The Problem With Science These Days
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them.
The 21st century is filled with technological wonders that people 100 years ago would have had difficulty understanding. Science and engineering have radically changed our lives for the better in many ways. We live longer and healthier lives, we have technologies that make our lives easier, and we have leisure that previous generations did not. It is fair to say that they have also opened the door to things which have caused great suffering and could prove to be our destruction if used incorrectly or with evil intent. However, it is clear that the scientific method has provided the objectivity and discipline required to understand our universe more completely, and has initiated an age of reason.
There is a fly in the ointment, however — human nature. In our rush to recognize and capitalize on the benefits of science we have, to some extent, created a religion — complete with doctrines, arcane symbology, liturgies and rituals, and ordained priests. We have even established an inquisition to punish those who do not follow the doctrines of the majority as well. In many minds — faith in an omniscient God has been replaced by faith in an omniscient science.
Not withstanding the amazing accomplishments of science — science is not omniscient. The scientific method has not explained every phenomena and experience of the universe. In my opinion, it never will. Every exciting new discovery seems to open up more mysteries. And in the end, science is limited to that which can be observed. As time goes on, it becomes more apparent that there is much outside our ability to see and measure.
This bubble universe in which we live in dimensions of time and space appears to be an isolated domain in a larger construct that is beyond observation. By definition, we cannot observe and measure this larger realm. Further, the last century of research has identified wonderful but strange things that are hard to grasp and understand. The extension of quantum behavior into biology is a fascinating example. Who would have thought that researchers struggling to produce a quantum computer would be beat by a blade of grass (see “Life On The Edge”, by McFadden and Al-Kalili). Old certainties seem at risk with every study and discovery.
One would think that this constant shakeup of old certainties would condition researchers to expect the unexpected. And maybe it has — with the twist that in order to deal with the inconstancy of their reality, they grasp all the more tenaciously to what they see as foundational certainties.
Newtonian physics, the theory of evolution, the impossibility of the existence of God or life after death, are just a few of the key tenets of the science religion. The priests (scientists) rigorously enforce this catechism. Journals and conferences are used to maintain doctrinal purity by refusing to publish research that contradicts a core doctrine. This has a chilling effect on discovery and slows down the pace of learning. When anyone disagrees with a core tenet of the religion, they are excommunicated: barred from publication, lose faculty or research positions, ridiculed, etc.
Am I exaggerating?
Maybe - a bit.
There is a tremendous amount of fantastic research that is done to stretch our understanding of the universe, but there are key tenets such as the ones I mentioned above that are off limits.
Scientists are not the only enforcers of the core doctrines. Many take part in seemingly gleeful character and career assassination of dissenters. Media personalities and politicians use science and scientists to serve their own ends. Even movie stars and famous entertainers, who are the LEAST likely to have any real expertise, take leading roles in championing causes in support of science — and vilifying dissenting opinions within the scientific community. We have a culture surrounding the science religion that effectively enforces its dictates.
This phenomena can be seen in the debates raging over issues such as global warming, Unidentified Flying Objects, and Psi capabilities.
I wrote a story a couple of months ago about the revolutionary events that have happened in the world of UFOs in the past few years. The government has confirmed the validity of several fighter cockpit videos depicting UFOs and confirmed that the videos do in fact show unidentified flying objects. These stories were covered in all the major networks.
For decades the mainstream media and scientists scoffed at UFO believers. Conferences on UFOs were referred to as “tin foil hat” conferences in the space industry. And, even today, I find associates that are appalled at my belief in UFOs.
It is a strange thing. These same people will say that they believe life exists on other planets, and will even admit that it may be possible to travel between the stars. However, faced with potential evidence of that they balk. And it rapidly becomes apparent that they have an almost religious belief in the non credibility of UFOs.
I also wrote a story about Climate Change and the vehement denunciation of those in the scientific community who do not follow the “party line”.
Note that: 1) It is not that these dissenters deny science or the scientific method, and 2) It is not that the dissenters deny climate change.
