It in the last few days I’ve had two startling, and somewhat depressing, conversations.
In both instances, I had a debate with people I admire, for their intelligence and intellectual rigour, about the merit of the scientific method. In both cases, my opponents made claims which felt unscientific to me. When I challenged their thinking on the subject, it lead to a conversation which went something like this:
THEM: “I don’t think science is the only way to know the truth.”
ME: “ORLY? What alternative method do you propose?”
THEM: “Well I don’t have an alternative. I just think there are things that science doesn’t know.”
ME: “Of course, there is plenty that science doesn’t know. But the list of things which *might* be true are infintesmal. Only a sub-set of those ideas can *actually* be true. If we don’t use the scientific method (hypothesis, testing, evidence, conclusions, consensus) to determine which of those ideas are *actually* true, what alternative method do you propose?”
Now at this point, people usually start dithering about “well, I don’t have an alternative, I just… well I… it just seems to me that science isn’t the only way… I… well…”.
I am appalled. I mean, I expect that kind of response from people addicted to mythological cults that train you to ignore facts – Christianity, Scientology, etc. But neither of the people I was talking to are religious in a traditional sense. Both are extremely articulate, deep thinkers, and self-confident about their own intellect and opinions. So, unlike when I get into these debates with cultists, I’m sure they didn’t feel threatened by my somewhat aggressive approach to the determination of ‘truth’.
And yet, for some reason which remains unclear to me, they subscribe to this meme that “science isn’t the only way”, even though they are completely unable to articulate an alternative.
How did we get here? How can it possibly be that at the dawn of the 21st century, there are people who are educated, intelligent, free from infection by mythological dogma, yet who still refuse to accept an evidence-based approach to determining fact from fiction?
It strikes me that science – that is, the scientific method – needs a celebrity makeover.
The human race needs a serious dose of education about what the scientific method entails and why it is – without any rational argument that I’m aware of – the superior process for determining what is true and what is false.
Perhaps we need a complete overhaul – we need to dramatically improve how science is taught in school, at university and how it is portrayed by the media. We need big budget Hollywood (and Bollywood) films made which portray science in a positive light, which re-iterate WHAT the scientific method is and WHY it is the best way we’ve come up with (so far) for determining the truth about how the universe works.