Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Understanding Scientific Mistakes

When Franciscan friar Roger Bacon began his development of the scientific method some 800 years ago, he was not trying to create a new way of investigating the world.  A devout Catholic, he was hoping to discern God’s design through research.

The same reason motivated scientists and scholars who were gathered in the two Houses of Knowledge created separately in the Muslim world.

Their efforts helped unleash a cornucopia of information that has been enhanced by each generation of scientists who have followed.  At the same time, they undermined the very reason that prompted their studies.

MRI scans
Scientists today have pierced through the inner realms of the body.  Such formulas as DNA have surrendered their secrets as have the origins of many diseases.  Our modern understanding of medicine and treatment has erased thoughts of Furies and divine punishments.  Our diseases don’t come from some heavenly mandate, but are often the result of microorganisms inexplicable to Bacon and his successors for centuries.

Prayer may soothe worries, but is not an antidote to any disease.

At the same time, scientists have developed tools to explore space, to understand how the universe developed, where planets come from.  Nicolai Copernicus moved the Earth from the center of the universe; modern astronomers now know we are on small, rocky planet on the outer arm of a medium-sized galaxy, one of innumerable planets and almost as many stars.

Rover on Mars
In doing so, however, they have shown that no God is necessary.  Planet and star formation continue and have been observed.  The steady hum of the Big Bang still informs sensitive listening equipment.  Our satellites have filmed the other planets in our solar system, landed on some of them, dove through their poisonous clouds and explained their presence.

On this planet, scientists are cloning animals, understanding the process of animation and nearing the time when life itself with be no mystery.  God will soon be erased from that realm, too.

In addition, scholars in archaeology, paleontology and anthropology have demonstrated conclusively the natural processes that led to man, how the Earth breathes, how the land moves so slowly that the results must be seen across millions of years.  The evidence in the chemicals and in the geological processes have created paradigms, while effacing any need for some divine figure

Faithful folks looking on, refusing to acknowledge their beliefs are fatally wounded, see disagreements among researchers and assume that means the findings are wrong.  They don’t realize that’s how science works and has since Bacon initiated his experiments.

Some scientist proposes an idea, a hypothesis, based on current findings.  Others search for contrary evidence.  If they can’t find it, the concept moves to a theory.  If not, the idea is discarded, one of many proposals that have vanished or lingered on the borders of science. 

Sometimes, the evidence shows up much later, when technology reaches the necessary level.  That’s what happened with plate tectonics, a theory ridiculed at first and then proven accurate.

All theories are continually tested with new proposals constantly raised.  That’s how science advances, with each idea pulled and debated until it is honed into something demonstrable provable.  The process never ends.  As a result, even something as accepted as The Big Bang or evolution remains under study as scientists prod and probe.

Today, for example, we know Charles Darwin was wrong -- not about evolution or natural selection, but about the process. He thought it necessarily took eons of time and that all creatures were endlessly fighting for the survival of the fittest.  Today, we know that some changes can be abrupt as a result of environmental impact or mutations.  We also know that some living creatures work in harmony rather than competition.

To believers, the understanding of Darwin’s errors constitutes a sign that his theory was wrong.  Actually, it’s evidence that science is alive and well.

None of this relates to God.  There’s no proof of the existence or nonexistence of God. There can’t be.  As a result, the concept cannot be tested.  No scholar has ever submitted a single paper to a reputable scientific journal that uses evidence to "prove" such theories as creationism.  Besides, centuries of research have repeatedly demonstrated that natural reasons exist behind everything.  Injecting a god would simply contradict clear evidence uncovered by extensive human effort.

Bacon would have been stunned by the ironic results.  The Church definitely was and soon banned scientific studies while attacking scholars.  Caliphs did the same thing as evidence piled up, contradicting religious teachings.

It was too late.

The research continues.  God has no part to play in that either.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture.  He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University.   He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  A recent book, Passover in Prison, which details abuse of Jewish inmates in American prisons.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment