Why do so many people think that a belief in God is irrational? I understand that the majority of those who think this way also believe that ‘science’ supports their skepticism. Sadly, this belief is based in ignorance of the scientific method. So, before we can have a meaningful discussion as to why belief in God is not irrational, we have to have a discussion on the many ‘fallacies of science.’
Let’s start with what I mean by the phrase, ‘fallacy of science.‘ A fallacy is a false or mistaken idea; a deceptive appearance. So the ‘fallacy of science‘ means just what it says: the deceptions or mistaken ideas of science. To be honest, there are many false assumptions created by science, and these false assumptions are rooted in a profound ignorance of the scientific method. So let’s take a quick look at the scientific method next (for purposes of clarity, I will break this definition down into its several parts):
The principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving:
— The observation of phenomena
— The formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena
— Experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis
— A conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.
I will now illustrate a well-known fallacy of science by applying the above definition to the theory of evolution. But first, let us understand something very clearly. A theory is a proposed explanation. It is not and can never be a ‘fact.’ This is not a matter of my ‘opinion:’ it is a matter of definition. As a matter of definition, that means that it is a fact that a theory is not a fact. Yet, a majority of people — especially skeptics — believe evolution is a fact, and therein is our fallacy of science. Simply put, this means science cannot prove evolution is fact.
It’s true: science cannot ‘prove’ anything. Look at the definition again. Science is just a tool: it is just a precise method or process. Logic is also a tool and, like logic, this means science has limitations. Like logic, science is neutral. It is also subject to ‘interpretation’ and misuse. This means we need to understand that we have to use wisdom to guide our application of science. Even then, it is not only possible, but likely that two different people will look at the same data and arrive at two different theories to explain that data. We then have to use logic to determine whether or not one theory is stronger than the other and, again, it is very possible that both theories will be equally valid. At that point, we have exhausted logic and the scientific method. What we decide after we exhaust science and logic is a matter of something far less tangible (but that is a subject for a separate post).
Now, let me explain why it is a fallacy of science to believe science has proven evolution is fact. Go back up to the definition. To apply the scientific method, we have to be able to observe. We cannot observe the past: only what has been left over from the past. This means we can infer from the present to the past, but we must be very careful here as, if we assume the present is proof of the past, we commit a fallacy (mistake in reasoning). We have to be able to actually observe to state anything with any degree of certainty. We cannot observe the past, and we have never observed a present evolution of kinds (i.e. a totally new species). All we can do is suggest (assume) with varying degrees of certainty. Look at the definition again. This inability to observe means we cannot apply the first principle of the scientific method to the theory of evolution.
Luckily, we can apply the second part of the definition. We can observe the remains of the past and form a hypothesis as to what they mean. But that brings us to the third part of the scientific method: experimentation and testing. Well, we are in the present, so we can’t experiment or test anything in the past. Furthermore, if we experiment or test anything in the present, we negate the hypothesis of evolution: that evolution is a natural process. In other words, the moment we become an active participant in the process, we change our hypothesis from evolution to intelligent design! This then means that we cannot apply the third part of the scientific method. This brings us to the fourth and final part of the definition: drawing conclusions.
Now, at first glance, it may appear that we cannot apply the fourth part of the definition, either. But this is not quite true. We can actually draw a very valid conclusion without being able to observe, experiment or test, it’s just that the conclusion that must be drawn is not the conclusion at which skeptics wish to arrive. That conclusion — the only valid conclusion we can make using the scientific method — is:
We cannot know with any degree of certainty how life began or how it came to exist in so many different forms.
If we draw any other conclusion than this, we are doing so outside the definition of the scientific method. That, my dear reader, is a fallacy of science: the mistaken belief that science has ‘proven’ something it has not and can never prove.
Now, do you remember when I told you that it is possible for two people to look at the same data and arrive at two different but equally valid conclusions? This is the case with the origin of life. One person may look at what we can see that remains from the past and conclude that life just spontaneously generated and evolved — just as Darwin theorized. But another could look at it and determine that life is the result of intelligent design. Neither can be proven right or wrong, and both are equally possible (i.e. valid). This means it is un-scientific to claim that creationism is false and evolution is true — by definition. In fact, it is more a matter of faith to refute creation and embrace evolution than a matter of science, and that means refuting creation and embracing evolution is a religious claim, not a scientific assertion.
Do you remember when I said how we choose between competing theories when science and logic have been exhausted is an intangible? Well, there you go 🙂