SCIENCE AND FAITH (Part I)
I have had several people say to me, over the years, “I place my faith in science, rather than God”. My standard response has always been, “Considering science’s poor track record, you must have great faith!”
A popular misconception is that science equates with absolute truth. Yet, the reality is that science is not an exact science! Science is mankind’s quest to understand the physical universe; a quest that is always incomplete, often inconclusive and sometimes completely misguided. It involves postulating theories to best explain the manifest evidence; theories that are constantly subject to modification and refinement, as new evidence comes to light or as our understanding of certain phenomena improves.
Molecular biologist, Dr. Allison Terbush, recently published an article called “Truth In Science” in the Berkeley Science Review. In the article, she admits, “We need to understand that absolute truth about nature is fundamentally out of our reach…. In science, truth is, by definition, a malleable and perfectly revisable thing… As time passes, new data and perspectives are assimilated into the consensus, and our models are adjusted accordingly. It is the best we can do.” Furthermore, she states, “This evolving consensus is not often made clear to the general public.” In other words, most people are not aware of the tenuous nature of scientific “truth”.
Science, today, is afforded almost godlike status. The latest theories are often immediately and unquestioningly accepted as absolute truth by the general population, particularly if those theories are presented with the glitz and glamour of a well-produced TV documentary.
Dr Allison Terbush makes a further startling admission, in her article, “Truth In Science”, when she states that “Wilfully deceptive or accidentally erroneous material occasionally makes it into the media”. Furthermore, she points out that “there is a growing number of predatory scientific journals that do not subject their articles to appropriate, or any, peer review, while pocketing scientists’ publishing fees.” She then concludes her article with this frank admission, “The search for truth in science calls to mind the parable of blind monks examining an elephant.”
In other words, we have the curious situation whereby, on the one hand, science is lauded and venerated by the general public as the indisputable fount of absolute truth, while, on the other hand, scientists of integrity are saying, “Don’t trust us, we are fumbling around in the dark here! Our understanding is limited, not all scientists are honest, and our theories are incomplete and subject to change at any time.”
The changeable nature of scientific theories is illustrated by the countless occasions throughout history when scientific theories have been, not just modified, but completely overturned. History is replete with instances of major scientific backflips:
- In 1975, Newsweek magazine featured a cover story which warned that we are heading towards global cooling. This was the scientific consensus at the time, and the article featured research data and quotes from leading scientists. Of course, this scientific belief has been completely overturned in recent decades.
- The July 1, 1979 issue of the Washington Post published an article reporting broad scientific consensus that saccharin caused cancer, citing apparently convincing research data from several studies. It took 30 years before the National Cancer Institute (in the U.S.) published data repudiating these findings.
- Also In 1979, several studies were published in various scientific journals claiming that higher intake of dietary fibre results in a reduced risk of colon cancer. In 1999, this evidence was discredited and the NCI in the U.S. officially overturned this finding. Currently, the latest scientific research has backflipped once more on the issue, repudiating the repudiation!
- Prior to 1985, the scientific consensus was that acid rain, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, was destroying large tracts of forest, damaging crops and causing a number of health problems. In 1991, however, after a 10 year study costing $500 million, the National Acid Precipitation Program (U.S.) concluded that “acid rain is not damaging forests, does not hurt crops and is not causing health problems.”
- For decades the scientific consensus has been that dinosaurs became extinct because of an ice age, precipitated by fallout from meteor strikes upon the earth. The general population have been presented with this view as an established fact, through the medium of films and documentaries. Yet, in recent years, a significant percentage of prominent scientists have rejected this view as being inconsistent with the geological evidence now available. (Of course, this backflip has yet to filter through into popular media, which often significantly lags behind current scientific theories).
- On a much simpler level, the constant reversals and backflips in the area of nutritional science have reached the point of being utterly ridiculous. Something is bad for you, then it is good for you, then it is bad for you again, and so on. Surely the ludicrous, pendulous nature of nutritional guidelines must give people pause to question the reliability of scientific pronouncements.
These are just a few recent examples of the unreliability of scientific “facts”. In his 1987 CSICOP address, Carl Sagan said, “In science it often happens that scientists say, ‘You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,’ and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again”.
