The myths of the science establishment
October 6, 2005
The inhumanity of scientific materialism
The science establishment has an agenda to prove that the mind consists entirely of brain activity and has no non-material component. This thesis is unprovable, of course. However, the establishment has unreasonably convinced itself that if links can be established between brain activity and thought, there must be nothing else going on during thinking other than brain activity. This is like saying that because eating is essential to survival, therefore, breathing is unnecessary.
This species of irrationality is the "specificity fallacy," a subset of the "jumping to conclusions" fallacy. The specificity fallacy arbitrarily limits a conclusion to specific categories of ideas. Scientists have grounds for concluding that brain activity plays a role in thinking, but no grounds for excluding non-material elements of the soul from participation in thinking.
Scientists feel that they must insist that the mind is nothing but brain activity if they are to hang on to the philosophy of materialism, which holds that we are nothing but matter, chemistry, and electrical charges. Therefore, what they are really saying is, "We have previously dismissed the possibility of non-material substance, and therefore, the mind must consist of nothing but brain activity." However, they concluded this prior to their brain experiments. Therefore, the only purpose of the experiments was to offer a false proof cloaked in the respectability of science.
So intense are these biases that the doctor who examined Terri Schiavo was unwilling or unable to accept the testimony of his own eyes that she was conscious and aware. Did she smile and glow when he entered the room? "Reflex action," the doctor intoned, as though he was disconnected from reality. Who was more alive in that room? The beaming Terri, or the automaton doctor? If the poor doctor believes we are material machines, he cannot avoid seeing himself as an automaton.
What happened to science?
What on earth has happened to science? Are these views and agendas of death natural to science, or has the science establishment propagated myths in the guise of science? Could we have an effective science that might come to other conclusions? This is a huge question
In a prior paper, I discussed the unnatural attachment of the philosophy of materialism to science during the French Enlightenment, an attachment that has endured until the present time. My argument was that the assumption that science implies materialism is illogical, abnormal, and hindering to science.
In this paper, I will consider three related questions: (1) What is a scientific theory and how do such theories rise and fall? (2) What is normal science and who is a scientist? and (3) What can a scientist know and what is beyond his reach? My main authorities for answering these questions are Thomas Kuhn, Immanuel Kant, Sir Isaac Newton, and Francis Bacon.
What is a scientific theory?
Linda at least corrected the common mistake of confusing a hypothesis with a theory. It is true that evidence plays a role in elevating a hypothesis to a higher status. However, Linda made four errors.
- She misunderstands the nature of a proof. A mathematical proof and the verification of a hypothesis are quite different in process and outcome from the support of a theory with evidence.
- She misunderstands the nature of a scientific theory, because she thinks a theory can be proven. A theory can gain the confidence of the science establishment, and the usefulness of a theory can be demonstrated through practical applications, but the ability to predict and harness the forces of nature is not a convincing proof that we understand how nature is really operating.
Man can understand a scientific theory because it was created by man. But that does not mean he understands nature. The theorist often gets the right answer for a practical application, but misunderstands what nature is really doing. He deceives himself if he thinks that understanding his model is the same as understanding nature. (More on this later.)
- A successful hypothesis is never directly promoted to a theory. It must first be formulated as a model that might incorporate other hypotheses.
- Evidence supporting a model is not enough to produce a theory. The science establishment supervises the process of review and determines which model shall become a scientific theory. A model passing through the elaborate process of review might fail for reasons other than inadequate evidence. Linda thinks that a hypothesis magically becomes a theory if the evidence is good. This is one of the myths of science that we shall consider at length.
A hypothesis is never immediately elevated to the status of theory because this would violate a principle of Francis Bacon (1561–1626), who laid the empirical foundations of modern science. According to Bacon, preliminary inductions from hard evidence are but the first step on a staircase going from specifics to increasing stages of generality. Each step on the staircase of inductive ascent must be subjected to review and testing. A hypothesis based on careful observation is the first step of induction. A scientific theory is at the top of the staircase.
Insiders of the science establishment can be rigorously Baconian concerning a new hypothesis that is outside of their comfort zone. However, when hypotheses are promulgated within established theory, the insiders often forget Bacon and accept sweeping generalities from scanty evidence. The most crazy example I can think of is the paleontologist who found a single fossil toe of a primate, and speculated that he had found the missing link. His zany speculations were published in the scientific journals and the popular science magazines that took his speculations seriously. The sanction of authority and official theory can make otherwise smart, skeptical people astoundingly credible and gullible. Their reasoning skills are numbed by the fallacy of argumentum ad vericumdium (appeal to authority).
