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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Some Thoughts about Science

The earliest scientists did their Science disinterestedly. They simply wanted the joy of “thinking God’s thoughts after Him”. Kepler did not apply his mighty intellect to planetary orbits because he had it in mind to send a probe to Mars. As it happens, boffins today do send probes into the Solar System – and they couldn’t do so without knowing what Kepler discovered. Kepler and Newton were deeply religious; they were after God’s Truth.

Miraculously, scientific discoveries have led to technological advances, to a degree we had no right to expect. Science and Technology have conferred myriad benefits on our race, for which we ought to be grateful – and I am!

Some of today’s scientists pursue knowledge equally disinterestedly. Quantum Mechanics was not a technological project; but much of today’s technology depends on QM. However, much of what goes on under the heading of scientific research is very far from disinterested. In Medicine, for example, the goal of finding cures is pretty well the exclusive motivation for research. Excellent. Knowledge and the alleviation of suffering go hand in hand. Geneticists are motivated to improve crop yields. Volcanologists study volcanoes with a view to predicting them more accurately and to saving lives. Excellent.

But this is a fallen world and scientists are as fallen as the rest of us. Laden with honours, a scientist who has made a ‘break-through’ will be tempted to resist any ideas which undermine his work. Climatologists at East Anglia were unscrupulous when they vowed to impede the publication of work which went counter to their theories. Huge government grants (and prestige) were at stake. These guys are not disinterested. Perhaps they truly believe that they are saving the planet. They know, for sure, that if their models are shown to be bogus, the funds will dry up.

Science in the twentieth century became unprecedentedly politicised. I don’t think this was a good thing. It has been a very bad thing.

This morning I woke up to hear that a cherished belief of nutritionists and others in the medical sciences has been holed below the water-line. Animal fats, apparently, do not make you fat, nor do they give you heart attacks. A meta-study (ie a study of studies) seriously undermines this school of thought. A couple of generations of academics face the melt-down of their reputations. Needless to say, some are going to fight back.

Perhaps the greatest non-biblical parable of all time is HC Anderson’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. Everybody subscribed to the view that the emperor was sumptuously arrayed except one little boy who, not knowing what he was supposed to believe, chose to believe the evidence of his own eyes – “as naked as the day that he was born”.

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