I am not so much interested in scientific facts as the scientific way of thinking. I try to approach problems with an attitude of scientific inquiry. I believe that when new data come in, one should revise one's opinions accordingly. The results of scientific research do not require our uncritical acceptance. We can and should look at methods employed, sample sizes, margin of error, etc when evaluating new research. Nothing should be accepted uncritically. The concept of fallibility is an essential component of the scientific method. There are no absolute certainties. Some things are however more nearly certain than others. Science gives us approximations of the truth and depending on the instruments, methods, reasoning employed, these approximations will be more or less exact. A scientist must recognize that while our senses are usually trustworthy they are not infallible - testing and analytical reasoning must supplement observation.

There is more than one way to test whether what one sees is what it appears. Human intuition, while extraordinarily useful in the contexts within which it evolved, has its limits and should be checked against slow, deliberate, analytical thinking. And while there may be more than one right way to solve a problem, there are many more wrong ways to approach a problem. There is more than one way to swim, but if one doesn't want to drown, there are some ways one shouldn't swim. And, outside of mathematics, though one can never prove a proposition, evidence can lend credibility to a hypothesis.

In science, a well-established hypothesis is called a "theory". Evidence lends credibility to a theory, but a theory can never be proved in the deductive sense. A theory can however be falsified by evidence. In other words, a scientific theory can be disproven. This is an important distinction between science and religion. Scientific propositions must be theoretically falsifiable. There must be some way of testing them. In other words, there must be some criteria by which we could show a theory false if it were untrue.

Take Popper's classic "All Swans are White" example. You can never prove that all swans are white because you cannot search the entire universe and find all possible swans, but if you find one instance of a black swan, you've disproven the proposition that "All Swans are White."

Religious beliefs fail to meet the criterion of falsifiability. In Christianity, for example, there is always the underlying assumption that god exists. And this can never be revised. No matter what data come in, they will be adjusted to accommodate the belief that god exists. This is the definition of confirmation bias. I don't know of a single fact in science that cannot be revised to reflect new evidence.

Scientific claims are open to revision. But this is not to say that what passes for truth today will necessarily be found false tomorrow. We can be fairly confident in the well-established theory that the earth is round or that we are orbiting the sun. The round-earth theory and the heliocentric model will likely never be disproven. Overwhelming evidence suggests that these theories are true. I doubt that humanity will wake up one day to discover that the earth is in fact flat, but scientific theories should on principle always be open to revision. This is because science is a methodology, not a collection of facts or inalterable truths.

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Comment by Wyatt on September 20, 2013 at 3:40pm
We could all be the victims of Descartes' evil genius, the victim's of a mass confidence trick, and all of what we perceive could be an illusion. But there is no particular reason to think so. Bertrand Russell wrote extensively on the subject of our knowledge of the external world and devoted some time to considering the position of universal skepticism:

"We may all have come into existence five minutes ago, provided with ready-made memories, with holes in our socks and hair that needed cutting."

"The hardest of hard data are of two sorts: the particular facts of sense, and the general truths of logic. The more we reflect upon these, the more we realize exactly what they are, and exactly what a doubt concerning them really means, the more luminously certain do they become. Verbal doubt concerning even these is possible, but verbal doubt may occur when what is nominally being doubted is not really in our thoughts, and only words are actually present to our minds. Real doubt, in these two cases, would, I think, be pathological. At any rate, to me they seem quite certain, and I shall assume that you agree with me in this. Without this assumption, we are in danger of falling into that universal scepticism which, as we saw, is as barren as it is irrefutable."

"We assume that perception can cause knowledge, although it may cause error if we are logically careless. Without this fundamental assumption, we should be reduced to complete scepticism as regards the empirical world. No arguments are logically possible either for or against complete scepticism, which must be admitted to be one among possible philosophies. It is, however, too short and simple to be interesting. I shall, therefore, without more ado, develop the opposite hypothesis, according to which beliefs caused by perception are to be accepted unless there are positive grounds for rejecting them."

"When we speak of philosophy as a criticism of knowledge, it is necessary to impose a certain limitation. If we adopt the attitude of the complete sceptic, placing ourselves wholly outside all knowledge, and asking, from this outside position, to be compelled to return within the circle of knowledge, we are demanding what is impossible, and our scepticism can never be refuted. For all refutation must begin with some piece of knowledge which the disputants share; from blank doubt, no argument can begin. Hence the criticism of knowledge which philosophy employs must not be of this destructive kind, if any result is to be achieved. Against this absolute scepticism, no logical argument can be advanced. But it is not difficult to see that scepticism of this kind is unreasonable. Descartes’ ‘methodical doubt,’ with which modern philosophy began, is not of this kind, but is rather the kind of criticism which we are asserting to be the essence of philosophy. His ‘methodical doubt’ consisted in doubting whatever seemed doubtful; in pausing, with each apparent piece of knowledge, to ask himself whether, on reflection, he could feel certain that he really knew it. This is the kind of criticism which constitutes philosophy."
Comment by Dyslexic's DOG on September 18, 2013 at 1:13am

Yes, precisely Wyatt.

I often attack those who are totally inept and lack scientific understanding but are constantly attacking Scientific Theories like Evolution.

I simply point out to them that Scientists have been attacking these theories since their inception, and If those with great scientific knowledge and data behind them fail to defeat such theories, then there is absolutely no hope for a completely unscientific numbskull.

Yet, they somehow still fail to understand this.

Comment by tom sarbeck on September 17, 2013 at 2:57am

After twelve years in Catholic schools I was in college studying electrical engineering. This meant a lot of math and science. I quit Catholicism and finished college with a degree in math and physics. A year or so later I realized that the joy of thinking and reasoning for myself had motivated me.

A few years later, after meeting many computer sales people, I realized that engineering, not science as you describe it above, develops skills in negative thinking. Be wary of it.

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