According to the Baconian process, a hypothesis must be verified with evidence and must survive a deliberate attempt to falsify it. Subsequently, it can be developed as a model, not a theory. Model-building is a slow, laborious process. A model is a working system and a logical framework that has an internally consistent structure and, hopefully, the support of evidence, logic, and mathematics.
Contrary to a misconception that is very common among scientists, one does not "falsify" a model. One falsies a hypothesis and discredits a model. Hypotheses are simple working assumptions based upon the observation of data. A hypothesis can be falsified by presenting a fact that contradicts it. A model is constructed according to a design and may include various hypotheses. A model might be discredited because (a) the predictions it makes about nature do not come true, (b) logical contradictions are apparently in the design of the model, or (c) the facts contradict a hypothesis built into the model. However, such setbacks are not necessarily fatal to a model. A model can be modified to correct its problems, resulting in a better model.
Can a model reveal the laws of nature?
Did Einstein prove that the reason light bends when it passes the earth is a warp in the space-time continuum? Not necessarily. The light might bend due to other causes. As a ray of light passes near the earth, it must cut through the atmosphere, which might bend the ray through the refraction of light. If light consists of sub-atomic particles that have mass, the gravity of the earth can bend a ray of light. If light has electromagnetic characteristics, the magnetic fields of the earth might attract it. Some maverick scientists believe that both gravity and light are electromagnetic forces.
The nature of gravity and light is paradoxical and mysterious. Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727), who revolutionized the physics of gravity, insisted that he did not understand anything about gravity but its most superficial qualities. He wrote in his diary:
"I do not know what I appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a pebble or a smoother shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered all around me."
The gap between a model and the secrets of nature has vexed the history of science as models have risen and fallen. Nevertheless, every school child is taught the myth that scientists discover the "laws of nature"
The assumption that reason and the realities of nature can be exactly the same is a fallacy of rationalism, which was exposed by philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804). Kant wrote in Critique of Pure Reason (1781) that we can empirically review the "phenomena" (outward appearance) of nature and use innate reason to draw useful conclusions. However, we can know nothing through this process about the "numina" (inward realities) of nature. Kant's conclusion is in perfect accord with Newton's diffident awareness about the limits of his knowledge, and Bacon's warning against sweeping generalizations.
The myth of proving and falsifying a model
Linda Lee Kennedy's fallacy about proving a theory (which is an officially accepted model) is common in science. A similar fallacy is that we can "falsify" a model or a theory. We are told by establishment scientists that they can ignore intelligent design science because supporters of that theory do not have a mature model that can be "falsified." As we have seen, models can be discredited but not falsified, and can be vindicated but not proven.
All this talk about falsifying or proving a model leads to some peculiar attitudes among scientists. A brilliant friend of mine said, "Evolution is a scientific fact," and he said it with the dogmatic implication that the case is closed. However, his statement is illogical. A model is not and cannot be a fact. A model cannot be proven to be true like a mathematical equation or a hypothesis. It can merely be demonstrated to be useful, and it can gain acceptance from the science establishment partly because of its logical consistency and factual support.
The idea of falsifying a model leads to extreme defensiveness among scientists because they think if one identifies a flaw in the model, the model will be proven false. Quite to the contrary, identifying flaws in a model is an opportunity to improve the model. The evolution establishment is fighting to prevent critics of the evolution model from pointing out gaps and flaws in the model because of an unwarranted fear the model might collapse. Exactly the opposite is true. A model that admits criticism can be improved. A model that does not allow criticism, so that its flaws might be fixed, is on the way out. The abnormal fears of the defenders of models are unnecessary. The mischief is caused by the misunderstanding of the nature of a model and a theory.
The science establishment creates and regulates the process of how a model gains respect in the scientific community and how a model becomes a theory. The establishment, and not the scientific community, decides whether or not a model can be accepted as a theory. As an historian of science, Thomas Kuhn (1926–1992), pointed out that there are factors other than empirical evidence that can distort the process of review and influence the conclusions concerning which model is acceptable and what shall be regarded as a scientific theory. The insiders of the establishment have built their scientific reputations working within certain models and have vested interests about which models win or lose.
To become an accepted theory of the scientific community, a theory must be promulgated and propagated by the science establishment as such. Then the theory becomes the property of all scientists. When an accepted theory becomes essential to the credibility of a scientist, it has become what Kuhn called "the prevailing paradigm."
The blind spots of models
Scientists need models to help them design research and interpret results. The results will tend to either support the model or undermine it. However, the blind spot of a model is that experimental results are interpreted according to the terms and assumptions of the model. Opponents of a model can see these blind spots and discover fallacies of which the advocates of the model are blind. That is why advocates of an opposing model should be given a voice in the criticism of a proposed model. Kuhn pointed out the problem of the blind spot of a model. He said that if a model becomes the prevailing paradigm, and exempts itself from criticism, the blind spot will grow worse over time.
