Archive for the ‘What is science?’ Category

What is science? Part II: How do you know?

October 21, 2012 Leave a comment

This week I finally return to a task I set myself on my second blog post, to try to give a set of posts which cover the possible answers to the question “What is Science?”. This week I will attempt to blunder through my understanding of the differences between a scientific viewpoint, a religious viewpoint and philosophical viewpoints (plural because philosophy isn’t a single thing).

So, how do you know? How do you know anything? That is a complex question. How do we know some things? Some things such as our names and categories are simply identifiers we use, this blog is UrsusCetacea, but that isn’t necessarily *what* this blog is, it’s really an amorphous cloud of my thoughts ranted out of my fingertips onto the internet but it could just as easily be called “THE GREATEST BLOG EVER” but that would neither make the statement “The greatest blog ever is the greatest blog ever” true, nor would it make this blog any different besides the name at the top.

Bear whale (Ursus cetacea): The story of a bear swimming along capturing insects in it’s mouth inspired Charles Darwin to suggest (incorrectly) the origin of whales as a bear taking this strange behaviour to extremes. Source.

But there are things which we assume to be universally true, that are true regardless of what happens. I subtly and totally on purpose described one earlier, that my blog is an amorphous cloud et.c. et.c., it doesn’t really matter what I called this blog, it would still be what it is. Other things are also universally true, if I drop an apple it will fall towards the centre of the Earth (Unless I’m REALLY far away or going fast enough).

Still other things aren’t easily set into True and False categories, they may be simple explanations of True/False events, such as the answer to the question “Why does the apple fall towards the Earth’s centre?” we say the answer is because gravity pulls Earth and the apple together but the apple has a lot less inertia so it goes further towards the Earth than the Earth does towards the apple. How do we distinguish the difference between the gravitational explanation and, say, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster pushes objects back down onto the Earth“?

Intelligent Falling: The idea here is that the FSM pushes down on people keeping them attached to the Earth instead of floating away. Source.

What is the difference between such hypotheses (Quick note: A hypothesis is an expectation of what will happen in an experiment, a theory is a set of explanations, hypotheses and facts which fit together to provide a comprehensive understanding of the process described, such as Germ Theory, Atomic Theory, Theory of Evolution, Genetic Theory, Big Bang Theory, Theory of Gravity, Theory of Electromagnetism, et.c., et.c, all of these have the same level of strength, doubt one and you doubt them all.)? The difference is what makes science and what doesn’t. The scientific explanations quite simply may be tested by the scientific method and are abandoned if the method disproves the hypothesis.

Theories, hypotheses and facts: all neatly joined together, if only life was this easy. Source: me.

An important thing to consider here is that I have not mentioned when a hypothesis is accepted, nor when a theory is. This is because it’s unique for each hypothesis and theory. It’s also different for different sciences, for instance, in biomedical science it’s much more strict than any other biology, because human lives are at stake. As a general rule of thumb, when there’s a large body of testing and none of it has yet disproved the theory and/or hypothesis, then it is accepted to be true.


The scientific method according to UrsusCetacea: I had to draw this myself but it shows essentially how scientists fact check and develop our growing scientific knowledge.

Now, let us return to our example with the FSM vs gravity and take a look at what the scientific method can tell us about the two hypotheses. So, gravity predicts with great precision (through it’s use of mathematics) exactly what forces will act and the results will be under almost any circumstance. FSM intelligent falling makes no predictions (it’s not meant to, it’s not a scientific explanation). Ergo, gravity is a scientific hypothesis, FSM intelligent falling is a religious idea.

The fact remains that some things are beyond science, how should you behave in society? Is it morally acceptable to hurt another human? Another animal? Why does the universe exist? Why is the universe the way that it is? As yet, science has no way of answering these questions. Some may never be answered. I doubt there would ever be a way that we could determine morals from scientific truth, the old saying “You can’t deduce an ought from an is.”

