Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Oh Yeah, I Get Email

The links to the Ron Paul evolution post not only brought the ignorant out of the woodwork in the comments section, they also prompted an amusing email exchange with someone named David Gondek. Here’s his first email to me:

Mr. Brayton,

A scientific theory is simply a tool to be used only as long as it helps explain our observations and the outcomes of experiments. I don’t think there is a more appropriate purpose of a true scientist than to question the validity of any and all theories. In my opinion, when you start to accept any theory as fact you have lost your objectivity and have moved out of the realm of science.

A true scientist doesn’t accept a theory as fact. He may accept that it may be the best available tool until a better theory comes along.

Science is the process, not the outcome.

And my reply:

You are highly confused. Science is a tool; scientific theories are the result of using that tool. And theories do not “become” facts, they explain facts. Theories that are well established, that make successful predictions and that explain a wide range of data well are justifiably considered to be true and valid – not absolutely proven beyond any doubt, mind you, but confirmed to such an extent that, as Gould put it, it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent. Do you really think that if we accept the germ theory of disease as true we are no longer “objective”? That’s simply absurd. I suspect that you accept the theory of gravity without even a hint of doubt; that does not make you non-objective, it just means you accept what is plainly true.

And his response:

If you choose to purposefully misunderstand me then, yes, I might appear to be confused.

Science (or more precisely the scientific method) is an approach to understanding what we perceive to be reality. Human beings accept, at a practical level, many things that later prove to be, at least, not entirely true. A scientist may spend their entire life pursuing an avenue of research on the assumption that a particular theory is true. I’m not saying this approach isn’t useful. What I am suggesting is that if you disregard observations that would bring this assumption into question you are not only not objective, you are not doing service to science.

I submit that both the theories of quantum mechanics and evolution are at best incomplete and possibly, in significant and perhaps substantial ways, inaccurate.

I also submit that just because something is ‘plainly true’ at any given period in the history of man has virtually nothing to do with whether it is actually true. Could anything have been more plainly true a few centuries ago than that the world is flat?

I believe you are making a common mistake of ego. Centuries from now scientists and historians will look back at the primitive ideas of the 21st century with the same condescension with which we look back on the ideas of earlier periods in our history.

Forcing society, as though some sort of litmus test of intelligence (and even sanity), to ‘accept’ the theory of evolution (or any other theory…even including gravity) as true is more in service of ego than science.

What is more correct is to publicly announce that science welcomes all questions, invites further investigation into all observations and challenges everyone to discover better theories.

The only limitation should be that science demands observation of the scientific method…and even that fundamental given of science should be open to revision if enough observation demands it.

The next great scientific breakthrough could very well come about because some scientist was ‘perverse’ enough to question established doctrine. That person will no doubt have to face the attacks of the established scientific community…just as so many great minds have had to endure in the past.

We may even discover some day that ‘truth’ is not static. Until then, I don’t see what is productive about using science as a weapon to attack people who don’t share our ‘truth’ at any given point in time.

You see, age and experience has taught me the value of humility and that when science and politics are mixed nothing good can come from it.

And lastly, my reply:

A shorter version of your argument: “scientists have been wrong before and might be again.” The obvious response: No shit. Of course scientists can be wrong, but that does not establish that any particular scientific theory IS wrong. These vague arguments are completely devoid of content. If you have evidence that shows evolution to be false, by all means publish it. If you manage to overthrow a major scientific theory and establish a better explanation, the reward is a place in history and quite possibly a Nobel prize. Good luck.