Louis Agassiz

"The sad confession which every true scientific man learns to make is, 'I am ignorant; I want to learn'" - Louis Agassiz

The history of science is one of my primary interests.  What constitutes science, how scientific opinion and data has changed or appeared, and what sort of influence the whole field of science has on culture, as well as vice versa.  Despite all its glory, science is, after all, a very narrow vacuum of understanding when viewed in a historical context.  It can only tell us so much, and when the majority of society places upon it burdens and responsibilities it cannot live up to, distortion is inevitable.

Hmm, perhaps a chiseling of definitions is in order.  After all, science can apply to different things when used in a general context (i.e., historical science).  In the comments on my last article, a debate erupted over whether or not Creation and Evolution are falsifiable and therefore “real science.”  I tried to explain that Creation and Evolution are scientific worldviews whose sub-hypotheses constitute predictions, which are falsifiable, which thus constitute “real science.”  After thinking things through for awhile and looking things up, I realized why there was so much confusion over what is true science.

Empirical science, technically, is true science.  Empirical science is a system of study which deals with observable and repeatable – and therefore testable or experimental – evidence.  I suppose we could call it the “useful science,” because it is from empirical science that we get medical advancements.  Sounds like the sort of material that should be able to solve all the world’s problems, right?  Before you place your faith in it, consider this:

“These evolutionary happenings are unique, unrepeatable, and irreversible. It is as impossible to turn a land vertebrate into a fish as it is to effect the reverse transformation. The applicability of the experimental method to the study of such unique historical processes is severely restricted before all else by the time intervals involved, which far exceed the lifetime of any human experimenter. And yet, it is just such impossibility that is demanded by anti-evolutionists when they ask for ‘proofs’ of evolution which they would magnanimously accept as satisfactory.”

– Theodosius Dobzhansky, geneticist and evolutionary biologist

“Our theory of evolution has become, as Popper described, one which cannot be refuted by any possible observations. Every conceivable observation can be fitted into it. It is thus ‘outside of empirical science‘ but not necessarily false. No one can think of ways in which to test it. Ideas, either without basis or based on a few laboratory experiments carried out in extremely simplified systems, have attained currency far beyond their validity. They have become part of an evolutionary dogma accepted by most of us as part of our training.”

– Paul Ehrlich, evolutionary biologist

Thus, the scientific worldviews of Creation and Evolution are not empirical science.  Microevolution, or change within a genome, is within the realm of empirical science, because we observe it all the time.  Macroevolution, on the other hand, is not within the realm of empirical science.  The evolutionary explanation is often just “it happens so slowly that we can’t observe it.”  Thus, there needs to be convincing historical evidence for it (such as in the realm of paleontology).   The Great Flood recorded in the Bible is, for us, an unobservable, unrepeatable event.  It is comically absurd for someone to mix up a bunch of dirt in a fish tank with some water and presume that the results from that “experiment” verify or invalidate the occurrence of a kataklysmos in the earth’s past.  If it wasn’t technically even a flood, but rather an unfathomable disaster of epic proportions that is never supposed to occur again, then it can only be studied through historical, archaeological and paleontological evidence (and hey, if you’re going to accept Archeopteryx as evidence of macroevolution, then the presence of bivalves on the tops of mountains is certainly evidence of a global flood-like disaster!).  The original Creation of life is, for us, an unobservable, unrepeatable event (which is why it is outside the realm of empirical science).  We do, however, see procreation and human abilities to design and create complex things, and we see that nothing comes from nothing.  Totally spontaneous generation from nonliving matter with no outside influence would be the only solid evidence against the scientific worldview of Creation.

In the long run, then, arguing over whether or not the scientific worldviews of Creation and Evolution are falsifiable is pointless.  Their validity depends upon MUCH more than the realm of empirical science.  So, why does anyone call Evolution indisputable fact?  Why such offense at anyone who questions Evolution?  I get the impression that skeptics gravitate toward science because they have a human desire for security, for belief in something steadfast.  From what I’ve learned, science is too tentative for such gratification.

For  your amusement, here is a scene from a screenplay about the life of a famous scientist (setting: late 19th century):

17 INT. DR. P.H. JAMESON’S HOME

In the large dining room, all a-glow with sophistication,
the dignified DR. JAMESON and charming MRS. JAMESON
introduce PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE.

DR. JAMESON
Allow me to take a moment to give our guest of honor a formal
introduction – Welcome Professor Edward S. Morse.

The guests offer a gentle applause.

MRS. JAMESON
His accomplishments ought to serve as an inspiration to us all –
though few of us have his ambidextrous talent.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
Oh, but that was almost my undoing. I got nothing out of the classroom – albeit myself -because I couldn’t quit carving pictures in the desks.