These areas are were philosophy and religion develop their ‘ways of knowing’ as separate from the scientific ‘way of knowing’. Pre-emptive note to philosophers: Sorry I don’t do your subject proper justice, please comment with corrections/criticisms. So how do philosophers determine what truth is? Fundamentally, philosophical truth is based on reason. Does the internal logic of the statement work? Do the premises hold true under all cases? Do the premises actually support the conclusions? The reasoning is the path to truth and is how statements of truth are assessed.

How do religious leaders find truth? I would say that the religious truth is easier to describe, as religion gives it a word: Revelation. The divine gift of knowledge. The idea being that a supernatural being, a god say, implants the knowledge directly into a person’s mind. This sort of truth is difficult for a sceptical person, one who doesn’t believe in the supernatural being, to accept. Likewise, should a sceptic question the revelation, it would be impossible for the religious person to understand how the sceptic could doubt the revelation.

The difficulty of verifying the source combined with the fact that it isn’t based on reason but rather divine mandate dictating truth makes it difficult to trust without you being the individual who receives the revelation or it being revealed to someone who you would trust the authority of but the truth will not be a universal one that works for everyone.

To conclude, science is but one way of knowing and it is dependent on your own reasoning and beliefs to determine the truth of other ways of knowing. The fact that scientific knowledge is based on evidence however makes it unequivocal, it does no good to argue against what happens, nor does it make sense to argue against a reasonable explanation that has been shown to work. I don’t believe in any god, but I understand that people look for meaning where they will, if someone would choose to seek morals through a religion, that’s their choice. I myself would rather determine the moral action through my own thought and conversation with others. All I can hope is that I don’t come off too preachy in this post.


On Technobabble in Evolutionary Theory Part Two

September 9, 2012 2 comments

Last week I discussed some of the most controversial words in the public view of science today. Chief-most: Evolution and natural selection. I hope that I cleared up a little confusion and hopefully educated a few people. Some seemed to enjoy the blog post enough to think it deserved a like so following that and the fact that it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon on the day I’m supposed to publish this, I’ve decided to rush through and write part 2 for this week. I don’t know if I’ll need to do a part 3 or if I will think of adding anything so for now I’ll assume this will be a conclusion of the previous blog.

I’m going to focus on some of the other mechanisms for evolution and use them to explain evolution in a more accessible manner that also gives people an idea as to why it is both random (In the sense of being directionless) and purposeful (That it can create complexity and apparent ‘design’). So to begin this, we must cover the ‘basic’ concepts of randomness and design.

Randomness is a part of probability statistics. Probability statistics being two long words that includes the word statistics can terrify people but it can be quite easy to understand. Fear not, I’ll leave out the numbers for today (Numerophiles, fear not, I’ll do a post for you at some point) The basic idea of randomness in evolution is that mistakes can occur in the copying of genetic code and these mistakes are undirected and random. The idea being that one mistake is roughly equal in occurrence as any other.

This random variation is required to start off the engine of evolutionary change, this is the spark plug of evolution. It ignites the fuel which is variation and the engine of natural selection uses this to generate forward momentum. The thing is, while natural selection generates this forward momentum, there is some steering in our ‘car of life’ and that determines where on the ‘map of possibility’ we will end up. Allow me to explain, The engine of natural selection attempts to ensure that whatever our organisms are supposed to do, they do it as well as possible (This is the forward pushing of the engine), however the direction they travel is dependent on what is steering and it’s not always purely one single trait that is being developed by natural selection to it’s extreme and all other traits are secondary.

For example, a bird which wishes to fly would remove as much weight as possible, brains are heavy, so a bird optimised for flight wouldn’t have a brain (Please, no bird-brain jokes). However, a bird without a brain wouldn’t be able to do much without it’s central control for it’s nerves and endocrine system, so a bird has to ‘steer’ for optimum flight capability AND ability to think.

