Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Scientific Method

You wouldn't think someone would have to define science, but in recent years, we've seen many things that pretend to be science which are not. Case in point: Intelligent Design. Supporters of ID think that ID should be taught in science classrooms alongside (or in place of) evolution. There's only one problem: evolution is science, and Intelligent Design is religion.

My favorite definition of science comes from Merriam-Webster: a : knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method b : such knowledge or such a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena

The important part of that definition is the words "scientific method." If you're not familiar with the scientific method, it is this:

  • Research (or Observation)
  • Description of the Problem
  • Hypothesis
  • Expermintation
  • Conclusion

In other words, you observe something about the universe that puzzles you. You review the relevant literature about the subject to determine if the problem has already been described and understood. If not, you establish a testable hypothesis about what you think is going on. Then you conduct an experiment controlled in a careful way as to remove all other influences from the results. After the experiment, you analyze your results to determine whether your hypothesis still holds merit or not.

That, in brief, is science. Science broadens our understanding of the universe by using the scientific method to teach us more about how our universe operates. Through the scientific method, we have advanced modern medicine, television, computer networks, space flight, and more.

In 1999, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences stated that "intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life" are not science because they cannot be tested by experiment, do not generate any predictions, and propose no new hypotheses of their own. My only real problem with Intelligent Design is that it tries to pass itself off as science and to supplant actual scientific hypotheses and observations. If Intelligent Design's advocates would accept that ID is religion and promote it that way, I would have considerably less trouble with it.

Far worse, in my opinion, are the Young Earth Creationists, who assert that Earth and all life on it were created by God 6000 years ago. I have no objection to religion, and in fact consider myself to be a religious person. But let's talk about faith for a moment. My favorite definition of faith also comes from Merriam-Webster: firm belief in something for which there is no proof.

Faith is faith for a reason: God can never be proven to exist (or not). You either choose to believe in God, or you don't. That's faith.

Belief in something in spite of evidence to the contrary is not faith, it's stupidity. And that's the problem with Young Earth Creationism. I understand that there are arguments that fossils with an age of over 6000 years are suggested by YECs to have been placed there by God when He created the Earth, but that implies a God who is intentionally deceptive. Also, based on that argument, why would you believe the Earth is 6000 years old? Why not believe that God created the world twenty minutes ago?

The main argument for Young Earth Creationism is that the Bible basically traces a lineage from Adam and gives dates. The problem with that is that God did not sit down at a typewriter and type out the Bible. People did, and people make mistakes. Mistakes in translation, mistakes in transcription, and mistakes in re-telling of oral traditions that pre-date any written language. I know from experience that you can't pass a phrase around a room, one person at a time, between 30 people and have it come back the same. How much worse over the period of thousands of years and countless people?

Anyone who blindly believes that what is in the Bible is word-for-word correct has some serious flaws in their belief system (especially since it requires a decision about which version of the Bible to believe in, and also a belief that the men who picked which books were right and which were wrong 15-1700 years ago were right). Find your own beliefs, please.

But in doing so, don't buy into the belief that science is an attack on faith. Faith can guide you as to what to believe in the absence of evidence. Science provides us with the evidence of the wonders of our universe. Whether you attribute those wonders to God (or some other Intelligent Designer) or not is entirely up to you.

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