Laughter.

MRS. JAMESON
Draw us something, why not?

She hands him paper and pen.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
A portrait is what you’re
expecting, I presume?

MRS. JAMESON
You presume awfully quickly,
Professor. Do you wish to prove your hand at portraiture? I don’t mind – you’re the artist.

DR. JAMESON
As well as a scientist. How did
you ever learn to focus on
something as scholarly as
science?

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
(alternating hands while
sketching)
When you are able to keep your mind open to new knowledge constantly there isn’t as much boredom. Science came naturally.

DR. JAMESON
You even made your way into Harvard.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
I was fortunate to become the student assistant of Professor Louis Agassiz at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. Agassiz, he – he was undoubtedly a truly scientific
man, yet I left him over a disagreement. I am not dependent solely on the views of other
eminent scientists. If any of you can understand – surely it would
have been nonsense to my status in the field of science if I remained allied with someone that eventually opposed true science.

There is a brief silence as the listeners ponder what he
just said. Finally MRS. JAMESON speaks up with curiosity.

MRS. JAMESON
I’m no scientist, but I know a thing or two about common logic. Professor Morse, how can a truly
scientific man possibly oppose true science?

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
Well, now the science I referred
to is Evolution. It has been presented by Darwin and endorsed
by a great many in the scientific society.

MRS. JAMESON
(laughs)
“Presented”? “Endorsed”?
“Society”? Forgive me, but you make this “true science” sound like just a trend.

DR. JAMESON
Darling, that statement of yours sounded ruthlessly frivolous.

MRS. JAMESON
I am absolutely intrigued! Explain to me, young Mr. Wiley,
why you are intrigued by science – or what is science, for that
matter?

HARVEY WILEY
Any student of medicine can be presented with “cures” for the various ailments that afflict
mankind, but few answers as to the roots of both health and disease. Science is a tool that
is used to unearth answers to the workings of the natural world, and I am intrigued as to why no one puts more emphasis on objectivity in the field of
medicine. I am hoping that by delving into science I will see
honest answers.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
I am glad to see science so regarded by a student of
medicine, Mr. Wiley. But I would hardly say that “trend” is the
right word, Mrs. Jameson. A scientific theory should gain
more respect than that.

MRS. JAMESON
How much theoretical persistence
may be respected when truth is on the line? Something as
influential as science must demand accuracy.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
As well as not have its advancements hindered. Perhaps
the greatest age in science is yet to come – and surely there
are more discoveries to be made. My job is not to fret over the
currently indeterminable. It is to have my mind open to evidence.

HARVEY WILEY
Advancements – do you think that advancements in science will improve the trials and afflictions of humanity?

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
Why would progress not bring
improvement?

HARVEY WILEY
Would those who ignore such
advancements be considered primitive?

DR. JAMESON
I suppose so.

HARVEY WILEY
When I studied as a medical apprentice, Dr. Hampton and I
encountered many poor country folk. They were distant from
improved society and lived off their homesteads – isolated from
culture, you might say. Yet they were healthier and more resilient
than most of those living in more advanced communities that I have
witnessed. What explanation is there for that?

DR. JAMESON and PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE respond with
pondering stares. MRS. JAMESON responds with sarcasm…

MRS. JAMESON
Shame on you, Harvey Wiley, for daring to question a doctor and a
scientist on something that neither can answer!

DR. JAMESON
Well now, Wiley, all the medicine
in the world will not provide you with all the answers. Maybe a few
cures to problems, but not many answers as to their existence. I
really don’t know what else to tell you. Maybe nutrition and so
forth has something to do with it.

HARVEY WILEY
Nutrition? Then it is evident that medicine has not dealt with
that scientifically. Either that or science is actually
experiencing a decline as it increases in public interest.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
I would presume it to lie with the former.

MRS. JAMESON
You presume everything, Professor.

MRS. JAMESON
(To HARVEY WILEY
sarcastically)
What if you – young Mr. Wiley – and I decided to make a bet against these scientific
individuals? A bet that they are never quite certain as to what is
merely presumable and what is fact.

HARVEY WILEY
(amused)
Now, Mrs. Jameson, you know how dangerous it is to gamble with
the elite. I was under the impression that it is their job to challenge us.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
The ideas are challenging, as every idea presumes something.

DR. JAMESON
I think that they want to see science confirm something to be true or false, Professor Morse.

PROFESSOR EDWARD MORSE
Science is quite tentative.

MRS. JAMESON
Oh, I see. Just as long as I don’t resemble an ape in my portrait.

The room fills with laughter that gradually fades away to
the next scene.

~Amanda~