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If You Could Teach the World Just One Thing
Alex Steffen, 3 May 05

To celebrate the anniversary of E= MC2, Spiked asked a number of scientists what they'd focus on if they could teach the world just one thing. I learned stuff. Dr. Phillip Ball's contribution particularly resonated with me:

I would be delighted if people understood that science is not merely a collection of ideas, from which one is free to pick and choose according to taste.

Of course, some theories prove to be plain wrong - as opposed to being reasonable but incomplete approximations to the truth, which is all that a theory can ever aspire to be. Other theories are speculative, or are just one possibility, among several. But when people choose - as some do - to discard quantum mechanics, or relativity, or Darwinism, or the Big Bang, or the laws of thermodynamics, then they must accept that there are knock-on consequences. These things are not independent of the rest of science, and if you take them away, then you have an awful lot of explaining to do elsewhere - often, in unexpected places.

To take one little example, someone who does not believe in relativity will need to come up with another explanation for why gold is yellow rather than silvery, as well as why we cannot then calculate the correct trajectory of the planet Mercury. These deep theories of science form a more-or-less integrated whole, even if the structure gets fuzzy around the edges. Science, unlike art, is not ultimately a matter of taste.

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However, he will not get his wish as long as humans believe in deities. Humans can explain anything without using science at all, if they've got a deity to provide causality. They often choose to do so when scientific explanations contradict the deity-effected explanations. Ex: Creationism vs Darwinism.

Posted by: Erik Ehlert on 4 May 05



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