There are other things which can also steer and can even appear to make things go in reverse. These are the sorts of things I’m going to discuss in the rest of this blog: To begin, with, the fun one, or rather, the one with the name that makes it seem fun but actually is all about limiting fun to some special ones with special characters. Yes, I’m talking about sexual selection. This is your peacock, your birds of paradise, your deer antlers et.c., et.c. The idea being that a trait in a particular sex (such as a peacock’s tail) is selected for by preference of the other sex, that is, the peahen loves a man with a big bushy tail and so mates with the peacock with the largest most impressive tail. This is taken to extremes with some species such as the peacock where it appears to be a severe handicap, but the woman gets what the woman wants. Even though a large tail can mean a shorter lifespan than a short tail, it means more snu snu so the big tailed peacocks produce more offspring.

The next one I’ll cover is what happens when you don’t steer at all, it’s called genetic drift and it happens when there isn’t much pressure to direct evolution down a particular path. A good example of genetic drift is the lobed vs unlobed ears of humans, some humans have flappy lobes on the bottom of their ears (Where the earring attached) some people have attached lobes (Have a look at this for pictures if you’re unfamiliar) The idea being that some traits are neutral and give no benefit or disadvantage and so the genes mutate and increase and decrease with frequency independently of survival rates and by chance some versions may increase in frequency. (Note: this is not the main force of evolution, it is likely genetic drift only occurs rarely on very few genes so to say that this in any way explains evolution as an entirely random process at best shows a severe misunderstanding of the point and at worst a deliberate and malicious attempt to misinform)

Another mechanism I’ll attempt to explain this week will be phylogenetic inertia, this is where the evolutionary history of a species maintains a stable mechanism. For example, horses have fused their fingers and wrists and toes and ankles respectively into a line of bones shown here in figure 1. This is very good at what it does and is maintained but what if the horse needed to do something different? It would be difficult for a horse to evolve the fingers and toes required to construct a hand like a human’s with a thumb for grasping because the phylogenetic inertia keeps the horses hoof as it is. Indeed, even with 5 digits, there is more than one solution to the grasping problem, as shown by the panda’s thumb. Which is often cited as a wonderful example of our next word:

Exaptation is where something which evolved for one thing is co-opted for use as something else. The sesamoid bone of the panda evolved for the support of a tendon within the foot, it was used by the ancestor of the giant panda to pin bamboo shoots against with it’s fingers, allowing it to grasp them. This in time selected the bone for use in this new function. Another example is the ear bones of mammals which were originally jawbones, as evidenced by the study of embryological development where the bones form as part of the jaw before moving up into the skull. Or Jawbones themselves which form as gill arches which would have originally supported the gills of our fishy ancestors before being used to support the mouth and in time hinging so that the mouth could open and close.

Now, I’ve sort of just thrown out all of these mechanisms which have been observed in nature to select particular traits in some, suppress traits in others, but why? What use is saying that ‘natural selection isn’t the only mechanism’, what use is saying ‘Darwin didn’t know everything’, why say ‘evolution is not just natural selection’? Because it’s not. If we want to understand the world we live in then we need to understand all of it and as I believe I said last time, Darwin wasn’t a prophet, he didn’t know everything and it’s important to show that we’ve got somewhere in our understanding of life since him.

All of these mechanisms show how it’s not just about who lives or dies in evolution, it isn’t just ‘every man for himself’ sexual selection is just one form of selection that demonstrates a species can select itself towards particular traits. Humanity has selected towards traits that involve cooperation within a group (Intergroup competition still exists and has always existed of course) and this is something which defines humanity. Removing religion won’t remove humanity from humans (I would personally argue it would give us a bit more humanity but that’s an argument for another time). Evolution doesn’t mean that we are in a dog-eat-dog world, it means that those that die without leaving as many descendants as others will eventually be wiped from a population.

I will conclude with the point that humans are more in control of their environment than ever before and we can effectively decide to remove a lot of the natural selection from our populations should we wish, we can make sure that people don’t die off from other things. I, for one, would be very interested to see what would happen if humans decided to select for traits which reduced world suck and increased awesome. I mean, we could totally select for people who were good with genetics and get dinosaurs in space even sooner. I hope I didn’t ramble too far from the point, see you next week.


