Monday, March 12, 2007

Comment of the Day

The great Charlie Hall:

If religion contains dogma about the natural world, yes, objective, empirical observation overrules religion. If your religion says the earth is flat, your religion is false. Period.

But our religion, Judaism, makes no such claims. Only one of the 13 principles of the Rambam is even theoretically falsifiable, and a practical falsification of the eighth principle is in practice essentially impossible. Science can neither prove or disprove the existence of God, or the divine origin of the torah.

That scientists are human and err is well known. Sometimes those errors can lead to major mistatements. I recommend Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" for a better exposition of this.

There are indeed examples of scientific groupthink -- sometimes with very bad consequences. Semmelweis and Holmes couldn't get doctors to wash their hands. Continental drift was rejected by most geologists. More recently, textbooks insisted that neurons could not be grown from stem cells in adults. Just five years ago, most physicians believed that hormone therapy was good for post-menopausal women. (I actually teach medical students that the evidence was never as strong as we though on this issue.)

But your nihilistic criticism resembles that of the postmodernists who reject all objective truth. The fact that scientists err does not make the universe 6000 years old and does not mean that evolution does not occur. The universe is old, and evolution explains too much science to ever be discarded.

No comments: