Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Think About It

      On January 16 I listed alternate definitions of the word “theory”:
1.) A coherent group of general propositions used as principles of explanation for a class of phenomena.
2.) A proposed explanation whose status is still conjectural, in contrast to well-established propositions that are regarded as reporting matters of fact.

      At that time I suggested that Joe Sixpack distrusts scientists because certain interests have inundated him with the second definition, and downplayed the first. Actually, with a caveat, both definitions apply to the scientific mindset.
     Every scientific “theory,” e.g., theory of gravity, theory of relativity, etc., is understood to be conditionally covered under the first definition. The caveat is that thousands of scientists all over the world are diligently trying to disprove any such theory. In the event that an example can be found that is contrary to the theory, the theory must be either adjusted or replaced.
      That is why “science says” different things at different times; new information is continually coming to light. That is also the beauty and strength of science – its main activity is trying to disprove, and thereby improve, itself. Scientists ask questions that may never be answered – [some] religions give answers that may never be questioned.
      Science is a monolith, i.e., the whole structure is built upon a strong foundation. No one can deny that the theory of nuclear physics works. Even ignoring the nuclear bomb, it is proved daily by countless PET, CT and other scans, radiation treatments and other medical advances. Nuclear clocks control cell phone towers, electric power grids and global positioning systems.
     The mathematics involved is accurate enough to locate a coin on the road from New York to Los Angeles. Nuclear physics is a solid base, even though, as with any other scientific theory, it is subject to adjustment or replacement in the event that new discoveries come to light.
      One of the underpinnings of nuclear physics is that of radioactive decay. It is basic to the entire structure of physics, and has been observed and studied millions of times. It has also been verified by such activities as counting tree rings, historical records, examining ice cores, etc.
      But it is controversial insofar as it indicates that the earth is about 4.5 billion years old rather than the 6,000 years as reckoned by the Bible. As a result, some Christians consider that radioactive dating is unreliable beyond the age of written history.
      But consider this: If radioactive dating is not true, the entire structure of atomic physics is wrong. Radio, television, even electricity itself – all disappear. Chemistry, which brought us metallurgy, plastics, modern medicine – all gone. The entire subject of biology goes next. With biology goes psychology. Life as we know it no longer exists.
      I could go on, but you get the picture. In rejecting scientists, Joe Sixpack rejects the world. Little did he know.

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