Potholer54: The car metaphor is a more in depth version of his metaphor from a video on evolution from his youtube channel (If I remember correctly at least).

On Technobabble in Evolutionary Theory Part 1

September 2, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a lot of confusion amongst a lot of people about what these terms actually mean so I’m going to present my interpretations of each term and why I’ve chosen those terms, I’m also going to use this as an opportunity to explain the various principles in evolutionary theory. Experts, remember, this is the basics, so if you see something you disagree with, first think “Is what I’ve said a good enough simplification for someone who doesn’t know so much as you?” then comment based on what you’ve thought, because, hey, I’m human, it’s possible (Probable or even likely, I would say) that I will make some errors.

So, without further ado, I will start with possibly the most contentious: Darwinism. Darwinism is often used as a synonym for the “theory of evolution by means of natural selection” which while being quite a mouthful, is often what is meant by “evolutionary theory” today which I would argue is much more accurate than Darwinism. Why do I think “Darwinism” is a bad synonym for “evolutionary theory”? Because Darwin wasn’t our prophet, he wasn’t infallible nor omniscient. He didn’t discover everything through revelation, he discovered it through ‘plain old boring’ thinking about it.

As evidence for this, I present “Things Darwin Didn’t Know About”:

  • Genetics: Gregor Mendel was a contemporary of Darwin, that is, he lived at the same time as Darwin and published his work in 1866 a full 16 years before Darwin finally kicked the bucket, however, Darwin never read his work. No-one even discovered the connection between Mendel and Darwin until the early 20th century.
  • The Age of the Earth: Dating the Earth to millions of years was typical for theorists in Darwin’s time, however, with the discovery of radiometric dating in 1905 by Ernest Rutherford expanded the age into billions of years before eventually giving us the current age of 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years.
  • The structure of the ‘tree of life’: Darwin didn’t know much about the relationships between species and groups of species. Indeed, in one of his earlier editions of “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” (Wonderful title) he hypothesised that a bear which swam through the water catching insects would be through natural selection transformed into a whale.

These principles, central to modern evolutionary theory, were at least in their infancy, and at worst, were completely misunderstood in Darwin’s time. Darwinism should effectively mean the original ideas theorised by Darwin and so does not represent current understanding in evolutionary theory.

Why is this important? Because it shows we’ve advanced since Darwin, that Darwin’s ideas weren’t accepted as dogma and then any dissenters were quickly ostracised by the scientific community. Evolutionary theory has been debated ever since the first ideas were put forward (There were several ideas concurrent to and even proceeding Darwin that suggested a mechanism for how diversity was generated in life, see Alfred Russel Wallace for an epic beard and a forgotten hero, also Lamarck who’s greatest contributions to science were not his blunders, see references below).

The problem for science in these debates was never about whether evolution occurred (See below for definition of evolution) but rather how it occurred. What effect does natural selection have? How much does genetic drift effect genetics of species? How fast does speciation occur? How important is extinction for the creation of new niches? Notice how none of these questions target the age of the earth, the permanence of species nor the fossil record? Creationists take note.

So, Darwin wasn’t perfect and therefore it’s important to separate out his ideas, the ones which began our modern evolutionary study from those that make up our current view. This also helps us to discuss controversy within science and the difference between debating an issue (Such as the effect of natural selection in evolution) and debating the fact of an issue (Whether evolution occurs).

Now, what is evolution then? If evolution isn’t Darwinism then what is evolution? Well what it isn’t is the theory of evolution nor evolutionary theory. Evolution on it’s own is the fact of evolution which is evidenced in the existence of fossils which are dated using radio-metric methods of all different sorts which are used depending on the condition of the rock. The fact of evolution is also evidenced by the studies of Grant and Grant on the Galapagos Finches, or the enormous amounts of studies done on fruit flies. Evolution, put simply, is the observed change in life as time has passed. The oldest rocks contain different animals and plants than younger rocks which are different again to modern flora and fauna.

