SPECULATIVE THEOLOGY, SPECULATIVE SCIENCE


Fr. Ernesto at OrthoCuban has been writing a series on bias in science.  He is spot on with his observations about this, and gives clear examples of how bias works, and how it ought not to work. This reprint is the second in his series.  To read the first article and next article, simply go to the blogroll and click on orthocuban.  These articles will sharpen your understanding of how science and the scientific method should work, and often does not exactly work in today’s atmosphere in the USA.  Food for thought.

Let’s keep going a bit with the scientific method. Scientists have a strong tendency to extrapolate from the known to the unknown. Actually, we all have a tendency to do that, which is why in theology there is a branch called speculative theology. The known is based on repeatable experiments or observations, while the unknown is an extrapolation of the theories that explain the known observations. How do you know whether those theories are accurate? Well, you try to device experiments or observations that will test your extrapolations to see whether they hold up. OK, you ask, Father can you simplify that a bit?

Well, let me give you an example. Isaac Newton came up with a model of how the universe works based on his observations here on Earth. Newtonian (or classical) mechanics works, at least for the type of distances we deal with on Earth and, by and large, in the Solar System. But, Newtonian physics does not work at tiny distances or at macro distances or at speeds approaching light. For those one uses quantum mechanics or Einstinian physics. It was not until Newton’s theories began to be tested against astronomical observations and against nanometer level observations that the discrepancies began to mount up.

This is important. To this day, Newtonian mathematics are used to calculate most practical physics mechanical problems. While his physics were not fully correct, they were also not fully wrong. Most modern science (please do not quote me medieval documents) builds on and corrects or expands what has been observed before. And, this is something that most people miss. They view every correction or expansion as a rejection of the prior theory. But, that actually rarely happens. Most of the time, the attitude of the scientific community is that the prior experiments or observations were stepping stones on the way to a revised and improved theory. Isaac Newton is still highly revered despite the mistakes he made. Having said that, there have been a few cases of a full rejection of prior theory. Of course, you are not likely to read that type of subtlety in newspaper articles which emphasize the difference with prior theories rather than the continuity, expansion, and correction of prior theories.

So, what does all this have to do with what is happening with science in the USA at this time? Well, remember what I said about my dislike of the current approach to science in the USA? The modern climate concerning science in the USA is one in which both left and right show a massive misunderstanding of the scientific process and show an incredible tendency to engage in psychobabble.  Sadly, all too many Christians have bought into that psychobabble. What do I mean? Well, let’s just say that there is a reason why scientists assume that other scientists are trying to be unbiased unless clearly proven otherwise. (Yes, the Scotland group that recently was shown to have been fiddling with global warming data is the otherwise.) And the reason they do that has to do with the reason why I talked about psychobabble. Here is a hint, rejection of data, except on the proven grounds of deliberate manipulation of data, is asking to enter into an Alice in Wonderland world in which truth is an ephemeral construct based on your private beliefs. And, once that happens, modern science disappears.

Finally, remember what I said in the prior post. The basic assumption in scientific research is that everyone is biased and Murphy’s Law is wildly at work.

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About Fr. Orthohippo

The blog of a retired Anglican priest (MSJ), his musings, journey, humor, wonderment, and comments on today's scene.
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