Friday, January 4, 2013

Unpredictable Science

I read yesterday about a fascinating study by a scientist who studies scientists -- specifically, the scientists in four chemistry labs at Stanford.  He observed all their behavior and the research they did, interviewed them, read their notes and all.  And he found that science is a very frustrating endeavor . . . because nature simply doesn't cooperate.

Now, here's why that's interesting:  one of the premises of science is that the universe is a predictable, orderly place -- that once you figure out the nature of things and the rules they live by, you'll be able to say with great confidence what is going to happen in the future.  This is why scientific findings are required to be replicable before they are accepted.

But these scientists in some of the top-quality labs of the world were constantly stymied by the results of their experiments.  Basic findings could not be replicated.  Months' worth of work was tossed out because they could make no sense of the results.  In fact, "more than 50 percent of their data was unexpected.  (In some labs, the figure exceeded 75 percent.)"  In a supposedly systematic pursuit for supposedly predictable truth, things rarely happened like they expected.

Some observations about this.  Number one, I feel much better about how all of my homeschool science experiments fail.

Number two, if they had a theory that X would happen in this experiment and Y happened instead, isn't it more scientific to change your theory to accommodate Y than to throw out your data because it "didn't make sense"?  How many scientific theories are pushed on the public that are disproven in research 50-75 percent of the time, but the scientists refuse to believe the evidence of their eyes over the worldview in their brains?

Number three, if scientists are this unreliable about analyzing the natural phenomena happening right before their eyes and adjusting their theories and worldviews accordingly, why do we put such unrelenting trust in the theories they present us regarding the beginning of time, concerning phenomena that nobody has seen?

Number four, is it possible that our universe isn't as orderly and predictable as we want to believe it is?  That we arrogant heirs of the Enlightenment have convinced ourselves that we can stand apart from our world and figure everything out when our brains are simply not that grand and limitless?  That maybe God, in a loving attempt to draw us to Him, steps into the natural world and stirs things up a little just to remind us that He is God and we are not?

I'm not being anti-science here.  Really, nobody who uses computers or microwaves or pharmaceuticals has any business being anti-science.  But it behooves us to recognize arrogance in our species when we see it, and it behooves us to approach the claims of the consistently arrogant with some healthy skepticism.

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