Science vs. Magic Frog

See here for the Finnish version: Tiede vastaan taikasammakko

Common Water Frog (Rana esculenta)

Image via Wikipedia

There is a kind of argument to prove a point that I’ve seen crop up on the Internet a few times and, I imagine, probably comes up from time to time in general. It goes something like this…

Science is a fallible human activity. Even though it’s commonly greatly trusted, it’s really a matter of trying to make guesses with meager evidence. There are just so many problems in the ways science purports to find out the truth.

Well, I could say at this point in the argument, you certainly have a point. In fact, the history of how modern science was born is a history of errors and, eventually, learning from them. The methods of science now are largely about weeding out errors caused by human limits and subjectivity and trying to find out the real truth, and it is a stated rule that no scientific truth is held as infallible.

As such, science can’t really be trusted as people do.

Well, I’m not quite willing to conclude that, but I can certainly see where you’re coming from. But what do you propose we should do instead?

Therefore, it’s reasonable to believe that my magical pet frog can predict the future, even though science denies this.

…Wait, what?

That’s the essence of this argument. Analyse problems in science with what may approach genuine insight, then reject science, and then conclude it’s okay to believe in something that is a thousand times more problematic, revealing you were only looking to justify that belief in the first place. Talk about a double standard.

A more likely actual example than the magical frog might be the beliefs of a particular religion — that is to say, of a reactionary version of the religion that insists on taking its myths as scientific truth over actual scientific findings. But do you know why science isn’t taking your religious beliefs as plausible? Because they do have strict standards for what counts as evidence, because they do try to get over the kind of problems you were talking about, and they actually have some experience in dealing with them. So you’re now saying (if we’re talking about what is considered a well-established scientific fact) that decades of work by thousands of scientists through a continual process of checking and rechecking and criticising and defending claims and testing and finding data by the best methods known and honing the theories isn’t reliable and objective enough to trust? And what was your evidence again? The way your particular tradition interprets some holy writings from a long time ago? Uh-huh. Or maybe you’re saying your alternative medicine should be counted as as good as conventional medicine. Um, yes, do you know how medicine gets called alternative? It’s because it hasn’t passed the tests to prove it does anything that a placebo doesn’t. Again, less reliable than science, not more.

In short, if you’re going to be a sceptic, science is hardly the first thing that you should reject as a source of knowledge. If you’re rejecting it as too uncertain, I don’t know what other method of obtaining information you could have in mind that doesn’t have all those problems too and then some. You can’t just choose to believe what you feel like believing and only get critical about the views that disagree with it. It goes both ways.

Sama suomeksi.

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