On April 22, in conjunction with “Earth Day”, marches took place around the country under the name of the “March for Science”. It has been marketed as a “celebration of science” and seeks to bring awareness to political actions that ignore scientific consensus and may even seek to eliminate it.1
Influencing politics, in what they consider a positive direction, is the focus of this march. One discussion that should be made is what government role or involvement in science does our U.S. Constitution allow? That will have to be a discussion for someone else to take up.
The discussion I am going to address is two underlying presuppositions of this march – 1) that science is the ultimate method for determining truth, i.e. Scientism and 2) that there is a scientific consensus on the two main topics of political-scientific debate: anthropogenic global warming (hereafter referred to as AGW) and evolution.
The first presupposition, Scientism, is an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities).2 In practice scientism is a belief that if something cannot be proved by scientific methods then it is not true or does not exist or is irrelevant. Purveyors of scientism would have us believe that if our philosophy, theology, politics or even personal experience conflict with scientific “consensus” we should abandon the former for the latter.
This belief has numerous problems though:
1. Scientism is a philosophical stand that cannot be proved by science, therefore, it is a self-defeating belief.
2. Scientism ignores other methods of learning the truth, some of which science itself assumes and\or depends on. Examples are math and logic. Science can prove neither of them but depends on both of them.
3. Scientism ignores the fact that science uses unverifiable assumptions. For example, the speed of light across the universe is assumed to be constant but this cannot be verified. We can measure the time elapsed for light sent to distant objects and back. That gives us an average speed for the round trip but it is only an assumption that the outgoing speed and the return speed are the same. It is a reasonable assumption but nonetheless, it is an unverifiable assumption of science.
Science is just one tool for seeking truth. Philosophy, theology and personal experience are equally valuable truth seeking tools. Often they work together. Often there is a particular field where only one is valid. There are some fields that are out of reach for the natural sciences. Questions about ultimate purpose or ethics come to mind. Science can tell us something about what is beneficial to the longevity, prosperity and comfort of the living beings on this earth but why any of it would carry any moral obligation or value is out of its reach. Those truths are questions for philosophy or theology.
With the second presupposition we are dealing with AGW and evolution. The first issue I feel we must deal with is who determines what constitutes a “consensus” or what is “established”? Even when we have an undeniable consensus why is that an end to further discussions? Does that not put an end to further knowledge seeking? Newtonian gravity was a consensus…was Einstein wrong to continue to look into the topic? General Relativity has a consensus…are scientists wrong to be researching Quantum Gravity? If the leading theories and facts are not questioned then we would be missing out on a great deal of scientific achievement. Science is never settled. Albert Einstein once stated “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”3
Anthropomorphic Global Warming
Is there a consensus of scientific opinion regarding AGW? It is not hard to find long lists of highly qualified scientists that reject the idea that humans are to blame for any global warming that may be occurring.4 What justification is there to dismiss the opinions of these scientists and the people that listen to them? Typically, those that listen to them are dismissed as scientifically illiterate. The scientists themselves are typically dismissed as people that are letting their biases drive their scientific conclusions. While that could be true in some cases that assertion can be applied to both sides of almost any issue. We all have biases and that is not a bad thing. What is important is if those biases are justified and to know that we must look at the evidence and the arguments on all sides critically…including our own. Dismissing them outright gets us nowhere.
I have spent a lot more time studying evolution than AGW. The first question we must ask when discussing evolution is what is meant by evolution. Typically, it means one or more of the following:
1. Change over time – that living organisms exhibit changes over periods of time.
2. Common descent – the living organisms are all descendants of one common ancestor.
3. Change by way of undirected mutation and natural selection (referred to hereafter as Darwinism) as an explanation for the origin of the species on earth.
Change over time is rarely disputed. It can be considered fact. We commonly see changes in species as they adapt to environment changes (e.g. the Galapagos finches and the peppered moths of England as well as necessary changes in vaccines as diseases change).
Common descent has some debate. There is evidence for it in the geological record but there are also many questions and some problems but this isn’t where most debate on evolution arises.
The third item - Darwinism, as the mechanism for large scale evolution, is where the hot debate is.
