Pages Menu
TwitterRssFacebook
Categories Menu

Posted by on Apr 16, 2014 in Culture, featured, Philosophy, Science | 5 comments

Science Can’t Explain…

This is one of my favorite arguments from creationists and other anti-science people.

Science can’t explain x, therefore all science is wrong.

or

Science can’t explain x, therefore god… I mean… the designer/supernatural/alien cell biologists/whatever

I have seen these arguments for decades. Most notably, the denizens of the Discovery Institute, in their various works, have used some variation of this argument since Behe’s 1996 book “Darwin’s Black Box”. Of course, it goes back much farther. The  “Where are the missing links?” argument from creationists in the 50s (and earlier) are the same. Some more current examples come from psychics and con-artists as well. Science can’t explain ESP, therefore it’s real. Yep, I’ve actually heard that… as stupid as it sounds.

These arguments tell us much about the people making them.  The most important, in my opinion, is that these people know nothing about science. The second is that, it is likely that they are religious.

The reasons, I think, are related. Religion is very dogmatic. There is some leader/principle that members of that religion are required to follow/believe. Whether it is the Pope, Jesus’ death on the cross, Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent reappearance in North America, prophets are direct links to gods, or gods are really aliens, the members of one religion or another firmly believe these things. To the point that they will freely rewrite history and invent details to support their beliefs.

Science doesn’t work that way. I like to say, even if evolution had been discovered by Adolph Hitler, it would still be a valid science, with plenty of supporting evidence. Creationists often attack Darwin (he supported slavery or eugenics or recanted on his deathbed). And absolutely none of that matters to Darwin’s ideas about evolution or the modern science of evolution.

If we look back in the 50s, creationist wondered where the missing links where. Yet, even then, we had plenty of evidence for common descent. As Neil Shubin puts it, all tetrapods (amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds) have limbs with one bone, connected to two bones, connected to many bones, connected to digits. All tetrapods have this pattern, even those that have lost limbs (snakes, whales, etc) or digits (horses, cows, etc).

The idea that because science can’t explain one thing and is therefore wrong about something is plainly silly. But that’s how many people think. They don’t see subtleties and shades.  They see black and white. Richard Dawkins is an atheist, therefore everything he says is wrong. Ayaan Hirsi Ali may have once said something mean… therefore, her ideas on Islam, female gential mutilation, and gender are wrong. That is SO stupid! But I digress.

No, scientists do not know everything about everything. If they did, then they would be out of a job. But just because they don’t know one thing doesn’t mean that the things that are know are wrong or insufficient or even tentative. Many things in science are tentative. We’re fairly confident that we’ve discovered the Higgs boson, but not 100% sure.

On the other hand, there are things that are 100%. We know, for a fact, that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. We know, for a fact, that gravity works. We know, for a fact, that evolution happens.  These aren’t tentative. [1]

But, we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We don’t say that because the Higgs boson is still tentative (only 99.99999% sure), therefore the entire standard model doesn’t work. The standard model is very accurate, is has predictive power, and it’s been shown to be correct time and again. Likewise, just because we don’t have a complete sequence of individual parents and offspring for the last 3.5 billion years, we don’t reject evolution.

Finally, and the reason I bring all this up. Just because science hasn’t discovered the particle that causes gravitational fields, it doesn’t mean that angels keep everything plastered to the ground. This is a classic false dichotomy. Because science can’t explain an event, therefore the supernatual/deity/ESP claim about the event is true.

That’s simply not the case. It could easily be a coincidence.

So when you hear someone say, “Science can’t explain x.” just stop them and say “OK, science can’t explain it. The only thing that means is that science can’t explain it yet.  That’s all. It does not mean that other claims are valid. It does not mean that science will never be able to explain it. It only means that we don’t know. And there’s nothing wrong with saying ‘we don’t know'”.

 

_______________________________

[1] Funny story: One of the ID proponents that I deal with fairly often has now jumped the shark. He has claimed that because science can’t prove that mutations are 100% totally random, then Intelligent Design is the only viable explanation for how mutations happen.

 

  • Void Walker

    As the gaps in our scientific understanding of the natural world close up, the God posited to fill them becomes all the more small and useless.

  • Paul Burnett

    “Creationists often attack Darwin (he supported slavery…”

    When creationists bring this up, I remind them that slavery was still legal in the United States when “Origin” was published. That usually startles them.

    • John Eckhart

      While it is probably true — consistent with the times — that Darwin considered Africans to be a lesser “race,” the claim that Darwin supported slavery is absolutely and unequivocally false. Darwin’s extended family was deeply devoted to the abolitionist cause, including his grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, who produced cameos distributed by anti-slavery campaigners with the legend “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” Darwin’s mother and wife were Wedgwoods and anti-slavery was referred to by Darwin as a “sacred cause.” When he went to Edinburgh University he apprenticed himself to a freed Guyanese slave to learn the art of bird preservation. Darwin later described that former slave as one of his intimate friends.

      During the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin wrote in his diary that he was horrified by the brutal slavery he witnessed in South America. He saw the aftermath of slave revolts and the instruments of torture, and heard of a planter who threatened to sell the children of recalcitrant slaves as punishment. “It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble,” he wrote.

  • kees

    What was it Dara Obriain said? “Science doesn’t know everything? Well science knows it doesn’t know everything. Otherwise it’d stop.”

    • SmilodonsRetreat

      I love it.