But of course, if evolution is that, then what is the theory of evolution? Well to begin, you’d need to know the differences between theories, hypotheses, ideas, laws of nature, facts, et.c. but suffice to say that a theory is a body of tested ideas which explain facts. The theory of evolution explains how life has changed since it first emerged. It does not seek to explain the origin of life, the origin of the solar system, it is not the big bang theory, nor does it seek to disprove any god (Uncapitalised to point out all the gods that people think that word means.).

The theory of evolution is really the collection of tools we use to explain and demonstrate the way that life changes and has changed. The main tool that everyone knows about is of course, natural selection. To demonstrate natural selection, think about this:

A female weevil lays 300 eggs which mature in a month, roughly half of those weevils will be female, so 150 females in the next generation, each lays 300 eggs, that’s then 450000 weevils in two months, multiply that out after one year and there are nearly 260 septillion (260 followed by 24 zeros) weevils. If the weevils weigh 1g each, then the total mass of all the weevils would be equal to nearly half the mass of the earth (Earth mass = 5.97e24kg). Clearly, since we aren’t swimming in a sea of weevils, something is limiting them, preventing them from reaching this enormous mass.

Now, evolutionary theory, isn’t about what is limiting the weevils, but rather how the weevils are limited. The idea being that the limits on the weevils are selective, that is, weevils the best at being weevil-y will be better at resisting the factors which limit them. So, for example, the weevils I’m talking about are rice weevils (Sitophilus oryzae) and they live in enormous grain stores where there is a bit of an issue about how much oxygen they acquire, so, if a weevil is pretty good at living without much oxygen, they’ll do better in that environment.

However, this problem happens across the generations, it’s not just a problem for the current weevils, but also their descendants. So any benefit will only help the weevils as a whole survive if any resistance to low oxygen levels is heritable. If a weevil passes on it’s ability to use less oxygen then it’s descendants will be better equipped to survive than others.

This is just one mode for variation in a population to facilitate change (read: evolution). Hopefully you can see why this is such a big deal, to limit organisms in their way of life is the ground state for nature, things aren’t limitless and so animals will not all survive. This means that organisms will compete with each other for their ‘place’ in the population and their opportunity to reproduce. Then if the differences between the organisms can be passed on, then the populations will change over time.

This is all the basics of evolutionary change. This is what we use to understand biology today. Shocking it could be so simple. This post is getting pretty long now so I’ll cover other things in another post at some point. Things like sexual selection, the role of genes etc will be covered next time (If I ever do get around to carrying on this mini-series).


Lamarck: See Eight Little Piggies by Stephen J. Gould. In one essay (I forget which and don’t have my copy to hand) he discusses the misrepresentation of Lamarck. Though I know in the book he also discusses Goethe, Haley and Ussher as representatives of people who have been misrepresented by history.

Ideas: This essay is based heavily on my thoughts prompted by reading Scientists Confront Creationism: Intelligent Design and Beyond. Defining terms used in evolution is a topic discussed in a section of the book and it helped me to realise the issues surrounding lay readership of technical work. The use of differing terms confuses even experts (Not me, rather my lecturers when I ask them about issues in the literature) so the various terms will undoubtedly confuse anyone unacquainted with the literature.

A note on Wikipedia: I don’t know if I’ve mentioned my heavy use of Wikipedia references before but I think that in this blog a lay reference is fine and accessible for the interested reader who doesn’t want a long technical paper detailing the various arguments and counter-arguments presented by the expert.

The Façade of Progress: A Personal Perspective

August 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Okay, so it’s ~13hrs late, sue me.

Bacteria –> Fish –> Amphibian –> Lizard –> Rat –> Monkey –> Human

As common a motif as any for evolution, this ladder (not the exact ordering or the creatures named but the concept at least) dates back to Ancient Greece (or at least so Wikipedia tells me :p *slaps wrist*). The idea basically being that animals are organised in a scale (The name for this ladder of life in latin was: Scala Naturae) from the least complex (bacteria) to the most and of course humans sit atop all because most complex life is best life.

