Personally, I haven't really been getting much smarter here lately. Reasons being repeated and heated discussions with 'Global Warming Heretics' and Creationists. Or just my shock at exposure to the abominations from such people. Let me draw a few lines in the sand.
List of abominations (by no means complete):
- Creationism is a theory just like evolution
- Global Warming is a religion
A short list but I'm not sure I can take any more in one go. The first statement was actually implied by none other than Gallup! Then supported by numerous Newsviners. The second is aggressively pushed by a Newsvine group.
This article will briefly define science, what valid critique of science is, and then approach these above mentioned 'scientific abominations' including me confessing to perspectives. Finally, I have seen lots of wonderful articles and discussion too, so I'll dig out a couple of Newsvine-goodies in acknowledgment and for our common pleasure.
An insanely brief history of science
Believe me, I'm not a guy who's using the following fancy terms every other day in casual conversation. But we need to gain some common ground. Since I'm going to try and define science and it's surrounding terms in order to attack what I believe are misconceptions of it, what I'm doing is philosophy of science. So, what is that?
Originally, the Greeks used the term 'philosophy' to describe any search for theoretical knowledge. Philosophy branches in three main directions – ontology, axiology and epistemology. Philosophy of science is a sub-genre of epistemology – also called "theory of knowledge" – which deals with the nature, origin and conditions of human realization and logic. Philosophy of science is not methodology, which is the teachings of various concrete methods, when and how to use them in order to achieve reliable observations.
Science as most modern day people think of it began with the European Renaissance. Or rather: spurred by capitalist needs for innovation it re-emerged from the Dark Ages of Catholic dogma. Progressing through the times of Newton, the Age of Enlightenment and positivism, the history of science has been a history of revising the religiously speculated description of the world. Little by little belief has been replaced by reason.
It is impossible to transcend the relationship between philosophy and science without reflecting upon the historical context of the society producing a given set of these. Science is a product of culture. This is evident from any historical review of the evolution of scientific theories. The gray area in between religion, philosophy and science is called metaphysics. In here, all schools still compete more or less rigorously or indifferent for the best answers to some very hard or controversial questions: what does it mean to be human?, do we have a soul and/or free will?, what is reality?, does chaos theory make more or less sense than determinism?
Let's agree science deals with human knowledge. So, what is knowledge?
What is knowledge?
Philosophy demands truth, credibility and rationality for something to be recognized as knowledge. The earth was a sphere even before science had religion admit it, but it wasn't knowledge because few believed it. Similarly, the coming Apocalypse isn't knowledge because few believe this biblical prediction to be neither rational nor credible.
In order to produce knowledge, criteria for truth have to be agreed upon. What "Laws of Nature" can we use to predict concrete empirical observations? Observing a solar eclipse is easy. Establishing a set of rules to successfully predict all future solar eclipses is the hard part.
Particularly positivist science considers itself the quintessence of human cognitive ability. Including the implication that science has ascended the historical relativity in which it has evolved. From this perspective all science is doing today is improving results. (Areas possibly troubling today's positivists in the future could include dark matter in space and junk DNA in genomes.) A philosopher of science would argue this is an ontological assumption.
What is science?
There are a few categories of science to be discerned between. Basic science is original research with the main goal of producing new scientific knowledge and understanding. Applied science is original research aimed at specific, practical application. Development research is hardly science at all; it is the systematic application of existing knowledge to improve technological solutions. Documentation of performance – whether of an equation, a model or a machine – is a whole sub-field of all sciences.
What we traditionally want from and think of as science is objectivity, truth and applicability. Unfortunately, history has shown us all of these three doesn't always appear in union. Basic science is rarely immediately applicable. Truth is not imperative from objectivity. And a wrong theory can be applicable in a limited area; until it is tried outside this area and fails. The higher the degree of scientific support a theory has - from slightly disputed to enjoying consensus - the less probable we must assume it is to fall, and the more it'd be wise to take guidance from it's suggestions and conclusions.
Vulgar conception of scientific method assumes one objective, rational path to knowledge entirely free of imposed values. This path goes roughly as follows: a) observe one or more phenomena in nature (or laboratory) in an impersonal and non-preconceived manner, b) formulate hypothesis on regular guiding principles hereof, c) conduct more observations with border areas or possible weak spots of hypothesis in mind, d) integrate with existing related knowledge and have observations confirmed by others to promote hypothesis to theory, e) describe the theory in the language of mathematics and f) ensure all arguments of the theory are formulated within the rules of classical logic and reasoning.
