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Explaining Science To A Fundy


R. S. Martin
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Thank you for sharing your thoughts and beliefs. I trust it is okay if I respond to some of them. You touched on the topic of how scientists came to believe what they do. You thought maybe it happened kind of like gossip—that one person states something as a “maybe” and the next person passes it on as fact. That is not the way scientists work. I will try to explain.

 

Science, Religion, and the Origins of the Universe

Christians claim that God created the earth and the entire universe. The Christian Church has historically killed, banned into exile, or excommunicated those skeptical scientists (and others) who spoke up against the church’s position. I believe this persecution of scientists is the incentive behind space exploration. It is hoped that eventually Christians will accept fact and adapt their religion to more accurately reflect factual truth. The rejection from conservative Christians continues to this very day. In the US the government has banned some types of scientific research because conservative Christians have taken a stand on things they don’t understand. That means people are going to die from preventable illness.

 

I think people who take advantage of the most advanced medical science such as open heart surgery or brother John’s brain surgery have no right to oppose scientific research. In order for this research to continue, children have to be taught about evolution because it is the best understood process by which the universe came into existence. In order for children to be taught evolution our society has to accept it as legitimate. If children are not taught science as best as it is understood today, in about twenty-five years we will run out of doctors who are capable of doing this sophisticated surgery such as John’s brain surgery. Maybe you don’t care that it was possible to save John’s life but I think you do.

 

The Scientific Method

The scientific method works by cause and effect. For example, if we dunk something in water it gets wet. That is cause and effect on the most basic level.

 

Scientists also work by what parts something is made up of, and what these parts are made up of and so on back as far as it is possible to split a small particle into even smaller particles.

 

For example, a chocolate cake is made up of flour, eggs, chocolate, and a few other things. You probably know more about this than I do. Likewise, every material thing is made up of parts. Back in the times of the ancient Greek philosophers, about six centuries before Christ, they were already speculating that everything was made up of parts. They believed there were four basic elements: fire, air, earth, and water.

 

In recent centuries, science has split off from philosophy as a separate discipline. I would say today philosophy can be seen as the “conscience of society” in much the same way as are the religions of various types. Science is the practical element. I don’t have the brains to study and understand technical things and numbers that are required to understand scientific literature. However, I understand theory or the main ideas underlying how something works, including science.

 

To summarize, scientists work on two fronts: (1) dividing things into their primary elements or particles, and (2) learning the cause and effect relationship between these particles.

 

Primary Elements

 

Today we know that fire, earth, water, and air can all be divided into much smaller elements. If we did not know that, we (humanity, medical science) could not deliver oxygen (air) for people who have serious problems breathing. That is only one simple example. Like I said, I don’t have what it takes to understand the technicalities of science. However, I think you know from Dad’s study of organic farming that in a handful of soil there is far more than just soil. It is made up of many, many different things. These “things” are primary elements or divisible elements.

 

There was a time when it was believed that the smallest divisible element was the atom. I understand the ancient Greeks already figured this out. However, if I have my history straight, in the 20th century it was discovered that the atom can be split, too. I understand the atomic bomb is based on that discovery but I don’t know the theory behind it.

 

Cause and Effect Events

 

Actually, it’s more than theory at this point in history—it’s a known system of cause and effect events, but I am not familiar with this system. Also, sometimes scientists know that something causes something else but they don’t understand exactly how or why. For example, I don’t know how a tiller engine works but I know that it works (when there’s nothing wrong with it). I don’t know the system of cause and effect events that make it work. I know it doesn’t work if there is no gas in the gas tank, but I don’t know why or how gas makes it work. However, if I had the brains for it, I could study the topic and learn how gas relates to all the other cause and effect events that make a tiller engine work.

 

Here is an example of a cause and effect event: Put gas in tiller engine. Pull starting rope. Engine runs. Thus no gas in engine causes engine to stop working. Positively stated, gas in engine + pull starting rope causes engine to run. That is a cause and effect event.

 

The Source of Scientific Knowledge

With computer technology, it is possible to divide elements into far smaller elements than with a knife or ax. There is also laser technology, something commonly used for surgery these days. I don’t know too much about it except that it is far more precise than any other surgical tool, and enables the body to heal far faster than when doctors depended on tools like knives. Were it not for this very high technology, our brother John’s aneurysm on the brain could not have been discovered. Or if they discovered it, they could not have done anything about it except tell him that it could burst at any time and cause instant death. They could probably have told him approximately how long he could expect to live before it burst. Because medical science constantly learns more, things that are possible today were not possible ten years ago. For the same reason, science texts change from decade to decade to add new knowledge and delete former “knowledge” that has been proven to be inaccurate.

 

Increasing Knowledge

 

Perhaps this could be equated with writing a recipe for bread. You probably keep learning new things as you keep on making bread under varying circumstances. For example, I have heard people claim that how well bread rises depends on the weather conditions such as humidity. Maybe this has been proven wrong by now and maybe not. I don’t know a thing about the science that goes into making bread.