But this view of life is terribly stunted in it’s vision, take for example these things, just take a look at the pictures and tell me, what is it? It’s actually a chordate, just like you and I, just like snakes, frogs, sharks, goldfish et.c., it’s a highly specialised version of one though and it’s like a barnacle in that it gives up the pelagic (Open sea) life to live attached to a rock and filtering out their food from the water around them.

These animals are perfectly suited to their environment, you are suited to yours, despite your supposedly ‘more’ evolved complex form, you could not possibly hope to survive doing what the barnacle or sea squirt does; neither, importantly, could their ancestors, the ancestor of the barnacle is also the ancestor of shrimp, crabs and lobsters so it’s best to think of a generic (pun intended (nested brackets for those who don’t get it, look up taxonomy and think about specific and general as words)) sort of crustacean. Despite the barnacle and sea squirt each losing features and simplifying down to a seemingly more basal form, they are in fact more evolved than their ancestors and far better adapted to their environments than their more complex cousins.

This concept is a general fallacy built into our minds or at least ingrained at a young age, I know of a time when I saw progress as the way things must be. When I was a child I was always told to ‘cheer up’ and to ‘smile more’ that ‘things will get better’. Despite there being nothing wrong really, I got bullied a little, but I think it’s just how things are at school. Most people are bullied. I should say that doesn’t mean that bullying is justifiable, what I mean is that my bullying was slight and no more than I would expect of being smarter than literally everyone at your school; I was before I moved to a different area where I was much closer to the mean and when I was bullied there, well I was the new kid and everyone had known each other since they could remember, I was an outsider and a weird one at that.

I took this general theme and applied it to evolution myself in my GCSE Graphics project where I re-designed monopoly into a game of evolution, though, really it was a Scala Naturae game and it didn’t really make evolution work how it was supposed to, a bit like another game I know about.

ANYWAY, putting my past where it belongs, the point I’m trying to make is that I was told that things would get better and that matched up with a general trend where we think that things are improving and getting better, I think this is a trend which began back in the ’60s with world wars and depression receding into the distance, science improving and young and exciting new culture being developed, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief and it seemed things were going to be getting better, follow this up with the ’90s and ’00s of my own life and we’ve seen the internet take off, we’ve seen the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the end of the Soviet Union, these events have given us a sort of ‘things can only get better’ view, one popularised by Brian Cox no less.

This view seems to make the assumption that what must be true of science must be true for the history of things science has discovered, that since science has increased knowledge, improved technology, therefore, stuff should be getting better throughout the world. But just because we have managed to improve our human lives does not mean that on the geologic time scale, things must conform to the same rule.

Combine this with the radiation of groups of organisms as they diversified through time and it gives you a sense that most things around today showed up a long time ago and that was it, they never changed. Hence the old anti-evolutionist cry of “Well if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?!” of course there’s more to it than that but putting on a sense of progress from when we evolved through to today gives credence to that old battlecry, if they were to understand that monkeys didn’t STOP evolving when the ape branch split off from them they’d be able to understand why monkeys are a far more successful branch than apes are (Compare number of species between Cercopithecoidea and the Hominidae, it’s clear which is the healthier bush*.

Finally, I’d like to say HEY look at me, I managed to get another post done in a consecutive week (sort of), let’s hope I manage to get a third one, and a fourth and so on until my posts number as many as the intermediate fossils between me and my most distant ancestor.

* Note: The Cercopithecoidea only include the Old World Monkeys of Asia, Africa and Europe, not the New World Monkeys so by that measure, Hominidae are even worse. (Taxonomists read on: I know, the New World Monkeys and Old World Monkeys as a group excluding the Great Apes is a paraphyletic group but shush, baby steps for people who don’t know as much as you, that is, people like me)


This essay was inspired by my recent reading of Stephen J. Gould’s book Eight Little Piggies along with some other books of his that I’ve read, I’m probably just repeating what he’s said in a less eloquent voice but hey, I think I’m getting better? No, okay then.

What is science?

