Why I am not a scientist

Well, simply, it’s because I don’t have the patience, attention to detail or academic skills – or even the desire – to study it in any formal way. Biology was one of my favourite subjects at school and my understanding of it was helped by my father, himself a senior biology teacher (at a different high school), both through his direct assistance and indirectly through his large collection of scientific books, most of them dealing with natural history in some way. However, for many reasons I was not a good student (let’s face facts, I sucked) and my marks in no way reflected my true understanding of the material.

But you don’t have to be a scientist in order to know that science works. The results are all around you, from the breathtaking photos and information given us by the Hubble telescope (and the insane mathematics & engineering that designed, built and launched the thing) to the technology I’m using to write and publish this post; the tram & train that will take me home tonight; the medical technology that’s more than once quite literally saved my life and the lives of some of my friends and family (more than likely yours too) to the mobile phone that’s next to me with Puzzle Bobble installed on it that’s ringing and being ignored. You don’t have to have faith that it works because it’s right there in front of you, working the way it’s designed to, proving itself time and time again, billions of times a day, every day of our lives.

Some people accuse others of worshipping science as a replacement for God; some, oxymoronically, call it a “secular religion” or an “atheist religion”. Science is not a religion, a belief system or even a philosophy. Science is a tool. It is a method of gaining understanding of something you’re looking at which you can’t as yet understand. You can then test & confirm your new knowledge and explain it to others, not only showing what you know, but – more importantly – how you know it. This exposes your methods to testing & critical evaluation by others: if your methods are flawed, it may be that your data may be equally flawed. This is science. Not blind faith or unfounded, ingrained, habitual belief but verifiable fact, testable truth, and real knowledge of our universe.

Science is a tool as much as a pen or a chisel is a tool. With a pen you can write Don Giovanni or Mein Kampf; with a chisel you can carve marble into David or stab someone in the head. With science you can inform the world as to the origin of species, the age of the universe, treat cancer or you can design an atomic bomb or nerve gas or napalm. Form & function do not & can not dictate the intent or morality of the user. So it goes with religion: it can be a force for good, inspiring people to great charity, love and self-sacrifice; it can also be the bane of man, inspiring oppression of sexual, political or artistic natures, sectarianism and associated violence & murder, blind faith in superstition and suspicion of scientific knowledge, distrust of any who ask difficult questions and double standards & hypocrisy when it comes to free speech and public discourse.

Some religious people even cry and protest when a new scientific discovery is made, rather than celebrate a new brick in the temple of combined human knowledge. Creationists, for example, demand transitional fossils to show speciation, however when they’re discovered (Tiktaalik being a great example) they insist that it’s not transitional enough or in some way doesn’t meet their stringent criteria (which in fact seem to change according to the nature of whatever discovery they’re protesting, curiously and coincidentally in such a way as to always, without fail, render the new discovery illegitimate in their eyes).

It used to be that creationists would limit their protestations to the earthly sciences too; particularly anything to do with the age of the earth and divergence of lifeforms, including but not limited to biology, geology, archaeology and palaeontology. In recent months though, I’ve noticed a lot of religious commenters on scientific blogs & websites attempting to disprove or debunk the physics of astronomy and cosmology itself by using scripture or, more often, simply cherry-picking whatever science seems to agree with their biblical worldview and ignoring the rest of the body of knowledge. A prime example is the comment thread at this old post from The Angry Astronomer, which got itself hijacked by an obvious creationist (named, as usual, “Anonymous”) whose ham-fisted, ignorant attempts to disprove Angry’s science using – hmmmm – well, science is really quite laughable. I hooked into Anon. myself quite a bit – can’t resist sometimes – and some of the smackdowns he received from Angry and other astronomers (including The Bad One himself, Phil Plait) are pure awesomnity. Anon’s stone-age ignorance of the topic is on display for all to see in high definition and this breathtaking ignorance of the topic he assumes he’s an expert in is only eclipsed by his steady, unceasing ignorance of his own damnable ignorance!

Creationists using science to debunk science. Will wonders never cease?

It’s just so damn troubling, counter-intuitive and arse-backwards. Science and the scientific method are self-regulating tools for discovery & explanation; for verifiable (and falsifiable) results; for reliable methodology and for logical, rational, reasonable and impartial knowledge of the processes and phenomena of the world and its surrounding universe. How is it possible that in the 21st century there are still biblical literalists shouting down every new discovery as lies or heresy? How can anyone take their claims of scientific conspiracies to kill religion or suppress religion-supporting facts seriously? How can these people keep a straight face as they attempt to use science (well, the bits of it they think gel with their interpretation of ancient fables, anyway – much as they sift through their bibles for grains of wisdom) to debunk science?

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