These scientists deny specific aspects of the complex fabric of analyses, assumptions, models, inferences, and forecasts used by the “majority” to stitch together a comprehensive story about climate change. They disagree with the supposed consensus based on real data and thoughtful analysis. However, the dissenters are said to reject real science, and are lumped in with flat Earthers, book burners, and other misfits. “Mainstream” scientists, politicians, media figures and entertainers conspire to keep them in line.
While I have not written a Medium story about Evolution (yet), this has been perhaps the most virulent and divisive topic of all. Some years ago I read a fascinating book by Michael Behe, a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. He is also a senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.
Behe introduced that concept of irreducible complexity (IC), which claims that some biochemical structures are too complex to be explained by random mutation and natural selection alone. He uses the relatively simply evolutionary process required for bacteria to develop a flagellum to propel themselves as an example of the complexity of the numerous adaptations required to arrive at a relatively simply improvement - the addition of a functional flagellum— and the fact that none of the interim evolutionary jumps was beneficial, in and of themselves. This seems to fly in the face of evolutionary doctrine.
Behe is an advocate of intelligent design (choose who or what you think the intelligence is). In subsequent articles and books Behe produces strong technical arguments using experimentally developed data to back up his point. He does not deny evolution — he points out that it does not explain the data fully.
I am not defending or adopting Behe’s position, simply noting it as a thoughtful dissent that we should welcome in a free society dedicated to scientific inquiry.
Consciousness and Paranormal Abilities
The University of Virginia’s Department of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) has been conducting research for 50 years in topics such as Near Death experiences, Past Life memory in children, altered states of consciousness and psi capabilities such as extra sensory perception and psycho kinesis; and altered states of consciousness.
The DOPS webs site says the following:
“At the Division of Perceptual Studies, we believe that a revolution in intellectual history is taking shape, and we have a unique role to play in bringing it to fruition.
Current mainstream science and philosophy portray mind, personality and consciousness as nothing more than byproducts of brain activity encased within our skulls and vanishing at death. Through its research, DOPS strives to challenge this entrenched mainstream view by rigorously evaluating empirical evidence suggesting that consciousness survives death and that mind and brain are distinct and separable.
And we are not alone. Growing numbers of scientists and philosophers are becoming convinced that the prevailing physicalist picture is fundamentally flawed, and that science urgently needs to extend in directions that will allow it to accommodate genuine spiritual experiences without loss of scientific integrity.”
I love the fact that DOPS is working to create iron clad and irrefutable evidence on these topics. However, rigorous evidence on some of these subjects has been available for decades. See the works of Dean Radin, PhD Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Distinguished Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, for example. There is a wide body of credible evidence supporting the existence of psi capabilities.
It is sad but true that most in the scientific fields have dismissed the evidence — often without ever having looked into it.
Science not a belief system
Science is not a belief system, it is a method of inquiry. And if you say you must not inquire into those things.. it is not science anymore.
John Cleese is known for his humor. He is not a scientist. However, he has a strong interest in science and has become very involved in the work done by the DOPS. Despite his lack of credentials — his statement about science is a brilliant summary of the dilemma we have in science today.
Science as a method of inquiry and discovery has lost its way. There is amazing creative and important research going on every day. But researchers are people — with beliefs and biases — like the rest of us. They are not immune to the temptations of stubborn adherence to unproven ideas. What science is funded, how it is conducted, and how results are greeted is driven by scientific bias, political machinations, money, and business considerations.
This story is focused on bias — but we can look to those factors to understand why cannabis research has not been well funded (for example) and the reason that it is still listed as a class 1 drug by the FDA. No doubt when the major pharmaceutical companies secure a foothold in the cannabis industry, political pressure will be applied to change federal law. But I digress…..
I believe that in far too many areas doctrinal lines have been drawn, and the inquisition has been finding heretics to burn. We can’t wait for older generations to die out before real data and conclusions are accepted. Science needs to be more objective and more accepting of dissenting opinions. Science needs to renew its focus on inquiry and discovery.
Perhaps the 21st century will bring an awakening to the limitations of observational science, the fact that there is much that will forever be beyond our observation, and receptivity to ideas and information that challenge our doctrines — be they spiritual, scientific or political. If we can overcome bias — then maybe we can tackle the political, monetary, and business obstacles that science faces.