Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thoughts on Science

I'm the type of person who tries to look at things from various angles. The more you understand about a situation the easier it is to deal with it, and the less chance of something unexpected popping up.  I make no claims to being great at it, but it has served me well, and can sometimes make for interesting conversation, even if it's only with the voices in  my head.
My mind began wandering down this path after reading a article by a Doctor who had changed his mind about medical marijuana. It's here if you would like to read it.  Long story short he's looked closer at the available information and decided it's a good idea after all.  To me, this illustrates both science's greatest strength, its ability to admit when it was wrong, and its greatest weakness, it's dependence on people.

I'm going to offend a lot of science lovers right now, because if you take a step back and look at it objectively science is a religion.  It serves the basic function of religion, to explain how the universe works.  It has, for all intents and purposes, priests, the scientists, and lay people, all of us out here who look at what some of these brilliant people do and just can't wrap our minds around most of it.  Those of us who look to science have made the choice to look at the universe through it's lens, instead of that of a more traditional religion, and I personally think that as more and more people become educated enough to understand the basics that those numbers will grow.

What concerns me is when we fall into the trap of looking down on those who haven't 'seen the light' if you will.  Often it is out of ignorance, but there are many cases of people looking at the answers science gives them and choosing to turn their back on it.  It's an easy trap to fall into, especially when you take a step back and look at all the harm religion has done to the world.  The problem with this is that by doing so we make it harder to educate the ones who are willing to learn, and come off as arrogant to those we should be trying to convince to listen to us.

To best convince someone you first need to understand why they act the way they do.  Those who follow religion out of ignorance are easy, they simply don't know any other way.  Exposing them to basic concepts and practices can sometimes be all it takes to help them make their own journey.  The harder cases are those who have made the conscious choice to turn to religion, not only because they have made up their minds, but because to truly understand their reasons we have to honestly look at science and what it fails to bring to the table.

First and foremost, science itself presents nothing regarding life after death.  It may never do so, simply because such a thing might not exist.  Science itself doesn't concern itself with telling people things that will get them through the night, it tells them the truth, to the best of our understanding.  Honest, but not very comforting.  The thing I think some people overlook, is that while it is very likely science will not discover life after death, there remains the possibility.  There is at least one group of scientists working on a proof that we are inside a computer simulation, while another is working on one that we are inside a black hole.  The current standard model of physics can't figure out what causes gravity.  None of this is proof that science is flawed, just that it doesn't have all the answers yet, or even all the questions.  Religion, while totally lacking in any proof, methodology, or reproducible results attempts to provide those answers.  For many people this is the deciding factor, and often it has less to do with their own mortality then with missing people they love.

The other main problem is science's ability to change.  What is accepted as a fact one day may be dis-proven the next, and science does not just accept this, it embraces it.  Where for the most part the pathways of religions were lain down hundreds or thousands of years ago, the path of science is one that you don't just walk, you build as you go. For those of us who believe in science this is its greatest asset, but for many people it shows only the fallibility of science.  They want their answers, they want them now, and they don't want them to change.

This brings us to perhaps science's greatest problem, people are the ones doing most of it. Mistake making, agenda driven, Wil's Laws following people.  Nearly any argument these days can point to some study backing up their claims, even as the people on the opposite side wave their own studies in the air.   Frankly, it makes some of the religious factioning of the past seem tame.  Some of it is bad science, some of it is bad reporting, and some of it is just plain bad interpretation of results.  All of it makes it easier for people with doubts to turn their backs to science. In this case the responsibility lies, at least in my opinion, not with the scientists but with all of us.  When we chose to listen to bad data just because it matches up with what we believe, when we echo questionable conclusions without double checking them, when we blindly swallow any headline that starts with 'scientists say' we make the problem worse, because we are the ambassadors between the scientist and the doubter.

We have access to an astonishing amount of information in the modern era.  If we truly want to help raise up others to acceptance of science we need to look to ourselves first, and make sure the information we're using is up to par.  We need to get out of the trap of assuming studies and info that agree with how we feel is correct. We need to stop trusting anything that has the label of 'science' on it, so science itself can be trustworthy.

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