A passion for passion

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A passion for science

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I like science. So does my friend. He just doesn't like scientists much. Or at least the ones he sees on TV. Richard Dawkins is one of his favorite whipping boys. He thinks that scientists are arrogant and that they approach science as their religion. Having worked with scientists, I don't believe this is generally true.

No responsible scientist would ever make the argument that they’re looking for absolute answers. The very processes of scientific inquiry exclude absolute answers as a goal.

Science is about making observations of the natural world (the only place where science can operate), proposing theories about those observations, and then testing those theories with viable, replicable methodology. Any experimental result that cannot be replicated (Ponds and Fleischmann for example) is dismissed as incomplete or invalid.

Scientific theories are never about absolute conclusions. They’re the best statement that can be made at the time about a set of facts that can be verified through experimentation. For that reason, science is always in flux and theories get overturned. But when theories like relativity and evolution are supported over and over by many scientific experiments over many decades, we can say they are fact within the framework that we use that word in science.

If none of this were true, then your microwave would not work.

If the processes of science were invalid, the predictions we can make about microwaves, orbital geometry, nuclear reactions, and, in short, rocket science, would have no validity either. The scientific process that gives us verifiable facts upon which to make predictions about behavior in the natural world is what gives us the miracle of electric socks.

Dawkins’ alleged arrogance about his point of view on religion has nothing to do with the solid work he’s done in the field of biology. It’s a big mistake to confuse the two. Or maybe he needs more fiber in his diet, I don’t know. But if you sat down to talk with him, I'm confident his position would be, “There are no absolute answers in science but we can know X (based on controlled, experimental observation), we can therefore predict Y, and we can test whether that is scientifically valid.” Not absolutely true; scientifically valid.

The reason science appeals to me is not that it gives absolute answers, which I don’t believe exist in any framework that is useful to our lives, or that it’s some kind of system of belief that calms my existential anxiety. It’s because science is a rational process to know what we can know with as much certainty as experimental validity will allow. Science will never answer everything but it makes my cell phone work.

Outside of that we’re left with supposition about the nature of reality.

I can also tell you that the scientists I work with are the most conclusion-averse people I know. They hate drawing hard conclusions about their work because it immediately invites criticism. That’s why they prefer to state hypotheses that they can test. The best of them are amenable to being challenged. So I like science and generally like the scientists that I know. Now, if they could just figure out how them durn pyramids were built.

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