Pebbles for Pyrite

If any given conclusion reached by the scientific method could be undermined by future discovery, then all scientific conclusion is speculation. “Scientific method” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

Briefly put, the scientific method operates on a fallacy (known in formal logic as “affirming the consequent”) that makes certainty impossible and can lead to wrong conclusions. For example: (1) If a bird can fly, then it has wings; (2) an ostrich has wings; (3) therefore, an ostrich can fly. But, of course, ostriches cannot fly. Or, consider another example: (1) If an animal is a carnivore, then it has big teeth; (2) a hippopotamus has big teeth; (3) therefore, a hippopotamus is a carnivore. But, of course, hippos are herbivores—not carnivores. Yet, these illustrations use the same reasoning process used in the scientific method. At worst, it can conclude a mistake; at best, it can conclude a possibility. In no case can it claim certainty.

For a discipline that falls short of certainty, science is very sure of itself, especially when lecturing on human origins—an area where observation and experimentation are woefully beyond its reach. How is it, then, that so many trust science as an arbiter of truth? Is it because they see science as the only alternative to religion or the Bible, and they have already dismissed those? Perhaps many have never even seriously questioned whether their confidence in science is well-founded.

It seems many are satisfied that, if science cannot prove it, at least science gives a process. Granted, the process today may undermine yesterday’s “proof,” but at least science is on the move. They think, if we have no answer today, science may have it tomorrow. Or next year. But, when last year’s scientific answer is tossed in history’s landfill, science somehow gets a pass. Science, itself, never comes under scrutiny, even though it fills up that landfill with discarded beliefs it once maintained as credible. A theory is discarded here, another theory is dismissed there, a new theory is offered in place of the one disproven last week. But the whole method that gives, revokes, and replaces is, itself, never doubted.

Imagine a man who thinks he has a bag of gold, but it is really filled with pyrite (a.k.a. fool’s gold). He thinks he is rich but the bag is worthless. A scientist looks in the bag, pulls out a single nugget of pyrite and exchanges it for a plain pebble he drops in the bag. The bag has now changed in content. It is still worthless, but the impression has been left that the bag’s value has increased because a scientist put something in it. This process is repeated, but gradually over a long time. Eventually, every piece of pyrite is replaced with a pebble by a different scientist who appears to know what he is doing. Thus, the bag’s contents have been totally replaced. The bag is worth no more than it was to begin with because there was never anything of value in it. The bag’s owner started with the assumption he had something good, and he finished with the same assumption because he trusted the men putting rocks in the bag, and the whole process was gradual enough he never thought to question the whole process.

This is not to suggest that science has no purpose, but it is a call for science to stay in its place. Science can make meaningful contributions in understanding how God’s world works. But we ought to admit the scientific method has nothing to offer in answering how the world or we got here in the first place. When science ventures into origins, science is out of its element. That realm belongs to right reason and divine revelation—not the scientific method. In other words, the Bible provides the answer, and what it says is corroborated by philosophy via logical argument. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

-Weylan Deaver, TBC Online Instructor

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