Monday, November 26, 2012

there are no facts in science

I keep getting sucked into these evolution vs creationist debates that arise from every YouTube video that even remotely touches on the subject.

The funny thing is, not in the way most people do.  I don't argue with creationists.  When people deny the validity of  evolutionary theory, they're basically starting from the premise that they don't believe in science.  They may not realize it, but its what the basics of their argument boils down to, and there's just no way to have a rational discussion with someone like that.

No, what I end up trying to get to the bottom of is a disagreement between people who do believe science.  A disagreement which usually starts with one person saying that evolution is not a theory, but a fact, and the other person trying to point out that there is no such thing as a scientific fact.  That point tends to go right over the first person's head, and they move on.

It looks like semantics, but I think it's much more important than that.  The Scientific Method is at the very foundation of science.  For some reason, it isn't taught in grade school, though.  It's taught much later, when students have already memorized countless facts, and the idea that science doesn't operate on facts has become extremely counter-intuitive.

The reason the scientific method does not involve stating anything as a fact, has to do with its purpose, the human drive to get ever closer to the truth.  It must be able to look long and hard into the abyss of all that we don't know, before it can even begin honestly figuring any of it out.  As soon as you start calling something a fact, it ceases to be a process, and becomes a conclusion.  Conclusion being the antithesis of progress.  Science uses hypothesis, phenomena, laws, and theories as tools in this process. Like a means to an end, in which there is no end.

What really strikes me as important though, is how this applies beyond science, and in a way, to all human thought.  It's a more elaborate way of thinking about the world, that's about always putting external and unknowable truth above our own egos, and the impulse to just settle on something.  It is a key step in human thought, which allows us to face the unknown, climb out from ruts of tradition and habit, towards actually making sense.

It only leads to intellectual stagnation to think in facts, to think that you really know something.  It's a path that ceases going anywhere.  It's really not surprising that the more righteous a person is, the more they'll tend to be wrong about everything.  Personally, I find it amazing, the way science transcends that way of thinking entirely, and yet it's so frustrating, that this isn't common knowledge.

We still have well educated people trying to insist that gravity is a fact.  I know it sure seems that way, but that isn't how science works.  That's kind of what makes it science.

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