Is there a consensus for this? Just like with AGW, it is not difficult to find long lists of highly qualified scientists that do not accept Darwinism.5 Also, in a recent meeting of the Royal Society, a fellowship of many of the world's most eminent scientists and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence6, scientists expressed the deficits of Darwinism in its explanatory power to generate new forms of life as it is commonly given credit for.7,8
Just like with gravity, as our knowledge and technology increased, we saw that our current theories and understanding was lacking. As our knowledge deep into the cell has increased we have seen that it is full of detail and complex machinery all that is constructed in accordance with complex blueprint\code that is found in DNA. This functionally specific information is necessary in the reproduction process of organisms, and this reproduction is necessary for evolution.
The first dilemma is that evolution requires this information so this information could not be a product of evolution. In addition to the functionally specific information the tools to translate and act upon the information had to be in place as well before any evolutionary type reproduction could take place.
A second dilemma is that for new species to evolve new information would need to be inserted but an undirected mutation having the ability to create new information is extremely improbable. It is most probable that it would destroy a function instead of create a new one. The information in DNA has been compared to complex computer code. My career has been in computer programming and IT technical support. In decades past, when we did file transfers via modems, it was not uncommon to receive a file that did not come across cleanly. The received file would, in effect, have a mutation from the file that was originally sent. Not once did I ever open the file to find it now contained new functionality but in just about every case the file was rendered useless. What scientists are discovering is that at best the mutations in DNA are activating or deactivating portions of the code, which gives small scale changes as we described in our first definition of evolution, but nothing new introduced to the code.9 So, where did the original code and new code come from?
Charles Lyell strongly influenced Charles Darwin. Lyell taught that when we are seeking causes from the past we should look at the causes now in operation.10 What causes do we see today that produce this type of functionally specific information? It is like words in a book or computer code. Our only source for words in a book or computer code in our present environment and for as far back as we have record is intelligent beings. If this is where the evidence leads – i.e. if it is the best explanation available to us – why should this be suppressed? As outspoken atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss likes to say about science (or his interpretation of it), it is what it is “whether you like it or not.”
Some might say that this is Intelligent Design (ID) and ID is not science. Well, if we are interested in finding truth then do we really care if it comes from science? The advocates of scientism may reject it because they don’t consider it science but we’ve already shown the flaws in scientism. Furthermore, ID is accepted as science in the fields of archaeology, CSI and SETI so why should it be rejected as science in biology and chemistry?
Some might say that ID is just trying to sneak in God. Two points about that:
1. ID does not make mention of God. You are free to posit any source of your choosing for the Intelligent Designer. Richard Dawkins, for example, is open to an intelligent designer from elsewhere in the universe.11
2. If you oppose ID based on the implications it might open up, such as the possibility of some supernatural being then you are letting your personal biases or ideas drive your decisions. This is the sort of thing the organizers of the March for Science say they are trying to stop.12 (or are they really?)
Those that preach that science (and politics) should be free from religious influence often point to the case of Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church. It is argued that the church tried to silence Galileo out of fear of what his discoveries might mean to church doctrine. It is argued that the church was wrong and that if behavior like that is allowed then society will suffer, there will not be advancement and the powers that be will be oppressive.
What is often missed in the argument is that Galileo was going against the “consensus” of his day. In an odd turn of events, the many within the March for Science event that are seeking to silence the opposition to the so-called “consensus” of today have taken on the role of the church vs. Galileo – the church which they so often prop up as having been a danger to education and advancement. If they are successful, society will suffer, scientific advancement will suffer and we will be ruled by oppressive interest groups.
Bill Clute is the Greenville, SC chapter director for Reasonable Faith. He works as an IT professional with a degree in Computer Systems from the University of North Carolina-Asheville where he was also a member of the basketball team. He has also been a professional airshow pilot and now flies a plane which was built from scratch by he and his father.
3. I could not find a source for this quote but it is commonly attributed to Albert Einstein.
4. http://www.petitionproject.org/index.php, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientists_opposing_the_mainstream_scientific_assessment_of_global_warming
8. Gerd Muller, Session 1 https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2016/11/evolutionary-biology/
10. Lyell, Charles. 1832. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth's surface, by reference to causes now in operation. London: John Murray. Volume 2. http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=A505.2&pageseq=1
12. https://www.marchforscience.com/mission-and-vision/, “…not whims and decrees.”