February 24, 2012 2 comments

Take a minute and ask yourself that question, get a pen and paper and try to write a succinct and accurate answer… Harder than it looks isn’t it? It helps to try to define science within specific guidelines for example:

– As a belief system (including comparing it to other belief systems)

– As a way of knowing (including comparing it to other ways of knowing)

– Science and Technology

– Philosophy of Science

– The Scientific Method

Now first of all what I have to say is by no means the be all and end all of science, I don’t think I’d ever have the conviction to claim to be an authority on anything I’ve studied, regardless of how long I could spend studying it.  Given the complex nature of this topic, I’m going to separate out these topics into separate posts that I will hopefully complete over the coming months.

This week, science as a belief system.

What can we truly say about the world around us? René Descartes famously stated “Cogito ergo sum”, the only real thing we can say is that our thoughts and feelings are real, that because we think, we must exist. But of course that’s not very helpful and not very practical, so humans have invented belief systems as ways of understanding our world, they may be based on a creed or dogma like religion, or they may be variants of various philosophies as defined those that dedicated their lives to thought.

Science as a belief system says that we can make certain statements about the world which we perceive. For example, the fact that it is built on rules and these rules do not change. If something seems to defy our rules then our rules are not accurate when compared to how the world actually is (or if you prefer our thoughts, theories and hypotheses do not fully explain what we perceive to be true). This is the basis of the Scientific method but I’m getting ahead of myself there. Science attempts to state and explain everything there is in the natural world, scientists seek to understand all the phenomena (Phenomenon (Singular): A fact or situation that is observed to exist or happen).

So science states that if something is tested over and over and there is a consistent result, then that is probably true, so if I jump up over and over, I’m going to fall back down and land (hopefully upright) again, this is true.

But why do things happen? Well that’s where we can bring in Occam’s Razor, that is, the simplest answer is often the right one, if there is a simple testable explanation, and it has been tested and evidence hasn’t contradicted it, then that is probably right. If something is a more complicated answer then it is probably wrong. This of course is secondary to the evidence. If two, as they are called hypotheses, have not been falsified, then the simpler one is probably the right one.

So what does science say about other belief systems? Well first off nothing in science says that you have to put to death anyone who doesn’t believe in science which in my mind immediately puts it above older more intolerant belief systems (if you get what I’m hinting at). Science makes no statements about other belief systems saving where those belief systems make statements about the observable universe. If a belief system makes a statement that is illogical then because science is based on logic it would reject that too.

Note that only where things contradict reason or have been shown to be not true is science at odds with alternative belief systems, believing science does not necessarily contradict a belief in any other belief system, religion or otherwise, it would be wise to have another belief system, for example a system of ethics and morals. While I am not religious, I don’t see any point in picking a fight with religion mainly because I see it as a futile ‘war’ on an extremely pervasive and ‘sticky’ ideology.

There is another branch of academic study that has not been discussed and that is the humanities. I know from personal experience that many believe and have believed myself for a time that Science was the greatest thing and anyone doing anything else were ignorant scum, harsh words. Where does this idea come from that makes science think it’s so much better than the arts?

Well a greater mind and speaker covered this concept in his wonderful book, “The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox” by the late Stephen Jay Gould published posthumously, this book looked at the ‘knowledge wars’ since the birth of modern science, he suggested that science, along with others follows the hedgehog in it’s style, having one very good way of doing things, this is good, but it restricts us in our ways of looking at the world so while it is important for scientists to be a hedgehog, humanity should be like the fox, using each different method for each different problem, science has no way of determining morals and so we should use a different method of ‘knowing’ something in order to decide morals.

This idea that we should see the different groups, not at war with each other, but complimenting each other, he called this idea consilience, I would highly recommend reading his book and deciding for yourself I may not have summarised his points as well as I could have. But the point of all this is that science is very good at what it does, the best in fact, but it cannot step beyond it’s bounds we have to find alternatives which are the most practical and useful. Where science cannot tread, we have to use a different vehicle for understanding.