By "classical logic and reasoning" I talk of categorical syllogism, modus ponens or modus tollens. Categorical syllogism was established by Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) and I'd like to rephrase it as follows: a) all people are able to get smarter, b) all Newsvine.com users are people; thus c) all Newsvine.com users are able to get smarter. Modus ponens goes: a) if p is true, then q is true, b) p is true; thus c) therefore q is true. Finally, modus tollens says: a) if p is true, then q is true, b) q isn't true; thus c) therefore p isn't true either.
Modern empirical science usually finds itself in the modus ponens situation. Could "people" in the above example actually be a SEO bot? We can't always be sure, for we see only the site profile, no flesh and typing fingers. We can only deduce from general hypothesis to specific prediction of empirical observation. A Newsvine modus tollens would be if the SEO bot accidentally signed up for a VineMeet and then obviously failed to show up in real life.
Every single bit of scientific knowledge you read about is meant to have been constructed by such hypothesis formulation, meticulous observation, reasoning, logic and puzzling together of theories. This process is of course accelerating, but is actually millennia old.
"If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulder of giants." – Isaac Newton.
A crucial step on the above "path" of scientific method is how to get from point c to f, from a finite number of empirical observations to a widely applicable and true law. This is termed the problem of induction and is usually exemplified by the surprise finding of the existence of black swans when previous empirical observation lead to the assumption that all swans were white. The way point c of the scientific path is phrased above already addresses this issue by making modus tollens the most important reasoning. Formally this approach was proposed by Austrian-British philosopher Sir Karl Raimund Popper (1902 – 1994). He also established the rule that a scientific hypothesis must allow for experimental tests of falsify it.
Critique of ideology
Positivists usually claim objectivity in upper case letters. But why isn't freedom from values a value in itself. Is all knowledge good. Where is the end of humanly possible observation, deduction and scientific methodology?
By working with positivist science as a product of culture, Marxist sociologists proposed the basic steps of criticizing scientific consistency and ideology (if any): a) show ideological elements in constructed theory and/or it's application and popularization, b) eliminate pseudo-scientific elements and c) rephrase valid scientific leftovers. The prerequisite for such critique is of course a deep theoretical understanding of the scientific field in question. Preferably critique of science is immediately followed by further constructive work in the field.
Creationism and Global Warming Heresy from my perspective
First off, I have a Master's degree in a field of natural sciences. Second, I'm what I'd call a progressive socialist. I'm also quite conscious of not producing scientific conclusions based on political ideas. While I have some basic and rather vague political beliefs usually guiding me, I strongly worship new knowledge. Political beliefs can inspire research and weigh in on what science to apply but that is something else. Also, make sure to distinguish Marxist policy from Marxist theory as referred to above.
The impossibility of constructing an experimental test to possibly falsify it is why Creationism isn't a proper hypothesis let alone nowhere near being a theory. Historically, Christianity (and it's cousins Judaism and Islam) were constructed as a power structure. I personally agree very much with this assessment of Christianity and religion in general - but it's not only true in the very negative sense of the statement from Marxist reasoning, also in the somewhat neutral sense of enforcing traditional values. Evolution is yet another jab at the fading religious monopoly on power. As such opposition is a knee jerk reaction deeply instinctive to fundamentalists.
Another implication of Popper's reasoning on the nature of scientific progress is that to be scientfic is to be skeptical. Plain and simple. So shouldn't I be welcoming the Global Warming Heretics group?
The whole Global Warming / Climate Change / general pollution debate has worked it's way down a long and winding road. Early adopters of climate change predicting theories were leftists and 'greens' who coupled it with growth theory criticism which inherently is asking questions at the very foundations of capitalist and consumerist society. But those ideologies have their own devoted worshipers so opposition has been fierce. And obviously still is.
We have finally arrived at a point where the overwhelming mass of empirical evidence firmly connected in solid theory leaves little doubt. And a point where some financial and political powers have eyed possibilities in making profits and votes from the solution, not the creation, of environmental degradation.
Last desperate gasps from the deniers of science seems to be drooling freaks and sorry attempts at humor. Check out the Global Warming Heretics group's About page:
We, the members of this group, reject your Savior, Al Gore, and the Church of Global Warming. We reject you and your so-called "green industry." We reject your scam of carbon credits and green house gases. We side with the SUV drivers and the incandescent light bulb cabal. We are the people who pick up your Prius and moved it to another parking spot when we see it at the mall.
We are the heretics. The deniers.
While obviously satire this is a blatant insult to science, what's left of democracy and legislative powers alike. And fundamentally, seeking evidence for only one preconceived conclusion is a scientific abomination by definition.
Scientific journalism should follow some of the similar rules science itself does. Re-seeding the same opinion over and over again isn't even journalism to begin with - it's just a load of crap propaganda blogging.