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Monday, December 5, 2011

Can I Get My Science With a Side of Agnosticism?‏

Scientist Daniel B. Botkin reflects on the growing number of assertions of certitude amongst certain scientists and the science fetishists as to what their god can do...

"I was one of many scientists on several panels in the 1970s who reviewed the results from the Viking Landers on Mars, the ones that were supposed to conduct experiments that would help determine whether there was or wasn't life on that planet. I don't remember anybody on those panels talking in terms of absolute certainty. Instead, the discussions were about what the evidence did and did not suggest, and what might be disprovable from them and from future landers.

I was also one of a small number of scientists—mainly ecologists, climatologists and meteorologists—who in the 1970s became concerned about the possibility of a human-induced global warming, based on then-new measurements. It seemed to be an important scientific problem, both as part of the beginning of a new science of global ecology and as a potentially major practical problem that nations would have to deal with. It did not seem to be something that should or would rise above standard science and become something that one had to choose sides in. But that's what has happened...

It is helpful to go back to the work of the Wright brothers, whose invention of a true heavier-than-air flying machine was one kind of precursor to the Mars Landers. They basically invented aeronautical science and engineering, developed methods to test their hypotheses, and carefully worked their way through a combination of theory and experimentation. The plane that flew at Kill Devil Hill, a North Carolina dune, did not come out of true believers or absolute assertions, but out of good science and technological development.

Let us hope that discussions about global warming can be more like the debates between those two brothers than between those who absolutely, completely agree with Paul Krugman and those who absolutely, completely disagree with him. How about a little agnosticism in our scientific assertions—and even, as with Richard Feynman, a little sense of humor so that we can laugh at our errors and move on? We should all remember that Feynman also said, "If you think that science is certain—well that's just an error on your part."

A good starting point in dialogues between strict materialists and theists would be the recognition that scientists work with unproven assumptions and to deny that flies in the face of reality.


-FJ said...

Agnostic theism would then be the correlate to a scientist seeking to prove an hypothesis, and agnostic atheism one of disproving it...

-FJ said...

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-W.B. Yeats

JD Curtis said...

"scientists and science fetishists do not maintain a healthy skepticism about claims that concur with the consensus. And the fascinating thing is that it is quite easy to factually demonstrate that scientists place more and blinder faith in the various scientific consensuses than religious people do in the tenets of their various faiths. Once more, we are given evidence that the false claims of atheists who subscribe to the cult of science are based on psychological projection. Link