The Case against Science

Abstract: As part of a series of articles on the validity of science, Edwin Thor elaborates on his conclusion that optionality makes more sense than science as an approach to deal not only with socio-economic problems, but also with what are generally described by scientists and many others as natural or supernatural phenomena. This article is part of a series of articles on the Debate about Science and has also appeared under the title 'The Problem with Science'. Edwin's earlier conclusion was drawn in the previous article Why Optionality makes more sense than Science.

In this article, Edwin argues that both science and religion focus on the "truth" - scientists search in order to get to know the truth, while religion claims to know the truth in advance. Optionality rejects the concept of a universal truth or law. This point has been discussed many times, e.g. in the article Science: The failed Search for the Universal Truth, first published in the August 1991 issue of Optionality Magazine.

A. What exactly is Science?

In DonParagon's Vision, religion did replace most belief in superstition, spiritualism, naturalism and the supernatural, as people started to settle down and develop a rural-based society. Religion essentially is a system that insists on order and that fits in with property ownership, honesty, fairness and other values that became prominent when the practice of trade started to replace force as the means to success. As religion became dominant, it imposed order on society and once the omni-scient high priests had spoken on a matter, it was hard to reverse such an edict.

Science and religion both believe in order. Where religion claims to know all answers by divine revelation, scientists search for the "laws of nature". But (see Appendix A) does that make science much different from religion? In the case of religion, it is hard for outsiders to dispute any interpretation of divine revelation; in the case of science, the arbiter is nature or reality itself. In case of dispute, the "evidence speaks for itself", as true scientists will say.

One can come up with different descriptions of science, but generally, science operates under the assumption that any scientific law can be tested against 'reality' over and again; 'reality' stays the same; repeatibility is the essence of science. Knowledge about this 'reality' is gained by conducting scientific research and must stand up to any test of scrutiny; testibility is sacred for science, but doubt is a blasphemy for religion; the difference thus is in their attitude towards testibility.

A statement need only to be disproved once, to be false in the eyes of science. Thus, both science and religion share a true-or-false approach. Religion and science both offer explanations and predictions; but scientists admit that they can be wrong, they share data and conclusions, repeat each other's tests and jointly go over the findings; after all scientists are all supposed to be looking for the same truth.

B. Who knows the "Truth"?

Religion claims to know the full truth; most scientists merely claim to know part of the truth and to be looking at facts to complete their knowledge. Nevertheless, this means that science and religion clash where their 'knowledges' do not exactly match. In DonParagon's Vision, religion became dominant over earlier belief systems that often had put the sun, moon and stars in key position. Religion pushed such 'super- stition' away by presenting stories such as 'Genesis' as the truth, in which an omni-potent God created earth first and created the sun, moon and stars three days later. In midevil times, few people therefore doubted that the sun and moon, the planets and the stars all turned around earth.

Copernicus challenged this dogma in his work De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium (1543). It wasn't until Galileo that the establishment started to take note. Galileo had become famous for disproving Aristotle's view that the rate of fall is proportional to the weight and, after inventing the telescope, Galileo declared his support for Copernicus in Sidereus Nuntius (1610). Pope Pius V declared this a heresy and Galileo was brought before the Inquisition.

There are many other areas where church and science clash. According to calculations by St Augustine, earth was created some 5000 years before the birth of Christ. But scientists point at fossils that, according to their measurements, must be much and much older. In the Divine Creation, the first man was made on the sixth day and the first woman was made out of a rib of that first man. But scientists point out that there is only 1.6% difference between the DNA of human beings and chimpanzees. Scientists overwhelmingly believe in the 'Big Bang' and in evolution, i.e. that humans diverged from chimpanzees less than 4 million years ago.

According to DonParagon, scientific evidence has now replaced religious dogma as the determining factor in court decisions, in medical advice, in education and in many other sectors of society.

What makes the case of Galileo so notable is that in 1992 the Vatican publicly acknowledged that Galileo was right. Why did the Church give in to science on this point? Is it not possible for both views to be acceptable explanations? Is this not a question of different point of views and a different focus? If you sit in a train and focus on a tree in front of a house, the house seems to move in opposite direction of the train. Of course, anyone sitting inside that house will insist that it is the train that moves, but from your point of view and focus, it is the house that moves. Couldn't the sun move around the earth in a similar way, depending on the perspective one takes? From the perspective of optionality, both views could be valid.

This is where both science and religion differ from optionality: both science and religion assume that there can be only one truth, whereas optionality says that truth is a fabrication of the mind.

An often used principle to determine the "truth" is called Occam's razor, after l4th-century English philosopher, William of Occam. Occam's razor is a blunt knife that accepts no plurality, but cuts away anything but the simplest explanation, in case more than one explanation appears valid. It is possible to maintain that the sun turns around earth, but to work out the mathematics to calculate this orbit was too difficult for the church. But theoretically, such an orbit can be calculated, just like one can calculate the speed at which the above-mentioned house appears to be moving, when viewed by someone sitting in a train and focusing on a tree in front of the house.

C. Which approach is best?

For science and for religion, there can be only one truth. To accept a speed at which a house moves is a blasphemy both in the eyes of science and religion. But for those who believe in optionality, accepting such a speed poses no problem. I prefer Dr Len Hughes' theory that galaxies are continually born in quasars, to eventually collapse in black holes, over the Big Bang. But I accept no one, single truth; instead I oppose any enforcement of one view as the one and only rightful one. I reject laws enacted by Parliament and laws of nature. DonParagon argues that optionality will replace science, i.e. optionality will become the dominant belief. Even scientific evidence already suggests that Occam's razor-approach makes less sense than optionality (see Appendix B).

In the end, what one believes in comes down to the question which approach makes most sense to find solutions to whatever issues come up. The scientific quest to find this one, single law that is supposed to be always and universally valid, more and more reveals itself as part of a futile and illusive powergame played by vested interests. For me, the better approach, perspective and attitude is optionality.

Appendix A. What is the difference between science and religion?

Science claims to know the "laws of nature". But what is nature? Is nature perhaps the opposite of civilisation, culture and development? And what are laws? If laws are not God-given, but a product of civilisation, culture and development, then how can nature have laws? Surely, logic says that, in that case, nature must be a place of lawlessness, chaos and anarchy, rather than an orderly place where the law rules.

On the other hand, if scientists insist that laws are part of nature, what then is science? Is science part of nature and subject to those same laws? If not, what makes science different from phantasy, a fabrication of the mind, like a good science fiction book? Or are these laws of nature ruling like some kind of God? Is there no difference between religion and science after all?

Appendix B. Scientist concludes that Occam's razor does not work

Dr Geoff Webb, computer scientist at Deakin University in Australia, has tested Occam's razor in areas such as medical diagnosis, stockbroking, insurance risk assessment, to conclude that Occam's razor does not work.

The results are clear cut: Occam's razor is worse than blunt, it is truly disposable (. . .), more complex decision trees are shown to have - on average - for a variety of common learning tasks higher predictive accuracy than the less complex original decision trees", Geoff said, "Occam's razor guides the user to look for simple explanations. But what good are simple explanations in a complex world?"

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