"Open letter to Brother Kelly Boggs, Pastor"

(This is in reply to Circumstantial evidence.)


Far be it from me to attack an argument for a war with Iraq, but your piece did not use the terms “theory,” “evidence,” and most importantly, “belief” properly. The proper approach to determining facts, whether it is the theory of evolution or Saddam’s possession of WMD’s is to apply the scientific process in order to reach conclusions — not relying on “faith” or “refusing to believe” something.

In general, the proper method of reaching conclusions is by induction — making observations about a large number of instances (concrete examples) and then forming a hypothesis (abstract idea) based on those observations. Based on the hypothesis, we make predictions about what the concretes should be, and once again apply that hypothesis to numerous concretes. If the predictions hold, one formulates a theory, if not, one tries another hypothesis. Given enough correct hypotheses, one forms a scientific model, and if the model is supported by a significant body of evidence, one forms a scientific theory.

Why do I bring this up? Well, the fact is that the great majority of people do not understand how this process works, and do not apply it to the various junk-science out there today. Take the common phrase regarding evolution: “it’s only a theory.” Well, so are the facts that the earth is round, revolves around the sun, and that volcanoes are not caused by angry gods. Like all knowledge, these facts are conclusions reached by forming conclusions (theories) based on observations. The distinction between facts and theories is important to recognize. As Stephen J. Gould explains: “facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts don’t go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them.”

This fact has important implications for some of the “pseudo-sciences” out there, like creationism and environmentalism. The difference between these pseudo-scientists and real scientists is that they pervert the scientific method by rejecting the need for evidence. No argument will sway their position because their beliefs rest on faith, not evidence. For creationists, the Bible is the absolute authority, and all scientific evidence to contrary is rejected or ignored. For environmentalists, their interpretation of what is bad for man (technology) is an absolute — ignoring that it is in fact often the lack thereof that causes more suffering. Because no amount of evidence will convince someone who holds his beliefs on faith, we can reject their claims as soundly (and on the same basis) as the flat-earthers.

Please consider this next time you say “It’s only a theory!”

–David Veksler

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