thursday, 15 June 2017

Towards a theology of science - or, the role of basic honesty, humility, and patience

What is science? This video of Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, is particularly good:

Science is basically this: forming a theory that fits the known facts better than other theories. Devise a test to see if it is true - this test must contain a prediction. Perform the test - if the data from the test fits the prediction, then the theory is true, otherwise it is not.

Without the data you have nothing.

This procedure demands at least four qualities of character from the scientist: honesty, humility, patience and perseverance. Where honesty is lacking, results can't be trusted - now, an honest, humble scientist can acknowledge to himself that he might be cherry-picking the data or overlooking something, for humility acknowledges, 'I might be wrong about this.' Patience is able to wait until a real result is found. Perseverance keeps going, even though so far, the efforts have been fruitless. These are qualities of character, that can be taught, but necessarily must be taught from a young age...

An increasing problem is that funding for science is being made conditional on political or economic usefulness in their results for scientists in universities - which really is not helpful - in a sense this forces scientists to dress up their results as propaganda or economically beneficial. Indeed, a lot of so-called science is actually propaganda dressed up as science.

For instance, right now, somewhere in a school in a Western country, a high-school guidance counsellor, on the authority of possessing a psychology degree or at least some sort of guidance qualification that claims scientific authority, will be telling a student struggling with thoughts of same-sex attraction, "Once gay, always gay." Yet the data says otherwise - sexual identity in late adolescence is extremely fluid, actually, particularly among young women, and those who are unsure of their sexuality become almost exclusively heterosexual. And another longitudinal study found of those at 26 years old who had felt some same sex attraction, only half of them still experienced that.

Another example - reporters on certain TV channels are often claiming this or that weather event as evidence of 'climate change*,' the propagandistic euphemism constructed in the late 2000s to obscure the clear evidence that much so-called science concerning global warming is a beat-up and a fraud (read the 2009 emails leaked from the Hadley Climate Centre if you doubt what I'm saying). Climate always changes - the only question is, is this change a result of extra CO2 being put into the atmosphere by humans? (Usually the sensible answer is either 'probably not,' or 'only a small percentage of it is')

Along the same lines quite often a study comes out saying that 'this computer model shows that such and such will happen in the future.' What is sad is that many so-called science reporters report these studies as proven fact without looking any deeper - invariably these computer models do not have any authority to claim to be able to model future events, because invariably they so far have not done so. Only computer models that have demonstrated their ability to model the future successfully should be heeded, yet quite often science reporters will report an unproven computer model as if it was a proven factual account of the most likely future.

Indeed - science reporters often do not report facts, science journals and science departments will take ideological stands against employees who discover facts they do not like. It took more than fourteen years for Mary Schweitzer, a scientist who discovered soft tissue in T-Rex fossils, to have her results accepted by mainstream palaeontology. Mark Armitage, a microscopist who found soft-tissue with remarkably little degradation in a Triceratops horn, was dismissed by California State University, whom he sued and won a $400,000 settlement, because of the quality of his research, actually.

How does all this fit into theology? Well, for one thing, we should expect the world to be comprehensible, because it was created by a rational Deity. And I think we should expect to be surprised sometimes when we find out what the facts are, because in fact, the wisdom of God is higher and more mysterious than human foolishness, God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (I Corinthians 3:19, Isaiah 55:9)

But also - on the other side of the equation - we should expect some scientists to make mistakes, lie, cheat, fudge results, create false data, we should expect them to conspire together at times to exclude true results from peer review, etc etc, particularly when they are under financial pressure, or their career is under threat, or they are under political pressure, but also sometimes even when they aren't under any pressure. We should expect scientists to at times suppress results. Why? Because scientists are human beings, sinful humans, and people in every field and every sphere of life do evil sometimes.

A scientific problem demands a scientific solution. A question that is scientific in nature needs a scientific answer. But for a problem concerning morality, a spiritual problem, a spiritual answer is needed. And scientists are not the only ones whose morality fails at times - we are all in the same boat, in fact, when it comes to that.

And in fact, the answer to this failing of human morality is not found in science, but in Jesus Christ - for, as far as I know, there is no one else I have ever heard of that can turn a bad human being into a good one. And there is no one else anyone knows about who can take away the guilt of sin and turn it into the peace of knowing you are completely forgiven by God.

*interestingly, even unprecedented Antarctic sea ice can now be called 'extreme climate change'. The whole term is now perfect double speak, for it is completely divorced from the idea of warming.

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