Logic is a little tweeting bird, chirping in a meadow. Logic is wreath of pretty flowers that smell bad.
- Spock, I Mudd, Star Trek the Original Series
Ah Science. Sweet science. How do I extol thy virtues? Let me bold and intemperate here. If there are causal, material truths about the deep ontology in the universe, science is more likely than anything to find them. First let me clear up some common misunderstanding. (a) Is Science a religion. No. Science is not a religion (Praised be its name). (b) Is Science a way of knowing the world? Yes. (c) Will Science discover all truth? No. (d) Does it claim to? No. (e) Yes it does. No it doesn’t. (f) Is Science safe for my children? No. Science is very unsafe if you are afraid of the material truths of the world. Science has been shown, at least in the short turn, to cause: Acceptance of evolution; belief in the big Bang; challenging authority; and a willingness to hold certain judgments in suspension. If you are looking for unquestioning certainty, science will not provide it. (But it will give you some great beliefs that have a high probability of being right!!! Isn’t that what we really want out of life? Knowing how to roll the dice?)
To really understand science you have to know a bit about its history therefore in this blog I’m going to give you a brief history of western science from the beginning.
Humans starting making tools. These we useful and continued improving up until Aristotle. The Philosopher decided to see what was in the world and started watching and asking questions. He found observing what was in the world useful. He wrote down what he observed. Then there were the dark ages caused by Christian fundamentalism, wars and other unpleasantries. The Muslims kept reading Aristotle and did some stuff in Math and astronomy then became fundamentalist and entered the Dark ages just as the Latin West came out. Hildegard von Bingen, an Abbess, spent lots of time categorizing the uses of plants and animals, she also had visions. Faith and Religion were getting along fabulously at this point. Then Francis Bacon came along and said, ‘My heavens are ya’ll still just reading Aristotle? Shouldn’t we be, like, making our own observations? and, hey, here’s a thought, try testing things in the crucible of manipulation?’ That became the rage. Experiments were all the fashion. So people like Boyle discovered Oxygen and what not. People discovered lots of things. This was good for business. In addition, large sailing ships began to discover more goods to sell and it became the rage to voyaging around discovering things. Like what a great place America was and since European germs had killed about 90% of the native population it was empty and Europeans could grab it. Taking raw materials and making cool things with them joined Science and Business in a marriage of convenience.
Newton, a rather bright fellow, showed how things followed mechanical laws. And everyone cheered that the universe was a clock tick tick ticking away. (Newton would have done more but there were these blasted alchemical experiments he needed to keep doing). However, Religion and Science where beginning to look at each other suspiciously. Cracks in their relationship were starting to appear and, just as in the days of Peleg science and religion began to split. But since no one knew how all the biological diversity in the world could have happened, God was supposed to occupy the gaps left by science, this was called Natural Theology, and analogizing about how the watch implies a watchmaker, was the fashion. Then Darwin came and plugged the biggest gap of all and Religion and Science split up.
So science continued on alone. Einstein discovered that the speed limit of the universe was the speed of light, and that the faster you went the slower time went (This is why while you are waiting at a doctor’s office, and you find yourself getting get angrier and angrier that its taking so long, that as your heart rate increases towards the speed of light, time grinds to a halt.) Einstein then issued a scientific degree that declared that God does not play dice with the universe. However, it was discovered that God does play dice, only the dice are very, very, small, itsy bitsy dice and Quantum Mechanics was born. Then it was that a bunch people called positivists who lived in Vienna were happy about the divorce between Faith and Science and said all things not measurable were nonsense and only the things you can verify are true. Then Popper a famous curmudgeon said nuh-huh, you cannot say how things are you can only say how they’re not. Then a guy came said you all are just a bunch of fighting tribes that can’t talk to one another and called himself the Kuhn of the world, and inspired the Beatles to write the song Revolution, or so a few of us believe.
I digress. Evolution and Genetics came together in a grand synthesis called the Modern Synthesis that synthesized Evolution and genetics in a synthesizing sort of way, but not synthetically, rather naturally. In Biology the structure of DNA was discovered, molecular biology was born. This turned out to be useful for stuff like paternity testing and making a “Tree of Life” showing how all the plants and animals are related. We have a great grandmother (physically) that was a fish. Many people of Faith find this smelly and want it wrapped in old newspapers.
Now science and religion are on speaking terms but they are still trying to sort out the boundaries of their relationship. Some of us are like hopeful children watching and hoping their separated parents can get back together. Right now Science is keeping the kids on weekdays and Religion gets them on the weekends
That is a short history of science.
Next time we’ll explore what science claims it can do and why those claims are probably right (and what you can do about it).
Questions for thought:
Why can’t Science and Religion just get along? How did Peleg know they would split up and were the ‘Men (and Women!) of Renown’ mentioned in Genesis really biologists? If God plays dice with the universe why do people get mad when random and evolution are mentioned in the same breath? Should we play dice more in Family Home Evening? Why did the ancients call the heel bone of an animal a ‘knuckle bone’ and use them as dice? What does this imply about calling someone a knuckle head?