Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Guardian’s take on Science vs. Religion

This Guardian article ( on the difference between science and religion annoys me. It’s gets the science mostly correct (faster-than-light neutrinos will overturn a lot of theories, but not science itself), but it lies about how science is taught. Specifically, in politicized issues like Evolution and Global Warming, children are taught to “believe”, to have “faith”, and that to disagree is to “sin”. Scientists themselves turn to “belief” when the evidence fails them.

The basics of both theories (Evolution and Global Warming) are well supported by the evidence. The radiometric dated fossils of intermediate forms leading to modern humans is pretty hard to doubt. Likewise, evidence is solid that the Earth is warming and that mankind has increased the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

But the politicized elements of these theories are not supported by the science. While religious theories of “irreproducible complexity” are bogus, there is nonetheless little evidence of how cell mechanics evolved. That’s because it happened three billions years ago in the primordial soup and left little evidence behind. The proper thing for scientists to do is admit this, to say “we don’t know”. But they don’t do that; they instead insist that we must have faith it life came into existence by some natural process that science will eventually discover. Scientists claim we should have faith that God didn’t create life.

One of the foolish things the religious do is explain every gap in science with faith in God. This “God of the gaps” argument is regularly disproved when science later fills in the gap with observation. But here is the thing: the religious feel justified doing this because the scientists do it themselves, insisting on Faith in Science instead of admitting “we don’t know”. An example of this is the horrible book “Science, Evolution, and Creationism” ( by the National Academy of Sciences. It refuses to admit anything science doesn’t know, and insists that the reader have faith in science. This is certainly not the “scientific” form of “belief” that the Guardian article praises.

This “faith in science” creates a justifiable concern for the religious. It means they are now competing against a state-sponsored faith. Schools shouldn’t be teaching Religion as an alternative to Science (as Rick Perry insists), but they should certainly stop teaching Science as an alternative to Religion.

The problems with Global Warming are even more extreme than Evolution. Sure, the evidence seems pretty solid that by the year 2100, mankind will have doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, the solid science indicates only about 1 degree rise in temperature.

“Proof” for a more drastic rise, such as the 4.5 degree change predicted by the UN IPCC is based on bad science, such as computer models rather than observation. The IPCC claims we should have faith that computer models accurately predict the future because they do such a good job predicting the past, that they produce the same temperatures that were used to construct them. This is so anti-scientific that I’m astonished they get away with it.

The strongest argument the Democrats use isn’t “the evidence points to Global Warming”, but “the consensus of climatologists is Global Warming”. The first arugment would be scientific, the second argument isn’t. Indeed, it’s a critical thinking fallacy known as “Appeal to Authority”.

A demonstration of this fallacy is a recent quote by President Obama criticized Republican candidate Rick Perry “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change”. Yet, no scientist believes there’s a link between the two. Many scientists have hypothesized that droughts could become slightly worse (or slightly better) on average as the climate shifts, but (1) they are just hypotheses with no evidence yet, and (2) they predict slight changes, not massive changes. Just because scientists believe in something doesn’t mean they believe in your interpretation of that thing; just because scientists overwhelmingly believe in the basic evidence of a warming globe doesn’t mean any of them think that manmade carbon dioxide caused the Texas wildfires.

But there is much more to this “Appeal to Authority” fallacy. Take evolutionary microbiologists, for example. Sure, 99% believe that there is a natural explanation for how cellular mechanics evolved. But that’s because it’s the premise of the field, not the conclusion. The field exists to look for that evidence, not because they’ve found it yet. Sure, they have found lots of tidbits, and Evolution is still the only adequate theory that pulls it all together, but the evidence is still fragmentary.

In much the same way, modern climatology was created out of fear of Global Warming. Global Warming is the premise rather than the conclusion.

The secular left jumped on Rick Perry for comparing his position to Galileo. They pointed out that everybody with a crazy scientific theory makes that claim. But they were wrong. Crazy scientific theories aren’t debunked with a vote, they are debunked by saying “there is no evidence”. Most of the debunking of Michelle Bachman’s linking of vaccine and mental retardation was “there’s no evidence supporting that theory”, not “scientists have voted against it”.

Only in the case of Global Warming has an international body “voted” on what the scientific consensus is supposed to be. This hasn’t been done since the Church did it back in the 1600s. If that’s the way they conduct science, then bringing up Galileo is an apt criticism.

Back the FTL neutrinos. If replicated, this will overturn a lot of scientific theories. That’s because those theories are “falsifiable”: they clearly state which evidence, like faster-than-light, that will disprove them. Now compare this to Global Warming. It isn’t falsiable. If a drought in Texas, or a hurricane, is evidence supporting that theory, then shouldn’t the lack of drought or lack of hurricanes be evidence contradicting that theory? Well, the long term trend so far shows no change in droughts world-wide, and a slight decrease in hurricane activity. Heck, even the onset of the next ice age would only serve to “prove” Global Warming, as was done in the movie “The Day After Tomorrow”.

(Evolution is better: finding fossils out of date in the evolutionary tree will falsify it).

I am a scientist. Science is better than religion. But the scientists themselves are just as political, religious, and craven as everyone else. Unfortunately, while there are many articles comparing science to religion, there are few comparing good science to the vast quantity of bad science out there.

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