Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What’s the Problem With Science?

If you missed the debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, I recommend watching it. It’s live only for a short time and then you’ll need to obtain a DVD of it. Ken Ham’s argument was based on a variety of presuppositional apologetics that applies well to the scientific arena.

In that vein, it’s been a few years since I’ve handled the particulars of the epistemic problems of the scientific method and I’m not even sure where that article resides online anymore as I have blogged in a few different areas in the past several years.

However, many people may find not my language here helpful. I’m neither a rhetorical nor a metaphorical thinker. Many people think in terms of the words that they use to represent ideas. That rhetorical thought. Most people are metaphorical thinkers. They understand more difficult concepts by think of simpler things that are similar in some way to the concept. Most people can hear a clever turn of phrase or a metaphor and it sticks with them because the logic seems to make sense. So, I will vie to explain Ken Ham’s argument, and the problem with the scientific method, in a way that hopefully can be understandable to most people.

Let’s look at the way we perceive the world around us. We have 6 senses, if you include balance. (I don’t know why balance gets left out of the list of normal senses that we have, but it always is: 1) touch 2) sight 3) hearing 4) taste 5) smell… 6) balance. Come one everyone, add it.) We can only perceive anything right now immediately. If I hear you talking in the next room, my ears aren’t in the next room. The sound of your voice has traveled through the air into the area where I am and is causing my ear drums to vibrate. My hearing starts when my ear drums are vibrating. I can put two and two together and reasonably conclude that you are talking in the next room.

Given that sound travels through the air at a certain speed, I am actually not perceiving you in real time. My hearing your voice is delayed by a little bit of time. I know you are in the next room because I don’t see you in the room where I am and it sounds like your voice is coming from elsewhere. I have enough evidence to reasonably conclude that you are in the next room.

But I can be fooled. Someone can set up a speaker system, even in my room, that I’m not expecting your voice to come from. Someone plays your voice such that it sounds like your voice coming from the other room. So I get up and go into the next room and discover that you aren’t there. I was fooled. Magicians capitalize on this kind of misdirection and misperception in order to produce entertaining illusions of the senses.

We experience the world in repeating ways every day such that we can expect to experience things the same way every day. I put on a pot of coffee and it brews the same way it did yesterday. If it doesn’t brew, I check to see what’s wrong and I expect to find the machine unplugged or broken. These are predictable things that I know from repeated experience.

Science works the same way. When we observe the same things using the scientific method over and over, we expect it to be the same way every time. This is called predictability. This is the argument that Bill Nye made and challenged Ken Ham to come up with something that creationism does that is predictable.

The thing is that Ken Ham actually answered his question. However, Bill Nye didn’t understand the distinction. The answer is that scientists who are creationists use the same science that scientists who are naturalists use. So there is the same level of predictability. Ken Ham’s argument actually went further to point out that predictability fall apart at a certain point.

This is the problem with the scientific method. We can be fooled, not only by magicians, but by the limitations of the way that we sense the world around us.

Scientists augment our 6 senses with the use of equipment that helps us detect things that we wouldn’t normally be able to sense naturally. But when detecting things outside of certain limits, our ability to understand what we sense requires that we make certain assumptions. Ken Ham pointed out examples of these assumptions.

The problem is that these assumptions are not testable. That means that we have no way of knowing of these things are true.

One example was radiometric dating. That doesn’t mean that we have radios going out on the town drinking liters of beer instead of pints. Radiometric dating is when the percentage of elements in rocks is measured to see how old they are. The observation is that one element turns into another element over a very long period of time and we can measure this over a very short period of time to calculate how fast it changes. So the theory is that we can measure the two elements to see how much of the one has turned into the other. It sounds pretty cut and dry, right?

Well, there are some assumptions made. The biggest one is that we don’t know if there was any of the second element in the rock to begin with. We have to assume that there was none. But if there was some, then we would conclude that the rock is older than it really is. The fact is that there is no way of knowing. So we really can’t tell how old the rock is. All we really know is what the rock is made up of today.

Everything in science, from the diversity of life on earth to the light coming from distant stars, requires these kinds of assumptions. Depending on what we think we know molds the assumptions that we have. Scientists who don’t believe in God will make certain kinds of assumptions. Scientists who believe in God will make different kinds of assumptions. So when different kinds of assumptions are used to evaluate the same evidence, different conclusions will be drawn.

Ken Ham understands this. Bill Nye does not.

So there is a problem with the scientific method. Bill Nye thinks we can know the history of the world by looking at it scientifically. Sure, we can get close. But it’s reasonable to understand how accurate our conclusions are based on the assumptions we use. Bill Nye thinks he can know for sure because he doesn’t understand how assumptions work. Reasonable people who understand how assumptions work will understand that there is a certain level of uncertainty in scientific conclusions.

But there is a certainty in some assumptions that have been given to us to know. I will address that in some later article series if I get it laid out properly. Stay tuned.

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