Friday, May 9, 2014

Science changes

Sometimes when I'm talking to someone religious online, my love for and reliance on science will come up. A few try to claim that science actually confirms their faith... It actually doesn't, for if science proved one faith to be true, I would believe in that religion. But the other response is the one that really gets me. The first is simply a carrying over of  selection bias. But the latter makes me stop and shake my head.

I've had people stop dead in their tracks and say, "But science changes." Yeah... so? Why do they say this as if it's a weakness? To me, the fact that science changes is what makes it so reliable. Well... not so much just because it changes, but because of why it changes.

Science draws conclusions based on the data that is available. When scientific investigation was young, or when a new field of research is pioneered, the data set from which to draw conclusions can sometimes be very small. Let's look at the geocentric model for the solar system for example. At first, the only data that was available was the fact that it sure looked like the Sun orbited around the Earth. And Earth sure doesn't feel like it's moving, so it must be stationary.

As anyone that somewhat scientifically inclined can tell you, small data sets can sometimes lead to incorrect conclusions. Luckily though, science doesn't stop. Science is a cumulative enterprise. As new data comes along, old conclusions are tested. Does the old conclusion still work, or is there a problem? If there's a problem, is there a new conclusion that better fits with all the data at hand? This self correcting mechanism allows science to get the conclusions more and more accurate over time.

See, they have the right idea!
Yes, science changes, but always for the better. Every change is a triumph. It's a step closer to knowing the world as it is. An old idea being discarded isn't a chink in science's armor, but rather a testament to the fact that science works. Tirelessly edging closer and closer to the most accurate understanding of the universe possible.

But what about those that think science changing is a weakness? Is that to suggest that steadfast rigidity is to be the answer? I sure hope not! There are still people today that stand firm to belief in the geocentric model. Should we view their ability to ignore the evidence as strength rather than ignorance?

Church's usually have a habit of not changing as well. Or at least not until they don't have much choice but to change. Case in point... In 1616 the Catholic church ordered Galileo Galilei to abandon promotion of the heliocentric model. For a while he complied, but when he once again began to do good science he was ordered to recant and threatened with torture. When he refused, Galileo was found to be suspect of hearsay in 1633 and remained imprisoned until his 1642 death.

Flash forward to 1992, when the Catholic church finally got around to admitting their errors regarding to Galileo's handling, and he was finally pardoned buy the church. So the church changed too, but it took them a ridiculously long time to do so. 300-odd years to admit they made a mistake (and a rather large one at that) is pretty bad. In a way, it would have been better for them to hope it was all forgotten, and for smaller matters that would likely be the case.

Oh hey, Galileo... We know you've been dead for over 300 years
but it turns out you were right. Sorry about imprisoning you
until your death. No hard feelings?
But the church standing against something that is now so well known to be the truth just looks bad. A church that denies something so obvious begins to loose credibility with those that are paying any attention. In this case, it's change or die. This is why the Catholic church is no longer officially against evolution or the Big Bang as well. Much like the current pope, it's PR spin to whitewash over the deeper problems existent within the church.

I will give the Catholic church some credit for changing, I just wish they did it for the right reasons. They changed because they had too, while science changes along the never ending path of collecting knowledge and understanding. If that's a weakness, I'd like to be an invalid.

-Brain Hulk

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1 comment:

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