01 March 2015

Science as Methodology


When something "new" or at least startling come into our common view, as for instance, this story about the origin of the universe, several things happen. One is that independent scholars like my son want to shout, "Of Course." Stephan has been convinced the popular science called, "The Big Bang" is based on flawed observations, flawed assumptions, and much too convenient constructs ever since he began to understand the calculus. From his perspective, physics is finally catching up with the data he has been speaking and writing about for some time.

Another thing that happens is that scientists, be they independent thinkers or university professors set about the hard work of reformulating the hypotheses in light of the new data. This can take a while, indeed years. One way to observe how long it takes for new theories to arise and enter general acceptance is to note the years between publications and recognition such as Nobel Prizes. Wrapping our minds around new and especially contrary data takes a while. It is a process that is particularly difficult for those who publish papers and books based on the old theory.

Physics has gone through the process of re-thinking frequently. Especially since Heisenberg and Einstein started shaking things up in the early 20th century, stable thinking, constant ideas have been few and far between. Biology if anything has been more fluid, as has its cousin, medicine.

Scientists, engineers, medical practitioners, and the technicians who serve them, ranging from nurses to programmers, are generally comfortable living in a fluid, evolving world. Science you see, is a methodology, not a rigid structure. We expect changes. We tell ourselves not to become attached to what we think we know. The universe, and perhaps the multi-verse, continually surprise us.

But, there are other responses. Those who wed themselves to a non-scientific, "theory of everything," those we call, "fundamentalists," "creationists," or "jihadists," see not a functioning methodology, but a broken monolith. Is there newly observed data that may obsolete the "big bang" theory? (Yes) Then clearly all of science is wrong, bring back the scriptural creation myths. None of the "facts" in those stories hold up to the light, but as the fundamentalist mindset thinks it has now proved that "science" can err, they leap to the conclusion that all problems with the stories represent error. After all, "god said so." Well(!) that closes off the conversation!

Fundamentalism can raise its ugly head in other ways, and with different revelations. Stephan's objection, that the "red shift" observation of how light travels simply fits the theories better than it could the data. Stephan would add that "Hawkins Radiation" is a construct based on the theory's needs, not the data. In a sense, the flaw in science this exposes is that fundamentalism can focus on science as well as scripture.

Science, like Liberation Theology (where I live) is subversive. Fundamentalism is always wrong. Christianity, properly understood, is transformative, does not accept the old data, and does not try to hold back human knowledge. Yes, I do know about the Inquisition, and Creationism. I claim neither is indeed, Christian.

So now we know that Einstein, Hawkins and others may have erred. Or perhaps simply worked with flawed data. Now we can observe the galaxy a bit better, we can do better. We will do that.

Theology too can take in new data. But like science we need to let go of the static universe myth. Some will, others will fail.

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Jim said...
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Jim said...

These deleted posts do not represent a violation of my three rules. Rather the author of three of the posts asked that I remove them.

FWIW
jimB

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