Can one be wronger about science?

October 16, 2006 | By | 4 Replies More

To the majority of people, every issue has 2 sides. One is right, and the other is wrong. The impression is that, if something is wrong about an argument, a position, a theory, then the entire thing is wrong. This is Aristotelian or Boolean reasoning. Famous smart people use this binary right/wrong or true/false principle to do great things. But…

Once upon a time, the world was flat. We now know (as of at least 2000 years ago) that this is wrong.
Once upon a time, people thought the world was a sphere. In the 19th century, it was measured that this was wrong.

Are these ideas both equally wrong, or is one more wrong than the other? In science, one recognizes degrees of error, magnitudes of mismeasurement. The flat Earth is off by a dimension, whereas the spherical Earth is off by a few percent. (It is fatter around the equator from spin, stretched further by lunar tide, and oddly flattened near the South Pole (possibly related to the events that caused the moon to splash off, and/or the continents to rise)).

Some ideas can be wronger than others.

When Creationists gleefully point out that (popular evolutionist) was in error about (detail of the theory at the time), they use this to claim that the entire structure of the theory is wrong. Never mind that this detail was usually found to be wrong by discovering its replacement in supporting the original theory.

When Punctuated Equilibrium replaced Darwinian gradualism late in the 20th century, before any of the 3 now-known causes of sudden global extinctions were discovered, no one in any field of science said that, because Darwin was wrong about this point all of his theory is wrong.
This binary thinking may work for an bipartisan election, but it is not scientific. Scientific theories all evolve from a global idea to explain the rough observations, to a suite of thousands of provable interrelated sub-theories that all hold together and prove ever-more-precise pieces of the puzzle. Proving a sub-theory wrong does as much damage to the main theory as pulling one fiber from a felt overcoat does to its coatness.

F’rinstance: One can be wrong about the exact order of precedence in (for example) proto-horse fossils without affecting the obvious fact that small 3-toed horses did exist, and no longer do. Whether the fossils with the 2 vestigial toes predated the 3-toed variety (even though they are always found in a younger stratum), or fit into the obvious place between the modern 1-toed horse and the older 3 toed variety does not affect the theory that the horse has changed over time, and as its environment changed.

Someday I might address fuzzy logic here. This is a precise and useful tool for everyday life, and a modern alternative to binary yes vs. no thinking.


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Category: Evolution, Psychology Cognition, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

A convoluted mind behind a curly face. A regular traveler, a science buff, and first generation American. Graying of hair, yet still verdant of mind. Lives in South St. Louis City. See his personal website for (too much) more.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Your point goes hand in hand with the selective hyper-skepticism commonly displayed by opponents of evolution. They seek out tiny errors and discrepancies (often discovered, as you suggest, as part of the ongoing scientific process) that, as you mention, they try to use to disparage the entire theory. On the other hand, they overlook cavernous problems with their own religious beliefs. They simply don’t have any problem at all with literal acceptance of hundreds of sketchy ill-translated, contradictory, fear-mongering or vague accounts of Bible miracles, none of it based on a shred of corroborating evidence. Or, at the very least, the “evidence” supporting Bible miracles is no better than the evidence supporting the alleged miracles of non-Christian religions (most of which are rejected by Bible thumpers).

    Peppered moths changing color? Oh, dear. Might not have happened as the researchers suggest. Therefore, let’s dump Darwin’s entire theory, which necessitates ignoring the overall fossil record and all of the other evidence supporting evolution. Instead, let’s scramble to our Bibles to celebrate that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, created in six days, based upon two self-contradictory accounts of creation found in the very beginning of Genesis.

    Little problem = BIG problem. BIG problem = no problem. For a blow-by-blow account of the real life alleged controversy regarding the peppered moth, check Chapter 7 of this webpage from talkorigins… .

    The scientific method? We fundamentalists love science when it enables architects to design our churches or when science enables us to hop on well-designed airplanes to attend our hate-the-gays conventions. But we stop liking the scientific method when it tempts scientists to tenaciously and rigorously follow evidence into places that might expose us to be charlatans. For “God’s” sake, scientists! Stop using science to study human origins lest you make MONKEYS out of us!

  2. hogiemo says:

    Alain Aspect at the University of Paris did an experiment in the '80's. Aspect stopped one half of a split particle, both parts of which had been traveling at the speed of light. Guess what the other part of the split particle did? Yep, it stopped!

    Aside from the implication of super-luminal communication, one of the other implications of the experiment was that one of the subjective versions of reality was correct. I see the implication of the possiblity of God in the operation of the universe as shown in these experiments. Take it for what you will but, science does explore the farthest extent of knowledge and may surprise us all.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Although Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky paired particles do respond to each other apparently without a lightspeed delay over arbitrary distances (theoretically and measured), it is still not practical for information to travel that way. They have been busy trying to find a way around this, but it may not be possible. The current best theory is against it. But it is happening at the blurry edge of the theory.

    The pairing is broken in the process of reading the information, so attempting to read the message without knowing that the message had been sent simply breaks the "device" without garnering any information.

    So communication (transfer of information) is still limited by the speed of light: Even though the message is instantly delivered in the form of changed particle states, it cannot be detected until another message is sent.

    I'm not sure what this has to do with God, one way or the other.

  4. hogiemo says:

    I say the "device" is unbroken but, possibly changed or unchanged in ways we cannot yet measure or perceive. The problem is one of current lack of ability to monitor. As we look deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the universe we will confront more and more that which is unexplained or unexplainable, one of the implications of which is a First Cause which some might call God.

    The beauty of science and the universe brings us closer to understanding what may be possible. If the observation of an event apparently influences said event or its continuity, is there some other way to describe that which is outside of human experience? Perhaps the event unfolds each time in the exact same manner but, we are as yet unable to adequately observe or hypothesize the manner in which the event unfolds.

    I remember reading a book on cosmology where it was posited a model of the universe where at t=0 (meaning time before the "Big Bang") there were as many as 13 dimensions in the universe. I think it was the SUSY model.

    So, in an 'n' dimensional universe where 'n' is greater than 4 (l,w,h, time) but less than or equal to 13, 'c' (the constant for the speed of light) may not be a limit. I've always wondered where the excess solar neutrinos went. Perhaps since neutrinos are massless and chargeless they can and do regularly travel into and out of other as yet undiscovered but, already hypothesized dimensions.

    We must develop the mechanisms by which we may more accurately describe the universe (quantum theory, etc) and account for what I assert are merely perceived discontinuities.

    I have attempted to describe such faultily in words as being similar to when one covers their fist with their hand. The first is the sum of matter and energy [perhaps 'proto-matter' might be a better descriptive but, it designates that which is not energy] of the universe at t=0. The enveloping hand is the void of matter and energy of the universe at t=0 [Assuming the null set as a subset of any set]. As the "bang" unfolds, the matter, energy and void are tumultuously mixed resulting in the expanding universe in which we now live. I posit the "void" as the 'dark' matter and energy and the rest as the matter ('proto-matter') and energy which now sum up the parts of the whole. This description accounts for current perceived gross realities of the universe. The sub-atomic implications I leave to others.

    I haven't a clue how to give mathematical expression to this description. I have faith others much smarter than I will do so, someday. The hands before the Bang, for me, is God. Again, a matter of my belief in the absence of proof which is the definition of faith.

    Oh, and science is cool, ain't it?

    Thanks for the post Dan, I haven't written or thought about this much lately what with my universe being taken up with soccer games and family matters.

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