A successful model is a candidate for becoming a theory. A theory is a model that has been accepted by the science establishment. An extended process is required in order to elevate a model to the status of a theory. This takes time. Human institutions process facts, concepts, and opposing arguments in a slow, cumbersome way with many technical, procedural, bureaucratic, political, and ideological barriers to surmount.
A good theory that is lacking in political support can perish in the labyrinth of the science establishment. Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which chronicled some of the political wars between two opposing models. The best model does not always win. Even if the better model wins, science suffers a loss as the positive contributions of the losing model are lost. A common misconception about science is that the growth of scientific knowledge is a smooth endless process of increasing and accumulating knowledge and understanding. This is the myth of progress. Scientific revolutions are messy and involve both gains and losses for science. New successful models often enjoy rapid advances in science in the short run, but gradually bog down as the blind spots grow.
What is "normal science"?
There are three kinds of science: (1) the pioneering science of those who develop hypotheses, (2) the comprehensive work of those who develop models, and (3) what Kuhn called the "normal science" of those working under the aegis of a prevailing paradigm.
Pioneering scientists who develop hypotheses follow the evidence to see where it leads. The educational and public relations branch of the science establishment often claims that this is the approach of all true scientists. While this is often true of research scientists employed by business, it is rarely true of academic scientists hired by the institutional establishment to work within the prevailing paradigm. Such institutions rarely hire scientists to see where the evidence leads. They mainly hire them to seek support for the prevailing paradigm.
The most important problem faced by the overlords of the prevailing paradigm is "anomalies." An anomaly is a set of facts that seem to contradict the prevailing paradigm. Historically, all scientific models have had anomalies, and that is because there is always a gap between a human model and the secrets of nature. Anomalies typically become more vexing with the passage of time. If a branch of science has a prevailing paradigm, a great deal of the funded research will be devoted to the puzzle-solving work of wrestling with anomalies. This is what Kuhn called "normal science." A scientist who can find a satisfying solution to an anomaly to the prevailing paradigm is highly honored and rewarded by the science establishment. A major part of the toil of institutional scientists is puzzle-solving work in defense of the prevailing paradigm against anomalies.
If a maverick opponent of the prevailing paradigm calls public attention to an anomaly, he might soon have a hundred puzzle-solving specialists working against him. However, the endless toil of the puzzle-solvers becomes increasingly futile because of the growing blind spot of those who work within the prevailing paradigm. The puzzle-solvers become increasingly baffled by anomalies, and in extreme cases, are too blinded to recognize an anomaly. Therefore, instead of arguing with the mavericks, the blind puzzle-solvers dismiss them as cranks. "I cannot see it, and therefore, you are imagining things." This is precisely why evolutionists can say with a straight face that there is no evidence contrary to the evolution model.
The puzzle-solving work of normal science in dealing with an anomaly is worlds away from following the evidence wherever it leads. The puzzle-solvers are cherry pickers of data in their war against anomalies. The legions of cherry pickers are not neutral and are not seekers of truth. They are partisan supporters of the prevailing paradigm. Contrary to popular myth, it was the anomaly-obsessed academic scientists of the prevailing paradigm of Aristotle and Ptolemy who were Galileo's fiercest opponents
The nature of a scientific revolution
According to Thomas Kuhn, unsolved anomalies provide openings for new models. Kuhn insists that the people who create new models that challenge the prevailing paradigm are invariably new to the field or are working in other fields. Working many years within in a prevailing paradigm focuses and narrows the mind, so that thinking "outside the box" becomes difficult.
If a new model can solve important anomalies that the puzzle-solvers of the prevailing paradigm cannot solve, the young rebels who are advocating the new model will be filled with excitement and zeal. Simultaneously, the old guard of the prevailing paradigm will be filled with rage and horror. They will view the challenge of the young rebels as a dire threat to the institutional kingdom they have built. As a result, a great propaganda war between the old guard and the young rebels will break out and shake the halls of ivy.
The old guard controls the establishment and will use it to disseminate propaganda in their war against the young rebels. They will use the college classrooms and the academic journals as instruments in the propaganda war. The young rebels who are outgunned in the classroom and shut out of the journals must make their appeal to the public through books, magazines, tracts, speeches, and debates. They must seek friendly allies in the churches and in government. The old guard can meet this challenge through the press and the courts. The academic old guard of seventeenth-century Italy used the church courts to
If the young rebels win, a scientific revolution will occur. The young rebels will be catapulted into scientific fame and glory. The influence of the old guard will vanish, and they will be cast into the darkness of oblivion, where they will be forever ignored and forgotten. Great scientific progress can be made in the early days of a scientific revolution. Victory by the young rebels brings a freshness and vigor to science for a limited number of years. Eventually, institutional rigor mortis will set in and the cycle will begin again. No prevailing paradigm in science lasts forever. Kuhn recognized, as did Kant, that there will always be a gap between the best scientific models and the underlying realities of nature.
