You Want Concrete? Hire a Construction Worker!

Shannon's picture

Shannon McPherson

Evolution Paper 1

February 16, 2007

 

“You Want Concrete? Hire a Construction Worker!”

 

Over the years, science has been given a concrete aura, an unofficial implication for the necessity of a right and wrong answer, a “yes” or “no”. In the past, people have perceived science as being “crystal clear” with no thoughts of troubled waters. Times have obviously changed, as today’s scientists are stressing the opposite claim that science is indeed an ambiguous field. Why has science initially received this “black and white” label in regards to the concept of universal truth? What is the silly reasoning behind the conception that science is absolute? The answers may be shrouded by our human nature, but a true expert does not need a microscope to decipher that science is forever changing and thus will continue to be perpetually obscure.

The foolish, widely-held belief of the goal of science is to seek uniformity (a supposed universal truth to the mysteries of life). We as everyday scientists know this is impossible because truth is but an illusion in the dynamic world of scientific discoveries. People assume that one discovery is perfectly "black and white" (no errors, all bases analyzed) for another big discovery to branch from it. If only science were that systematically simple. The greatest discoveries occur when an individual, not necessarily a world-renound scientist, unintentionally makes a mistake and gets something "less wrong".

“The problem with the idea of science as the search for truth is that successive theories often contain structures utterly unlike each other” (Baker, n.p). There are copious, unexplainable gaps and complexities in the sciences especially regarding the subject of evolution (the fossil record, for example). These gaps suggest that science is basically a set of beliefs (similar to a religion). “It is no more valid than any other set of beliefs [because] there are no absolutes. All systems of beliefs are relative” (Silveira, n.p.), and all have their flaws. The word “truth” in science does not exist – humankind simply strives to make summaries of observations to the best of their knowledge. “Either scientific theories have [observations] to support them or [observations] support the idea that a theory is an inaccurate view of reality…if the [observations] support a theory today, tomorrow, new observations may show the theory needs revision. It happens all the time” (Silveira, n.p.).

A recurring problem in the sciences is that scientists falsely label their observations as facts. For example, Ernst Mayr claims that his book addresses the truth about evolutionism. According to Elizabeth Ver Hoeve, Mayr is a “highly respected, well-known scientist, [and she] has yet to sense one speck of uncertainty concerning any of his evolutionary arguments. Through his unmistakably clear cut-and many times demeaning- tone toward all theories not supported by Darwin and Evolution, Mayr [incessantly] asserts that science is definite. Ambiguity is not tolerated in [his realm of] science” (Week 2 Forum Post). Mayr may believe that he has found evolution’s “universal truth” when in fact he is “failing better” at analyzing his collection of observations. People believe that science is an unambiguous field for a few illogical reasons. Some criticize their middle and high school science teachers who chastised them for “failing” an experiment, which resulted in a lower grade for the lab. Others blame the pressure brought on by society to always be correct. Scientists are expected to be very intelligent individuals, experts in their departments. Society questions a scientist's credibility when he or she does not know the concrete answer... but they are only human. In direct contrast with the humanities, scholars, teachers, writers, and students in the field explore their areas of expertise without as much pressure for perfection.

Additionally, our puzzling human nature can lend to the belief that science is “black and white”. We as a race are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of the dark, abandoned buildings, and alleys at night. Society has an obsession with needing to know every logical explanation for the way the world functions--- what is behind every corner. People become obsessed with gaining knowledge about the unknown, and they foolishly perceive every piece of information as truth due to the lack of observations.

There is no question that science is an indefinite branch of knowledge. Period. In order for science to be concrete, it must be a stagnant realm of uniformity and nothingness regarding scientific advances. Scientists and society will never reach “the truth” in any investigation because life encompasses abundant, observation-altering modifications everyday. The journeys are frustrating, vicious cycles, but they leave curious scientists thirsty for more knowledge about unknown developments. The field is a dynamic game of getting things “less wrong” and succeeding in “failing better”. Science leaves the concreteness to the construction workers.

Works Cited

Baker, Richard. “Science and Truth”. The Culture. 12 February 2007. http://www.theculture.org/rich/sharpblue/archives/000116.html.

 

Silveira, John. “Science and Truth… are they related?” Backwoods Home Magazine: Issue 46. 12 February 2007.http://backwoodshome.com/articles/silveira46.html.

Ver Hoeve, Elizabeth. Week 2 Forum Post. Stories of Evolution, and the Evolution of Stories.

Comments

Paul Grobstein's picture

Being "concrete"

I enjoyed reading your paper, and agree, of course, that science "is a dynamic game of getting things 'less wrong' and 'succeeding in failing better'" (cf. http://jrp.icaap.org/index.php/jrp/article/view/9/18 and http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/pragmatism.html). And agree that, from this perspective, there is a very interesting question about why science is sometimes perceived as "absolute", a source of "universal truth". Your advice to "hire a construction worker" if you want something more "concrete" makes sense to me (but might seem a little abrasive to some).

I'm not sure though that you have provided an explanation of why people might think otherwise that is sufficiently comprehensive. It is not only non-scientists who conceive science as interested in the "absolute" but many scientists as well, and they (as well as science teachers) in turn contribute significantly to societal conceptions and pressures (cf http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/TwoCultures.html and http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/sciconversation.html). If one is going to try and change sociental conceptions, one needs to speak successfully to all of those with a "widely held belief" (cf http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/stanford/).

Along these lines, my suspicion is that referring to such a belief as "foolish", involving "silly reasoning" and "illogical reasons" is likely to antagonize rather than productively engage a significant audience. Perhaps as much as similar passages from Mayr and Dennett do? In fact, it seems to me that you are dangerously close to asserting a "Truth" yourself, as opposed to outlining a story based on observations that others can understand/evaluate/decide how to use themselves (" ... no question that science is an indefinite branch of knowledge. Period"). It is when one is most certain of something oneself that the need for skepticism in conceiving/telling a story for others is greatest (cf http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/sci_cult/belief.html and http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/reflections/pubintell/ibelieve.html).

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