Thursday, November 28, 2002

Faith in science

I'm not through with the Scalzi post yet.

Mr. Scalzi doesn't like Creationists. OK, that's his prerogative. The problem here is that he thinks that he has reason on his side. In particular he tells us that there is no faith behind the big-bang theory.

Actually there is. Here are a few of the assumptions:
  1. The universe behaves as the rules of logic do.
  2. The model physicists are using for the behavior of the universe is correct, despite being extrapolated back 5 billion years and being applied to conditions never experienced since.
  3. The behavior of matter and energy has not changed over the entire period, nor has it changed over the extreme range of conditions postulated by the big bang theory.
  4. That we know all of the relevant phenomena.
Science can't function at all without #1. That science leads to many useful results is beyond question - not for nothing did I go to engineering school. But this is still an assumption. There is no way to prove it with logic - that would require circular reasoning.

#2 requires a huge leap of faith. Big-bang believers would use the assumption that the behavior of the universe is invariant over such a long period in deriving a theory that would tell us that an entire universe can just show up without cause. Nothing like having it both ways, is there?

#3 seems plausible enough, but ordinarily we expect to demonstrate such things in a lab by mimicking the conditions and showing the consequences. And it's not so easy to duplicate the conditions that supposedly happened in those first critical moments.

This is a severe problem. So under ordinary circumstances one might expect more modest claims about the big bang theory. Likewise with evolution - no one can show us any appreciable fragment of the purported chain of evolution in a laboratory demonstration. That this is a tall order is irrelevant - it's necessary to support the theory.

But non-religious explanations for the origins of the universe, the earth and the life on it are essential to atheists. So atheists hide these shortcomings which would be fatal to any other scientific theories to provide themselves with intellectual cover.

#4 is tempting, but really now - is anyone prepared to say that we've discovered every last scientific phenomenon that might be relevant? How could we know the answer even in principle?

In conclusion, science in general and the big bang theory in particular rely on all manner of unprovable assumptions. That is, upon faith. Just like the creationists' beliefs do. The major difference is that the creationists acknowledge their faith.

Mr. Scalzi is impressed with the fact that the big bang theory is "scientific". Of course scientists offer a theory - that's what they do. But they'll never offer a theory that invokes deities because scientists don't know how to investigate deities. Thus the mere existence of a scientific theory that explains something that otherwise would have been explained in religious terms proves nothing in itself.

I agree with Mr. Scalzi that creationism should not be taught in science class. That's because it's not science. It's that simple - case closed.

However, there's no reason to teach the big bang theory or any other scientific alternative to creationism either. Especially when it goes against the express wishes of the locals.

If the big bang theory must be taught, then the shortcomings above should be noted with it, with special emphasis on the faith upon which all science ultimately rests.

Because you can't understand science without understanding the underlying faith.

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