Kuhn warned that the propaganda war is not always won on the merits of the science. Political power, pervasive propaganda, control of the classroom, and domination of the press and academic journals can save the prevailing paradigm for another generation. The old guard has a better grasp of these hard realities than the comparatively naive young rebels. The young rebels can win if they inspire young scientists, multiply their numbers, and win the battle for public opinion.
The life cycles of an organization
The scientific revolutions that recur in long cycles are a phenomenon that is built into human nature. Business establishments also have such cycles. Corporate Lifecycles (1988), by Ichak Adizes, describes the lifecycle of a corporation. The stages of a business that Adizes has observed during his long career as a business consultant are (1) "Courtship," (2) "Infancy," (3) "Go-go," (4) "Adolescence," (5) "Prime," (6) "Aristocracy," and (7) "Bureaucracy."
During the "early bureaucracy" phase of a business, the organization becomes an end in itself, group-think prevails, and the customers become an annoying distraction from the obsession of the corporate zombies with in-group cliques. The firm loses business to its competitors because it no longer is interested in its customers. The corresponding phase of a science establishment is when the in-group has lost interest in science and fights for the prevailing paradigm solely for their own preservation. This is where the evolution establishment seems to be right now. They excel at polemical battle against the young rebels of intelligent design, but often perform poorly in debates with intelligent design scientists if the moderator insists that the debaters confine their comments to science.
During the late bureaucracy phase of a business, an internecine war breaks out among departments. Each department has becomes an end in itself and the business as a whole has become a secondary concern. Such a firm is nearing failure, of course. I have heard anecdotal reports of an internecine war between evolutionists who believe in "punctuated equilibrium" and evolutionists who oppose this view. Advocates of "punctuated equilibrium" hold that in accordance with the fossil record, species stasis is the norm for long periods, and is punctuated by sudden species changes. The evolution establishment seems to be almost as hostile towards punctuated equilibrium as it is towards intelligent design science.
The war escalates
As the evolution establishment circles its wagons in a fight to the death to defend their careers and reputations and to save their holy grail of the materialist philosophy, the present scientific revolution is escalating. The evolution establishment is showing a remarkable ferocity towards those scientists in their midst whom they regard as "traitors" to the cause.
For example, Dr. Richard Sternberg, editor of Proceedings, a peer reviewed journal of the Smithsonian Institution, published a paper by Stephen Meyer, a noted intelligent design scientist. Meyer argued in his paper that the theory of intelligent design better explains the origin of genetic material than do the materialistic theories of evolution. The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) criticized the article as "substandard science." Then, when the peer reviewers praised the quality of the paper, the NCSE flip-flopped. Subsequently, the evolution establishment turned their guns on Dr. Sternberg and his journal. Sternberg had expressed no support for Meyer's views. All he did was to publish the paper.
The Biological Society of Washington accused Sternberg of "bad judgment" and distanced themselves from Sternberg and his journal. Nature magazine called Proceedings a "low impact journal." Sternberg's colleagues at the Smithsonian retaliated against him in various ways. They threatened to change his working conditions, investigated his professional
Interestingly, none of Sternberg's persecutors said anything about the concepts, arguments, or facts in Meyer's paper. The old guard of the prevailing paradigm has lost interest in debating scientific questions. They are interested in punishing traitors to their cause and silencing the advocates of opposing models.
The good news is that the malevolent antics of the evolution establishment are finally being exposed. The bad news is that the old guard of the evolution establishment is far more proficient at the propaganda war and guerilla tactics than are the young rebels of intelligent design science. But the further good news is that the pioneers of intelligent design science love science for its own sake.
By contrast, the old guard are only interested in science as a tool to keep themselves in power. Like a fading business in the bureaucratic phase that is internally preoccupied and no longer cares about customers, many of the institutions of biological science have become ends in themselves for the benefit of powerful insiders who no longer care about science. The original purpose of these institutions has been forgotten.
As the old guard burns itself out in internecine warfare, in the exhaustion of the blind puzzle-solvers, and in the futility of fighting for a meaningless cause, the zealots of intelligent design are intellectually stimulated, enthusiastic, and purposeful. They stand ready to fill the empty chairs left by the exhausted and embittered old guard.
RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.
© 2005 Fred Hutchison