Absolutely, Positively, 100%…Uncertain

In working on a couple of other blog posts I realized I needed a discussion on science. I’ll have to rewrite a couple paragraphs in another in-progress post because I don’t feel like this one can wait anymore. Please note these are my opinions on science and I am in no way an authority on the subject.

First of all, I love science. Not in an abstract, “I love that there are scientists who are doing science out there and it gets me a new iPhone” kind of way. Science is literally the way I think, which is a statement that may make a bit more sense once I go into some details on what the eff I’m talking about.

We all should have learned about the scientific method in school. While there are plenty of definitions out there, the way I look at it is as a method of observing the world. The backbone of the method, however, is the process by which we essentially make an assumption about something we’ve observed and then do our best to disprove our assumption. If we can’t, it’s probably true, at least until new information comes along that breaks the assumption. In a way, the entire scientific community is continually making logical leaps and then trying to prove themselves wrong. If you bothered to read the title of this blog, you can imagine why this appeals to me. It’s what I mean when I say “science is the way I think.”

Now for some background on me. I was raised in a partially religious household. My mother is strongly Roman Catholic and my dad is a little Methodist and a lot skeptic. Most of my religious knowledge, however, definitely came from my mother and her family.

I bring up religion because one of the most common questions I receive when talk about science is “do you believe in absolutes?” This is a fun question for the religious because they think it’s a trap. Have you heard this “logical” argument before?

Q: Do you believe in absolute truth?
A: No.
Q: Well, if you believe there is no absolute truth, isn’t that statement in itself an absolute truth?
A: Uhh…
Q: So if the statement “there is no absolute truth” is itself an absolute truth, then logically there must be an absolute truth, right?

Then they proudly show that they’ve “proved” the existence of absolute truth. Which obviously must be God. I’ve still never figured out how those two things are linked, but hey, there it is. In fact, this conversation reminds me heavily of another logic trap:

Q: Are you in Chine?
A: No.
Q: Are you in Germany?
A: No.
Q: Then you must be someplace else, right?
A: Um, obviously…
Q: Well, if you’re someplace else, you must not be here!
A: Are you on drugs?

It’s a fun trap if you’re talking to a five-year-old, not so great if you’re talking to adults. But hey, I’m not the one making the argument.

Anyway, I will finally answer the trap. If you’ve ever asked me (or anyone else) if they believe in absolute truth, and they’ve answer “no” and you think they’re poor, uneducated fools, here’s my response. Do I believe in absolute truth? Yes.

Here is what I believe is absolutely true, and note that this is a complex idea compressed into a single sentence: Matter and energy exist. Everything else is up for debate. I’m reasonably sure that reality is not a figment of my imagination and, if it were, it’s an unfalsifiable idea, so like just about every other unfalsifiable idea, I generally regard it as a moot point. In fact, the fact that God’s nonexistance is unfalsifiable is the only reason I’m not an atheist, although if someone considered me an atheist I would not be offended. I prefer agnostic, however logically speaking I find atheism the most likely reality. God exists in the same way morals exist; an important cultural belief, but not a physical, separate entity.

Unlike many atheists and agnostics, however, I do believe God matters. Anything that people believe in that influences their behavior matters. After all, gamblers believe it’s only a matter of time before they hit the jackpot. I may think they’re idiots throwing away money, but to say their belief isn’t important is completely wrong. Especially if you happen to own a casino. Therefore I believe that God matters, as much of human behavior worldwide is influenced by that belief. Also, I happen to like much of the message religion preaches (even if it often doesn’t practice it), such as not killing me or stealing my stuff.

I bring this up in its own post to give context to much of my political, social, moral, and scientific beliefs. I personally do not find anything, no idea, belief, individual, or deity, above reproach, criticism, or analysis. To me, “nothing is sacred” is a literal statement of fact. I pursue knowledge, and none of the truths that I currently believe are ones that can never change given a convincing argument against. But be prepared that there are few things I believe in that I haven’t researched (at least superficially), and the only things that will convince me to change my mind are facts and logic. If someone tells me “torture is bad” because it’s ineffective, self-serving, counter-productive, and ethically wrong, I’m likely to adjust my opinion. If someone tells me that torture is bad because it’s mean and God said so, and I’m a mean, evil person if I don’t think the same way, that’s cute, but don’t be surprised when I find it less than convincing.

One last thing about science. To me, science is a combination of observation and philosophy (laws and theories, respectively). I refuse to treat science as a religion for the same reasons I refuse to accept religions. Beware the “scientific fact” as science is a work-in-progress. Any time you read that scientists believe “X is true” or “Y has been proved” that headline and article were probably written by someone who understands less than half of what the research indicated. Science can tell you what the most likely truth is, but other than the absolute truth I mentioned above, nothing is settled. Likewise, keep in mind that science is done by people. People make mistakes, people miscommunicate, people have their own agendas. You should always keep an open mind when it comes to science.

I will probably intersperse much of my blog entries with more details on this topic but I wanted to address it up front.

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4 thoughts on “Absolutely, Positively, 100%…Uncertain

    • In context, that question doesn’t make sense. Are you referring to the law of gravity? General relativity? My perception of gravity? Are you asking if I believe gravity exists or are you asking for my interpretation of what gravity is or what causes it?

      Our understanding of gravity is incomplete. So is it a fact? The phenomenon exists, yes. But as far as what it is or what causes it, I don’t know. General relativity is the closest have come to understanding gravity, but it is still far from a complete theory (one much of quantum mechanics is about trying to explain). Newton’s law is a decent approximation given human scale and simple systems, but breaks down rather quickly when faced with any sort of complexity.

      In other words, yes, I believe the phenomenon of gravity exists, as it is a property of matter and energy (and therefore falls in line with the truth I believe in). And no, I do not believe our current understanding of gravity accurately describes or quantifies that phenomenon (and I doubt many physicists would disagree, otherwise they’re doing a lot of math for nothing).

      Bottom line? No, I do not believe gravity is a scientific fact, because that implies that humans understand it, which we don’t. I only believe it exists, which is not the same thing. I hope that answers your question!

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