Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Merely a Matter of Interpretation?

The web page at http://scienceblogs.com/tfk/2009/10/gravity_evolution_and_a_peek_a.php addresses one of the points that creationists often raise. You often hear them say:

"There are two ways to interpret the data. Evolutionists interpret it one way and creationists interpret it another."

The implication is that both interpretations are equally valid.

In fact, that is an incorrect way of how science works. As the web page says:

"In part, it [creationism] rests on a twisted Baconian vision of science that creationists adhere to. In this scheme, science is a process of gathering facts about the world, and letting those observations reveal underlying causes. Facts, in this system, are primary, and theory is secondary – mere interpretation. Creationists, in this vein, often say that they and real scientists use the same observations, but simply interpret them differently because of differing 'worldviews,' and there's supposedly no scientific way to say who is right.

"In science as we practice it 400 years later...

Roger Bacon died in 1294 so it's actually been more like 700 years.

" ...it works the other way around. Bacon's reliance on induction proved impractical and error-laden. This isn't to say Baconian approaches are never useful, but their applicability is limited. A more general approach requires you to start from a theory. That theory (with miscellaneous auxiliary hypotheses thrown in) lets you generate certain predictions about what will happen under specific circumstances. You then either create those circumstances in the lab, or find a natural setting where those conditions apply, and you see whether your prediction bears out. If so, the theory stands. If not, you examine both the auxiliary hypotheses and the theory itself, testing various aspects of those propositions until you find out what was wrong.

"In this system, theory is central, and observations are inherently suspect. A given observation may be wrong for any number of reasons, from measurement error to biased sampling methods to faulty premises about what to measure. A theory explains results, and gives you a sense of what to look for and how to understand what you see. At the end of the day, that's a better reflection of how even Bacon operated."

Someone who says that it is simply a "matter of interpretation" doesn't understand science.

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