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Should We Have Faith in Science?

Dorsal-Finn.jpg

Many people today regard 21st-century science as a shining, monolithic spire of truth rising above the landscape of human ignorance and superstition. As a result, I often talk with people who fully apply all their critical thinking skills, and their full Internet-scouring abilities, to see if they can discover a weak link in evidence for the truth of Christian beliefs, but who have a complete, unquestioning faith in science.

Should you have blind faith in what science has become today? This article will be the first of several dealing with the corruption of contemporary science.

As a scientist, I am increasingly appalled and even shocked at what passes for science. It has become a mix of good science, bad science, creative story-telling, science fiction, scientism (atheism dressed up as science), citation-bias, huge media announcements followed by quiet retractions, massaging the data, exaggeration for funding purposes, and outright fraud all rolled up together. In some disciplines, the problem has become so rampant that the "good science" part is drowning in a mess of everything else.

To distinguish between good science and the other rubbish in 21st-century "science," one must first understand what constitutes good science. Good science, properly practiced, requires very little faith and can be trusted insofar as we can trust anything that human beings try to do well.

The heart of good science is the scientific method. One must apply critical scrutiny to Wikipedia, of course but, in this case, I think it has a good description of the scientific method. First, on the basis of a question, observation, or known laws of physics, draft a possible answer, explanation or "hypothesis." Next, advance a falsifiable prediction on the basis of the hypothesis. Then, experimentally test the prediction. If the prediction is falsified, modify or abandon the hypothesis. If it is verified, the hypothesis is strengthened and lives to see another day.

Avoid a double standard in how you apply your critical thinking skills; scientific claims are not above question. When you see a scientific claim, see if there is actually experimental verification of a falsifiable prediction. You might be surprised at how often a falsifiable prediction is not tested or even mentioned. Look for the use of creative stories, or words like "suggests" or "may have" to make up for a lack of substance. Investigate whether evidence that does not support the hypothesis or prediction is being ignored.

Above all, have a clear understanding of the scientific method and consider how well each claim adhered to that method. Coming up, I will look at specific types, with examples, of corruption in 21st-century science that are in contrast to good science and the scientific method.

Cross-posted at SQyBLu/Contemplations.

Photo: Dorsal fin of English grayling, Thymallus thymallus, by Kirk Durston.