Why are all forms of science not equally authoritative – why is evoluion less reliable than gravity when its all science?

by June 2, 2014

Answer Podcast

Transcription by– Keshav Gopal Das & Ambuj Gupta

Question: Why are all forms of science not considered equally trust worthy? You mention in your classes that sciences which talk about origins don’t have the same level of authority as say sciences which talk about laws of motion or laws of gravity. Can you explain when they are all science there is a difference in their authority?

Answer: Yes, because the difference in authoritativeness is because of kind of reasoning that is used in these branches of science.

There are broadly three kinds reasoning that are used in science- deduction, induction and abduction. So deduction means that there is one universal truth and once the universal truth is there that premise seems to be true. Then what follows, what is deduced from that gives us a true conclusion. For example, all human beings are mortal and Sam is a human being, therefore Sam is mortal. These are deductive truths. Are our scientific truths deductive? Some of them are. Specially within mathematics the truths are deductive. Mathematics is often considered to be the base of science. There the principles are deductive means that it is something which is not just a matter of inference but it is a matter of logical necessity. So 2+3 has to be five. It cannot be anything different.

Off course now this idea has also certain forms of geometry which have been developed which do not follow geometry rules and there have been some chinks in the armor, in the deductivity of mathematics. The deduction is one methodology in science but that is not the common methodology. It is specially reserved for mathematics and that too some specific branches of mathematics.

Much more wide spread methodology in science is induction. Induction means that science makes a limited but a significant number of observations and based on that certain pattern is discerned and further testing is made to check the pattern is true. If further testing proves things to be correct then the result is universalized and is made into a law. For example, Newton observed a fruit falling. He postulated the law of gravity and when future observations supported that then it is considered a law. Induction basically means we take the limited sample and from there we generalize.

Even in western intellectual history there have been intellectuals like David Hume who have pointed out that induction is not necessarily true, although we assume it to be true in our normal behavior. We say that sun rises every day and we expect the sun will rise tomorrow also, but there is no logical necessity if we don’t bring any fundamental theistic dimension to life that the sun has to rise every day. Logically that is not necessary, although that happens. Induction is not necessarily going to give us absolute universal truth and that is seen to some extent. Newton’s laws which is postulated by induction have subsequently been proven to be not applicable at the very small and a very large scales. At the level of fundamental particles we cannot use Newtonian physics, we have to use Quantum physics. At the very high level, cosmic distances and cosmic bodies, often we have to use Relativity physics. The point is the induction does not always give us universal truths which are reliable in all situations. Induction is of a lower level of credibility in authoritativeness than deduction. However, in induction at least wepostulate something and there is a way to conduct experiments to try to prove it. But, when science goes back to the past for example historical sciences, there we can’t use induction because induction essentially requires repeated observations of events and then after the theory is postulated the replication of the expected results coming from the theory. That means one has to toss up to see many fruits falling and one when will be able to toss up fruits and many things like that and then one can do the experiment. So there have to repeated observations and there have to be repeated experiments for a theory that is to be considered true by induction.

But then when we go to history and all the more when we go to origins there is no induction possible. For example, how do universe come about? How did life evolve from chemicals as the evolution synthesis claims? How did one species evolve into another? Whenever these are happened, they happened sometime ago in the past and there is no way to observe it even once, what to speak of repeatedly. Now from fossil records or from other things, some things can be extrapolated. But they are not the hard evidence of rigorous observation. When we can’t observe and certainly you can’t replicate. Whenever life evolved for the first time from chemicals, as the theory of chemical evolution claims, we can’t replicate that right now because life is already evolved. Even if we do it in a lab, still that does not prove the chemical evolution because it has to have come about by intelligent design. Basically the original evolution of life coming from chemicals is a non repeatable onetime event. We can’t observe it, we can’t repeat it now. If neither observation are possible nor experiments are possible then how can that be called science. The time spans in cosmology are so vast that we can’t observe things like that. That happened millennia ago.

How do the scientists come to know about what has happened? They have a different method, this called a IBE , inference to the best explanation, or sometimes it is called as abduction. Inference to the best explanation is something like arriving at explanation to a mystery or in investigative fiction or just real life detective action. If we find that a particular person is being murdered and nobody has seen that crime happening. If there is no witness then nobody has seen it. Obviously nobody can just to prove something we can’t repeat murder of someone. Then what has to be done? There is inference to the best explanation. Ok, this person is murdered then you do to the postmortem. Then you find ok, the death occurred between 5 to 6 p.m. Then you try to find out ok, between 5 to 6 p.m., the death is caused by knife food. Then we try to find out who were the people who can to this room between 5 to 6 p.m. and then we find that three people came over there. Then we find that two of them were small children and the knife was inserted into the stomach with so much force that children could not have done it. Then what happens is? By this we can take various factors into consideration and then come to the conclusion that so and so person was the murderer. This is inference to the best explanation. This stands in the court of law if it is persuasive enough and that is how historical sciences work.

It may well be true that the inference to best explanation may not be the right explanation because certain factors may not be known to us. Who knows, we observed only who came in that room from a particular door. But what if that room has some underground passage which no one knows about and the murderer use that to come in and go out. Somebody else who came between that time period gets blamed, become a scapegoat. This can happen. This does happen in law and this can happen even in science. That’s why because the question of origins whenever science talks about it, it talks based on inference to best explanation. This inference to best explanation also called as abduction. The word abduction has another meaning in our day to day conversation where it refers to kidnapping but that’s not what’s been talked over here. Here what is talked about is the form of reasoning is known as abduction. Even from our common sense point of view and also from the point of view from logician and philosophers, inference to best explanation ( abduction) is definitely not as reliable as induction and far-far less reliable then deduction. Therefore when we observe the results of science as manifested through technology like we have cell phones, we have internet, we have so many activities working around us, these are based on laws that have been found out using induction. That’s why within the methodology of science they are much-much more scientifically sound, they are much more logically rooted than are questions about origins. That’s why when some scientists say that ok, this theory proves that there is no God or this theory proves that life has come from chemicals. we have to understand that there the scientist are not usually making a scientific statement, it’s a philosophical statement which does not deserve the credibility of science. Secondly, even that person claims some science that’s science also is not of the same level of authority as the science through which technology around us is working.

We are not actually disrespecting science when we counter scientific theories about history and specially about origins because we are not talking about the same kind of science. Because abduction and inference to best explanation is always weaker than induction, that’s why all branches of science are not of the equal level of authority. Thank you.

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