Some time back around 2006, I wrote an article on the then-Blogs for Bush about the death of science. Unfortunately, I can’t link it here because those old articles have all been archived and I’m not energetic enough to pester Matt to drag it back out. The basic premise of the article was that as science has strayed away from a rigid search for truth it has come up with so many bogus ideas that people have lost respect for it. One of the more egregious examples has been, of course, the whole anthropogenic global warming (AGW) hoax – but that was just one of very, very many (and, also, in the public mind AGW hasn’t been entirely discredited – it will be though, when we get to ten years past Al Gore’s “ice caps will be gone” prediction). I think that most of us who come here are old enough to remember when coffee and eggs were considered veritable poison – now, not so much. Time and time again “science” has been dragged out to tell us this, that or the other thing and it has turned out to be greatly exaggerated, when not flat out false.
Recently there has been a debate around Neil deGrasse Tyson and his abilities as a scientist. When it first came up, I first hadn’t the foggiest notion of who he was, because I just don’t watch a lot of TV (mostly home improvement shows because that is what the Mrs likes). Turns out, he hosted the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos. What started the controversy was deGrasse Tyson’s use of quotes from people – including former President Bush – which turned out to be bogus. And not just a little bit bogus, but incredibly, stupidly bogus. Ace of Spades has a good run down of it here. The bottom line of it all is that deGrasse Tyson, purported super-genius, (a) didn’t know what he was talking about and (b) when called out on it got all huffy and essentially demanded we forget about it and continue to honor him because he’s still so much smarter than us numbskulls – because Science, or something. Of course, an alleged scientist who doesn’t check his sources is, well, someone who isn’t a scientist, at all. He might be all sorts of things; might even be quite a clever fellow, but science is all about arriving at certainty as far as possible.
I hate to twist the knife here (well, truth be told, I don’t – its rather fun to point this stuff out), but the scientific method is a Christian invention. Specifically, a Catholic invention. Final twist: it was mostly developed by Catholic monks. You see, growing out of the Jewish tradition, the Catholic Church held that as the world was created by a Creator, and this Creator had a plan for his creation, the world then was comprehensible to the human intellect. In other words, by study, experiment and logical reasoning, we could come to understand the world as it is. This is actually quite different from all other civilizations, including the Greek which came closest to this understanding (but never developed a scientific method – and thus the Greeks, technologically, never advanced to an industrial civilization). Because monks sitting in their cells at the monastery knew that the world could be understood, eventually it was – the truth of it all was revealed. And passing out of the monastery, others picked up the threads and amazing things were learned and done. But it could only be done by strict adherence to objective truth. You can’t lie – even if your reputation is on the line. We’ve lost that.
We lost it as we shifted from being a Christian to a post-Christian civilization and the very concept of truth began to waver and grow thin. Two thousand odd years ago one well educated man asked, “what is truth?”, and for a long time after that Christians provided the answer – and in adherence to that, massively advanced human learning. Round about 150 years ago, that started to fade. We started to lose our connection not just to truth, but to a desire to know the truth. People started to doubt there was even such a thing as truth – or even such a thing as things which could be quantified and studied and understood.
Now, to be sure, there are plenty of men and women involved in science who are still out there finding the truth about things – but what we popularly know as “science” these days is a product of a very unscientific method. Its not whether a thing is true or false, but whether or not it supports a position, obtains a grant, burnishes a credential that gets it into common currency. What got deGrasse Tyson into trouble was a quote attributed to former President Bush which made out that he was an idiot – and this in service to a particular goal: making people like deGrasse Tyson seem smart and worthy of our respect; and, furthermore, making people who disagree with people like deGrasse Tyson seem utterly contemptible and not to be listened to under any circumstances. Some real scientist is out there working on a method to transport people to Mars – but he isn’t going to get the TV show, isn’t going to have the best-selling books and won’t be consulted on public policy. That sort of thing is reserved for “scientists” who will just make stuff up which, once again, supports a position, obtains a grant, burnishes a credential.
First and foremost, before you do anything else in life, you have to define your terms. That is, you must assert a dogma – and then find out whether your dogma has anything to support it. You must find out if it is true. Its no good saying you’ll find the truth and then assert it – you have to assert something and then see if it is so. You find out the truth of it by, variously, logical thinking, observation and experiment. You do that to the best of your ability and you’ll find out soon enough if your dogma is worth keeping – or whether it needs to be modified, or tossed into the scrap heap. But a rigid adherence to truth is the key – if you don’t believe that absolute, objective truth exists, then you’ll never get anywhere – well, except perhaps to a pile of money, a TV show, and the utter contempt of people who actually think.
I am not a scientist – don’t have the patience or the self-discipline for it. Most people don’t – and just because someone has a science degree doesn’t mean they do, either. The only way to tell if someone is a scientist is by what the produce. By it’s fruit shall the tree be known – if the fruit is a useful device or a solid explanation of events, then you’ve got a scientist on your hands. If its a bag of gibberish which is making its author a millionaire, then you don’t have a scientist – and you don’t need to be a scientist to tell a true scientist from a charlatan; you just need common sense and a little time to think things over in the light of truth.
And, so, science is still dead – killed by hucksters who want money and fame at the expense of the service of truth. It may still come back, one day – if we, on the whole, re-discover a desire for truth; an acceptance that some things are absolutely truth all the time, and some things are false no matter how you dress them up. Of course, that would be a rather earth shaking change in our society. In fact, most people would be flabbergasted by a society in love with truth – and a lot of people wouldn’t like it, at all.