 

Medical science does not exist alone. It comes out of things that are learned from space exploration and the equipment needed for space exploration. However, there is nothing like war that drives people to further refine their technology. I read somewhere that technology always takes a leap forward when there is war. I am not sure if that applies today anymore because they no longer use the most powerful technology available to fight enemies. The reason is that the most powerful technology would destroy the entire earth along with all its inhabitants. This includes the person who pulls the trigger.

 

Cooperation in the Scientific Community

 

However, I think space exploration, medical science, and information technology work hand in hand. Information technology is perhaps the most important weapon against enemies these days. Information technology includes computers, satellites, radio, TV cameras, the printing press, etc. Spying on the enemy has always been part and parcel of war and this continues to the present day.

 

Thus, you can see why people work so hard to improve technology, which requires highly sophisticated tools, which depends on scientific knowledge of how things work, i.e. cause and effect events. The suffering and death of close relatives very often is the incentive that drives a doctor to learn more.

 

Stages of Acquiring Scientific Knowledge

That explains how science works and why it is important to keep on learning more. Scientific knowledge or information develops through various stages.

 

The Brain-Storming Stage

 

First, there is the brainstorming stage where people look at the wildest ideas to see if there is any possible solution in it. I understand Thomas Edison (or whoever invented the light bulb) searched for something that can burn but not get destroyed. A wick in a lamp gets used up over time, as also does the kerosene that fuels the flame in the lamp. The electric light bulb can burn for months before “burning out.” I understand one of the thousands of things Edison tried was human hair.

 

I have heard that one of his workers complained that, “We’ve tried thousands of things and nothing works.” They wanted to quit the search. Edison replied, “Yes, so we now know of thousands of things that don’t work.” He was going to continue the search. If you are like me, you are glad he did. Finding the correct prescription glasses for your eyes would probably not have been possible were it not for the invention of the light bulb. The optometrist uses a tiny light bulb to look into your eyes. At least, mine does.

 

The Hypothesis

 

That is why brainstorming is important. Then comes the hypothesis. The hypothesis is an idea for how something works, including the theory why the scientist thinks the idea might work. After the hypothesis comes experimenting.

 

Scientific Experimentation

 

However, there are many laws in place to control the types of things scientists are allowed to experiment. For example (I am not entirely sure of the laws but I think these are accurate examples), it is illegal to use human subjects to experiment with a new drug that has not yet been used on animals. It is also illegal for a doctor to use a drug or surgical procedure on a patient without warning the patient of the possible side-effects. You have probably encountered or heard about this at some point in your life. For example, sometimes people feel like they have to sign their life away in order to get the surgery they need. They are not “signing their life away” so much as they are stating that they understand the risks involved and they are willing to accept the risks. The Christian way of expressing it is that they are willing to accept what God has in store.

 

Controlling Factors or Policing

By the time something is seen in the doctor’s office or on the hospital floor or in the operating room, it has already passed very many stringent experiments that were tightly controlled by many laws. The laws are enforced in part by politics in the scientific community and in part by the consciences of the scientists themselves. One’s conscience is guided by a value system, by what things a person considers to be of utmost importance. The highest value by which the scientific community operates is human life.

 

Politics

 

The premise on which the politics of the scientific community works is that everyone naturally likes to be acknowledged for a major breakthrough. If you see a colleague about to cut corners to prove a major break-through and thereby becoming world famous, you are likely to remind this person of the rules, and to report the person who breaks them. Nobody wants that to happen, so people conform to the laws even though it might mean not becoming famous. If nothing else, the experiment will add to the number of experiments done on that particular thing, thus bringing it one step closer to becoming legal to be used in such places as doctor’s offices or operating rooms or factories, etc.

 

Values

 

Human life is sacred. Christians agree with this. That is why it is wrong to kill humans. Many people put war in a separate category but increasing numbers of people are seriously questioning the justification of war. This includes many atheists and Christians of all kinds. One of my profs is a draft-dodger from the US in the sixties. The Vietnam war was being fought at the time. He felt it was wrong and came to Canada to escape being drafted. He was raised, and continues to be, Lutheran.

 

Disseminating Information

I understand there is also a law that says scientists must share their findings with the rest of the scientific community. The way scientific information is spread is largely through articles in professional journals. Gossip has nothing to do with it (I hope) because lives depend on it. Professional journals are the scholarly equivalent of magazines. They are published regularly and contain the latest research, some of which is not yet used in hospitals, doctor’s offices, or other places because it is so new; not enough research has yet been done. The purpose for sharing the findings is to allow the scientific community to continue to cooperate in the efforts to improve the quality of life for human beings.

 

I understand the journal article must include: the hypothesis, what experiment they did including accurate numbers and precise measurements, the method they used to do the experiment (exactly how, what, when), and the outcome no matter if it worked or did not work. By precise measurements I mean accuracy down to several decimal points of an inch, ounce, or whatever form of measurement was used. The things that are measured are everything that can be measured, including time, substances used, items used, numbers of subjects experimented on e.g. how many rats at what point of their lifespan (i.e. age) and how many of which sex. Their exact size and weight may be included, as also the breed.

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I haven't sent it yet. I have a feeling it would do no good.

 

 

It's a bit like pissing yourself in dark pants... you feel better for a while, but no one would notice and in the end you are just cold and wet...

 

There again... the normal distribution curve has a far end, so it's possible you could change someone's mind... :)

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