Friday, September 2, 2011

Do You Believe in Science?

The late Richard Feynman won a Nobel Prize for physics. He is as good an authority as any on what science is and what it isn’t.

Nowadays, for reasons that escape easy comprehension, certain Republican candidates are being attacked for not believing in science. We recall—even though it is painful to think of it—that Al Gore spends much of his time these days railing against those who do not believe that anthropogenic global warming (AGM) is an absolute scientific fact.

Gore refuses to allow anyone to question it or to disagree with his opinion. None dare call it a liberal attitude. It smacks of extremism.

Gore is using “science” as a cudgel to shut off debate and to recruit followers to his maniacal cult.

I trust that everyone has noticed that the Gore version of science has nothing to do with scientific fact. Scientists are humble; they are in awe of nature; they abhor fanaticism; they know that today’s fact may be tomorrow’s fiction.

Only religious dogma lays claim to the kind of absolute certainty that Al Gore attributes to “science.” AGM is religious dogma masquerading as science.

Today, blogger John Althouse Cohen has offered us a guide through this thicket. He quotes a text Richard Feynman wrote in his book, The Meaning of it All. In it Feynman addressed  the question of scientific certainty and uncertainty.

In Feynman’s words: “It is necessary and true that all of the things we say in science, all of the conclusions, are uncertain, because they are only conclusions. They are guesses as to what is going to happen, and you cannot know what will happen, because you have not made the most complete experiments. . . .”

“Scientists, therefore, are used to dealing with doubt and uncertainty. All scientific knowledge is uncertain. This experience with doubt and uncertainty is important. I believe that it is of very great value, and one that extends beyond the sciences. I believe that to solve any problem that has never been solved before, you have to leave the door to the unknown ajar. You have to permit the possibility that you do not have it exactly right. Otherwise, if you have made up your mind already, you might not solve it.

“So what we call scientific knowledge today is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty. Some of them are most unsure; some of them are nearly sure; but none is absolutely certain. Scientists are used to this. We know that it is consistent to be able to live and not know. Some people say, ’How can you live without knowing?’ I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing.”

If we compare the attitude of someone who knows science with the increasing hysterical rants of Al Gore and we will have learned something valuable.

1 comment:

Dennis said...

Leftist/Democrats are to science what Luddites were to industrialization, progress or technology. It is interesting it took this long to have someone finally ask what is "Science."
Want a real thrill read a couple of books on Quantum Mechanics/Physics to understand how little we actually understand or know about science. In the scheme of the totality of knowledge we are barbarians. To think science is settled is to belong to the "Church of What's Happening Now."
I used to have a book around that went through the large numbers of, what was then, settled science. I wish I could find it. Anybody remember the book? The only one I could find in my library was a book by Michael Macrone, "Eureka! 81 Key Ideas Explained"