Scientists seem to have one really big secret: science can’t prove ANYTHING!
We can observe an apple, and wonder, “Will it fall, or will it jump over the moon?” We see one falling, and think “hey, apples fall!” With that conjecture, we watch another apple, and it also falls. After watching a dozen apples or so, we conclude “apples always fall”. How do we know though? We can watch a million apples falling, and we still won’t know for a fact that the million-and-oneth apple will not jump. You know what we do? We take it on faith.
We can only hypothesize that the apple will always fall. We can never prove it. We can only have faith that the theory that the next apple will fall, is correct. What, then, makes science any different from religion?
This is the crux of the scientific method, of what makes something “scientific”: scientists do not try to prove their hypotheses, instead, they try their best to disprove them. A scientist comes up with the hypothesis that apples always fall. He then observes as many apples as he can, trying his best to find one that jumps over the moon. If he were to find one, he would conclude “ah, so my hypothesis was incorrect, apples do indeed not always fall”, and go searching for a better hypothesis.
The harder a scientist tries to disprove a hypothesis, and the more the scientist fails, the more faith can be placed in that theory. In this way, Newton’s theory of gravity became generally accepted as “fact”.
However, at some point, people started noticing jumping apples. Originally they thought their eyes were deceiving them – that their measuring instruments were not accurate enough, or that there is some other influence at work which they have over-looked. One of these jumping apples was the planet Mercury. It did not move exactly as predicted.
This is where the “no deferring to divine influence as an explanation in science” comes into play. Humans could simply have concluded: “Wow! Conclusive proof that God exists! God is pulling Mercury around, breaking all the known laws of physics!” This is not valid science, whether God exists or not. Instead, scientists continued scratching their heads.
In 1915, Einstein presented his theory of General Relativity. This theory includes a new formulation for the effect we know as gravity. In simple cases, this reduces mathematically to Newton’s laws, indicating he was correct for the cases we have here on earth. However, for Mercury, General Relativity’s prediction was spot-on, while Newton’s law of universal gravitation was inadequate. For highly accurate science and technology applications, such as GPS satellites, Einstein’s relativity is of the utmost importance, Newton doesn’t cut it.
So yes, science also requires some “faith”. However, science is a process that is self-correcting, that improves over time, and that searches incessantly for its own flaws. Effectively, science is continually examining its own eye in the mirror, to determine if there isn’t maybe a beam in it, or even just a splinter for that matter, that could be removed in order to further improve its vision.
If “creation” is a book written by the hand of God, then science is our basic reading skill. All humans should become literate, so that they may part-take in the wonderful stories that are there to be read.
This is the fourth post in a series inspired by a recent Creationism Seminar in Stellenbosch. The previous post was Is CMI Scientifically Illiterate?
For more on the attempts to prove General Relativity incorrect, please see Tests of general relativity. Any experiment, any test in science, serves to try to disprove the theory, not to prove it.