Behind every “fact” is a set of assumptions that cannot be proven. Like it or not, even science requires a leap of faith.
Can science be true if it has no belief?
Bill Nye, the Science Guy, confirms that his “point of view on the facts of life” and not based on belief”assumptions of life.”1 For Nye, science is and is the only reliable, ultimate, unstoppable, and undeniable guide to truth faith free. While scientific knowledge is the power that saves, for the Science Guy faith is a weakness that only blinds. Nye believes that science alone can save the world and that faith must step aside to make way for the future. That’s because, says Nye, people of faith “just can’t handle the truth.”2
But is science really faith-free? Max Planck, Nobel laureate in physics and pioneer of quantum theory, believes no. As Planck explains, “Anyone who has seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind recognizes that above the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: ‘You must have faith.’ It is a quality that the scientist cannot do without.”3 For Planck, faith is the axis around which the wheel of science turns. If you don’t have faith, maybe you don’t have science.
To illustrate Planck’s insight, consider Nye’s claim: “Science is the only basis for truth.” Is this idea in and of itself a true one scientific Legal action? Not at all. This claim is not open to experimental testing or falsification. It is a claim that goes beyond the scientific method. So there would be no clean scientific reason for assumption truth of the above claim. Consequently, the assertion “Science is only “Foundation for truth” would logically have to be false if it were true. In philosophy this is called a self-destructive assertion. referentially incoherent.
Is there such a thing as “scientific facts”?
‘Science Guy’ Bill Nye is keen to trumpet the “indisputable facts of science” as opposed to the “mere assumptions” of belief. But can science ever know? anything most certainly? Consider the confidently asserted certainty of the “central dogma of molecular biology,” proclaimed in 1956 as “biological law” by co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, Francis Crick. The central dogma is that genetic information flows in only one direction – from DNA (and RNA) to proteins and never vice versa. This idea was seen as a biological “law of nature” that worked invariably and was the conceptual basis for the Human Genome Project of the 1990s.
However, in the early 2000s, scientists increasingly witnessed phenomena that violated biological law. They discovered that DNA can be edited based on life experience and that the way DNA is read depends on the environment. In other words, “The body keeps the score.”4 With the discovery of what is known today epigenetics, It became clear that information “can be transferred from a protein sequence back into the genome”. Consequently, explains molecular biologist Eugene Koonin, “the central dogma of molecular biology is invalidated as an ‘absolute’ principle: transfer of information from proteins (and specifically protein sequences) to the genome does exist.”5 The history of science is replete with such instances where scientists have found exceptions to what were once thought to be invariable laws of nature. How then can scientific facts be indisputable?
The scientific frontiers of science
Uncertainty in science is perhaps the only scientific fact we can ever be sure of. For science itself has discovered numerous areas in which there are limits to what can be known through observation and experiment. For example, consider Big Bang cosmology – the leading scientific theory that describes the origin, structure and evolution of the universe. According to the standard Big Bang model, derived from Einstein’s general theory of relativity and observational data, the universe began 13.7 billion years ago in a singularity – an infinitesimally small point where matter was infinitely compressed. Everything that exists physically, including matter, energy, space and time, came into being at the Big Bang singularity. So it makes no sense to speak of physical reality or even a “time before” this point.
Science itself has discovered numerous areas where there are limits to what can be known through observation and experimentation.
The existence of such an initial singularity represents a fundamental limitation of science’s observational powers. Any “science” that speaks of the conditions that created the singularity – such as an infinite multiverse or a quantum vacuum state – is not truly scientific, because the science can never test them. To claim that science will someday Being able to adequately describe the states “before” or “beyond” the initial singularity is not a scientifically based statement, but a philosophical belief.
While big bang cosmology shows there are limits to what scientists can know when studying the largest known phenomenon (the entire universe), quantum physics has also shown there are limits to what scientists can know when examining the smallest conceivable objects (atoms and their atoms) investigate components). Classical physics, which was the standard view of physics before 1900, said that it was possible to simultaneously know both the position and motion of a given particle with complete accuracy. While the precision of a classical physicist in practice may have been limited only by available technology, there was in principle no reason to believe that better technology would not eventually overcome these limits.
Quantum physics has also shown that there are limits to what scientists can know when studying the smallest conceivable objects (atoms and their constituent parts).
According to the common understanding of current quantum physics, however, even perfect instruments cannot simultaneously measure the position and speed of a body with impeccable precision. This fundamental limit of measurement accuracy is known as the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. As mathematical physicist John Barrow explains: “The quantum picture of reality introduces a new form of impossibility into our picture of the world. This impossibility replaces an earlier belief in unrestricted experimental exploration of nature, based on a misconception of what there was to measure.”6 With quantum physics, says philosopher of science Michael Ruse, “we seem to have reached an outer point of what we can know.”7
Can science ever be certain?
The renowned philosopher of science Karl Popper showed that the highest status that a scientific theory can attain is “not yet falsified, despite all efforts”.8th Scientific theories can never be verified, proven, or confirmed because endless experiments must be performed before all other possibilities can be ruled out. Consequently, scientific theories can only be falsified. For example, it only takes one black swan to disprove the hypothesis that all swans are white. When a given hypothesis is to be considered genuinely scientific, it must make testable predictions about the world that may be disproved by later experiments or possible observations.
The cornerstone of the scientific mind is its constant openness to the possibility of being dead wrong. To make science work as science and in order to advance in knowledge, science must always have humility as its foundation. When a particular phenomenon seems to contradict our best-known science, science must hold back its judgment until scientists find a way to adequately study it. Science, generally speaking, cannot make infallible statements about what is possible. In fact, our best theory of atomic physics (quantum mechanics) states that scientific accuracy can only deal with probabilities. Science, both in principle and in practice, can never know anything with certainty. So Bill Nye’s “facts of life” can exist in theory, our most advanced current scientific knowledge of them is, and always will be, mediocre at best.
Featured Image: Unsplash.com, Kinson Leung
- bill nye, undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (St Martin’s Press, 2014), 244.
- nye, undeniable18
- Max Planck, Where is science going?, trans. James Vincent Murphy (New York: WW Norton, 1932), 214.
- Nathan P. Kellermann, “Epigenetic Transmission of Holocaust Trauma: Can Nightmares Be Inherited?” Isr J Psychiatry Relat Sci. 50:1 (2013).
- Eugene Koonin, “Does the Central Dogma Still Exist?” biology directly 7, no. 27 (2012): 1.
- john barrow, Impossibility: The Limits of Science and the Science of Limits (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 160.
- Michael Russe, Science and Spirituality: Making Space for Faith in the Age of Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 178
- Karl Popper, logic of scientific discovery (London: Routledge, 2002), 278.