If we care to look further, there are even more stunning backflips, many of which have significant implications for our view of the origin of life and our place in the universe:
- In the 1950s to 1970’s, high school science text books contained detailed information about Peking Man, Neanderthal Man, Java Man, Piltdown Man, Peking Man, Nebraska Man, Hesperopithicus, Homohabilis and other “prehistoric” ancestors, all of which were hailed as “missing links” – supposed transitional forms between apes and mankind. These have now ALL been proved to be either fraudulent (Java Man and Piltdown Man) or simple mistakes (the remains of apes or normal variations of modern humans). None of these supposed “missing links” appear in any scientific text books today, and the repudiation of these “missing links” has been a major source of embarrassment to the scientific community. This is, arguably, one of the most extraordinary backflips of modern science, yet it has crept under the radar of popular attention, with the result that many within the general populace would still regard these “missing links” as substantiated “facts”. It is also extraordinary that some of these missing links were known to be fraudulent or mistakes as early as the 1930’s and 1940’s, yet they were still being taught as “fact” in schools in the 1970’s!!!
- The geocentric view of earth’s place in the solar system was universally upheld as an indisputable fact by all scientists for centuries, until it was reluctantly overturned by the heliocentric model of Galileo and Copernicus.
- Spontaneous generation of life (the theory that a living cell could spontaneously come into existence from a primordial chemical soup, given the right electrical and chemical catalysts) was widely proclaimed by scientists in the 19th and early 20th centuries as the definitive means by which cellular life on earth began. This theory was promulgated as incontestable fact, until several experiments in the mid 1900’s, together with a more sophisticated understanding of genetics, subsequently proved the impossibility of spontaneous generation.
- For nearly 150 years, science has confidently proclaimed that dinosaurs became extinct millions of years before mankind “evolved”. The recent discovery, however, of human and dinosaur footprints side by side in sedimentary rock in two separate locations (Paluxy River Texas, in 1968, and the Turkmenistan Plateau, in 1995) has been a major embarrassment to the scientific community. Apparently, humans and dinosaurs DID exist simultaneously!
- Similarly, the discovery, in 1997, by Dr Mary Scweitzer, Professor of Paleontolgy at North Carolina State University, of haemoglobin molecules (which only have a lifespan of thousands of years) in dinosaur bones that are supposedly millions of years old has rocked the scientific world, leading to calls to finally abandon the current, obviously flawed dating methodology.
And so we could continue, if time and space allowed. All too often, today’s scientific “facts” become tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers – disproven, discredited and thrown into the trash can of discarded ideas. Scientists of integrity who acknowledge the limitations of scientific inquiry, point out the conjectural nature of scientific theories and urge people to refrain from regarding them as incontestable, objective truth. Despite these warnings, however, and with complete disregard for its well-documented and consistent history of exaggeration, misrepresentation, error, and even fraud, the general populace continues to maintain a blind faith in science as the ultimate fount of truth.
So, to those who say, “I place my faith in science, rather than God”, I take my hat off to you. You are, clearly, very patient and forgiving, and you obviously have much greater faith than I could ever muster! Placing your faith in the reliability of science, when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, requires much more faith than it does to believe in God!
As for me, I choose to place my faith in the God of the Bible; the God whose words have stood the test of time, whose promises have never failed and whose truth is never superseded.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7)
 Quoted in https://www.csicop.org/si/show/when_scientists_actually_change_their_minds
 Java Man: Discovered by Eugene Dubois, 1891. A partial skull, thigh bone and tooth. Dubois also discovered fully human skulls at the same level as Java Man, and concealed them for 30 years. Before he died he confessed this, and admitted that Java Man was really a gibbon.
 Piltdown Man: Discovered by Charles Dawson in 1921. The remains were chemically analysed in 1953 by Prof. Kenneth Oakley, who proved conclusively that the skull was that of a modern human and the jawbone was that of an ape. The bones had been chemically treated to make them appear old, and the teeth had been filed down to resemble human teeth. Charles Dawson was disgraced by the eventual unveiling of this fraud, which had fooled the scientific world for 40 years.
 In the case of Hesperopithicus, all they had were some teeth. These are now acknowledged to be the teeth of a modern day pig! Similarly, Nebraska man was founded upon the discovery of a SINGLE TOOTH, which is now knoen to be the remains of an extinct pig!
 In the case of Neanderthal Man, in 1939 it was proved by Prof. Sergio Sergi that Neanderthal Man had walked erect (and not on all fours as the evolutionists had believed). Then in 1947 a Neanderthal Man was discovered to have lived in a cave AFTER modern man had inhabited it. Neanderthal Man is now known to have been a modern Homosapien. Similarly, it is now acknowledged that Homohabilis is a standard variation of a modern human.