Monday, June 20, 2011

Scientific Terms 101

The term “theory” is not the same in science as it is in informal exchanges. Theory doesn’t mean just some educated guess, or some idea that somebody has conjured up. Within the scientific community, a theory is something that has been proven and is generally accepted as being true. Unfortunately, scientists are sometimes guilty of using the term “theory” in a colloquial sense which only further confuses many laymen.
A good basic definition of theory- an explanation of a set of related observations or events based upon proven hypotheses and verified multiple times by detached groups of researchers.

In looking at evolution, creationists and other naysayers like to point out that evolution is only a theory. They think that the word just means a hunch or one of many possibilities. Anyone looking at the evidence would come to a different conclusion pretty quickly. A theory and hypothesis don’t mean the same thing either.
A good basic definition of hypothesis (or hy-po-thee-sis as one caller on the Atheist Experience pronounced it…much to everyone’s amusement)-an educated guess based upon observation. It is a rational explanation of a single event or phenomenon based upon what is observed, but which has not been proved. Most hypotheses can be supported or refuted by experimentation or continued observation.

Most creationists would state that evolution is in the hypothesis stage even though it hasn’t been in that infant stage for 150 years. Let’s get with the times, shall we? The theory of evolution has been proven, but there are new hypotheses developed by scientists all the time. This doesn’t mean that the theory has been unproven! It simply means that we know evolution occurs, but opinion varies on HOW it occurs when looking at in from a case by case perspective. For instance, we know that humans evolved from tree dwelling apes, but we don’t necessarily know the exact conditions which prompted bipedal locomotion.
Then there are scientific laws- a statement of fact meant to describe, in concise terms, an action or set of actions. It is generally accepted to be true and universal, and can sometimes be expressed in terms of a single mathematical equation.
The law of gravity and thermodynamics are popular scientific laws, but they are not the same as a theory. BOTH ARE GENERALLY CONSIDERED TO BE TRUE HOWEVER!

My adversary was trying to argue with me about how evolution was far from proven. He stated that it wasn't a law yet either. We can see from the above descriptions that there was simply some confusion about what these scientific terms imply.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is Science a Religion?

I’ve been duking it out with a Christian on the battlegrounds of Facebook after viewing a David Letterman interview with physicist Brian Greene. This fellow facebooker says that science and religion are so similar because scientists put their faith in the natural world. He says that I hold a presupposition of believing that everything can be explained within naturalistic means. Brian Greene is exercising his faith when he talks about the “very dense ball of string that started vibrating and creating everything.” When confronted, he accuses me of being na├»ve and “looking down” upon him.

Of course, science is nothing like religion. In fact, they hold diametrically opposing views. Christianity, for example, begins with a truth claim like, “god is real, and Jesus is his son”, and then tries to build the evidence to support that claim. Science starts with a hypothesis that may or may not be true and performs the research to determine its validity. It doesn’t start with a truth claim and declare that you must believe it regardless of how little evidence there is to support it.

There are indeed highly speculative models of how the universe came about and expanded. But, these models are not implausible nor do they necessitate the need for supernaturalistic explanations. In other words, the models would theoretically work within the confines of the universe in which we live.

When pressed for evidence, my adversary simply states that god’s work is all around us, and he doesn’t see how anyone could come to an alternate conclusion. I’m sorry that he can’t see how others fail to see god all around them, but I’m in good company. About 75% of the scientists out there reject the notion of a god too. Scientists that do the work and understand the evidence on the deepest level are not finding god anywhere. Truthfully, science continues to close the areas that god can hide as the gaps continue to fill. Christians are forced to evolve with the times or look like ignoramuses.

The Anthropic Principle states that it’s really not all that remarkable that we're here because the physical conditions on the earth must be compatible with the sentient creatures that are here to observe it, or we wouldn’t be observing it, would we? I don’t find it remarkable at all that we are here when you look at just how immense the universe is. The earth is just a small speck of dust in comparison, and it’s not at all surprising that life would emerge in some corner of the universe. I wouldn’t be surprised if some forms of life were in many areas throughout the universe, and evolution would be the guiding method behind all diversity regardless of where the life is located. We don’t have to look at the stars anymore and think that they are some kind of god, or the work of gods. We now know that there are naturalistic explanations that provide better answers. Science has paved the way to such enlightenment.

When it comes to the universe, I don’t necessarily have faith that we will ever find out all the answers. We may never know how the universe came about or if it just always existed. This still doesn’t mean that saying god did it makes the problem go away. It only intensifies the problem. We answer the mystery with a mystery. We then have the daunting task of figuring out how god came about. Who made god, and how does he operate outside of time and space? My Christian friend doesn’t seem to care if what he believes in is true. He says that there is nothing wrong with having faith. I agree but not for the reasons he is implying. I think faith is great when you get on a plane. Statistically speaking, you’re probably not going to crash, and aviation scientists have made flying very safe. But, I don’t consciously put my faith in things which have scarce evidence. This is akin to believing that you’re going to win the lottery, so you quit your job. If you don’t care about what’s true, you might as well believe in Judaism, Hinduism and Islam for starters. Also, it would serve you well to believe in the 30,000 different denominations out there with all their nuances. So, as for now, I’m the “ass” according to this guy for being arrogant and not having any room to believe in the supernatural.