Friday 13 March 2020

What is science?


Why do we have a subject called “philosophy of science”? What is it for? Does it for instance help science or scientists? I don’t think it does. Scientists are no more likely to read philosophy books than people from any other profession.

Would scientists benefit from having to study philosophy of science at university? Perhaps they would. I think it is beneficial to study philosophy, but it is just as beneficial to study metaphysics or philosophy of religion as it is to study philosophy of science.

Does the study of philosophy of religion help a person to become more religious? It might, but it might equally show that there is no way of proving that a god or gods exist and indeed that statements about faith are not knowledge statements. The purpose of philosophy of religion is not to make a person religious, but rather to make him think about religion in a clear way and to apply reason to the various issues involved in religion.

So too, the purpose of philosophy of science is not to turn someone into a scientist, but rather to clarify the issues surrounding science and to use reason to discover what if anything science tells us about truth and knowledge.

This may or may not be useful for scientists. That is up to them. If philosophy of science were useful scientists would naturally read about it. But it wouldn’t matter if scientists thought philosophy of science was useless or even harmful for science. This is not its purpose.

Is philosophy of science then something like being a music critic? A music critic neither produces music nor indeed helps composers to compose. A music critic evaluates music and theorises about it.

Why is this useful? The reason we have music critics is that it enables listeners to judge whether it is worth going to a concert or buying a CD.  But in the end what matters about music is whether the public like it or not. It doesn’t much matter if all the critics think a composer is wonderful if everyone else hates the music.

If philosophy of science is about being a critic of science, it would be in a still worse position. Imagine if a philosopher of science said that the theories behind flight were terrible according to philosophy. Would this stop anyone flying? Science is judged by what works. If a new medicine cures people, it is considered to be based on good science. If instead the ill people die, we would condemn the scientist. Would it matter what the philosopher of science said about it?

Then why study philosophy of science? We study philosophy of science for the same reason we study any other branch of philosophy. We want to clarify our thinking about a subject, in this case science. We want to understand what science can tell us about truth and knowledge. We want to know what science can legitimately say and what it cannot say. We do these things because philosophy of science is a subject worth studying in its own right. It is worth studying because it helps us understand science, but more importantly it provides us with a mental training which is useful not merely for science but for every other subject.

I don’t believe that philosophy has ever proved anything that is not trivial. The debate always continues and if truth is the goal, it is never reached. But it is the journey itself that is worthwhile. The purpose of philosophy of science is to learn about science not as scientists learn about science, but as philosophers do. More importantly by learning about science through philosophy we learn about argument, about reason and about truth. This is the purpose of the study.

Part 1

There are a number of ways to study philosophy of science. One of the best ways is to read the works of famous philosophers of sciences such as Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos. Any introductory text on the subject will describe their thought and reading their books will probably tell you more about philosophy of science than I can. But there is no purpose in repeating the words of great men. These people didn’t spend their lives repeating what others had said. If they had they would have remained mediocre thinkers. So, I propose to mention these people only in passing and I will make no references to their books not least because I haven’t read them in many years.

Instead I propose to try to get to the essence of the subject. What is science? In what way can philosophy look at science? I will begin at the beginning and continue until I have nothing more to say.

Modern philosophy begins with scepticism. The first week of an undergraduate philosophy course frequently reduces everyone to the point whereby they accept that they know nothing. This of course takes us back to Socrates. Socrates only knows that he knows nothing. So too Descartes, knows only that he thinks and that he is. The task of philosophy is to rebuild after this initial act of destruction. We are trapped in our own thoughts. We know only these thoughts. We don’t know if the sun will rise tomorrow, nor if there is even an external world with other minds in it. If we can’t even know these things how on earth can we have knowledge about science?

Someone once said that scepticism is like a medieval castle. We cannot storm the keep, but nor can those trapped in the castle sally forth to attack us. It can therefore safely be left in our rear. The sceptic’s argument is very good indeed, but it is not productive. Where do you go with your absolute doubt about almost everything? How do you live your life, believing neither that there is an external world nor other minds?

But how do we get out of the sceptic’s castle? How do we overcome doubt? We do so by means of a leap? Call it a leap of faith if you wish. We make an assumption.

We may not be able to prove philosophically that there is an external world, but we assume that there is one. We may not be able to use logic or reason to demonstrate decisively that other people exist, but we assume that they do. Remaining in the sceptic’s castle is dull, futile and tedious. You will find that you cannot prove that the sun will rise tomorrow. All the truths of science will be beyond your reach because you cannot even begin to make experiments until you make an assumption that the future will be like the past and your eyes don’t deceive you.

This is perhaps the most important lesson for scientists and for scientific truth. It depends on assumptions. We cannot even begin to do science if we remain sceptics about basic facts. Perhaps indeed I am merely a brain in a vat and some mad scientist is feeding my brain with stimuli that make it appear that I inhabit the world that I do. I cannot absolutely refute this, but I cannot begin to do anything if I continue to think that it might be true.

But it is important that scientists and indeed everyone else realises that in order to begin our investigation of truth we have to start with an unjustified assumption. We have to make a leap of faith. Explanations come to an end somewhere as Wittgenstein said and then I am inclined to say: “This is simply what I do.”

Have you ever been questioned by a child about something? To every answer the child may reply “Why?” This can continue for a while, but eventually we will all be stumped. We just say that is how it is. We can give no further reasons. We assume.

The assumptions are hidden, but they are there none the less. They are hidden, because they are so fundamental and so obvious. We assume that scientific experiments are valid because we assume that we can make accurate observations of the world, that our senses are accurate and that most scientists write the truth. We assume that the future will be like the past and that whatever laws of physics have been discovered will continue to apply.

But imagine that the universe is expanding and contracting. At some point let us assume the universe was the size of a tennis ball and then for whatever reason there was a big bang and it started expanding. Well let’s imagine at some point it will contract. It could be today, it could be tomorrow. If it contracted, then the laws of physics that we know at present might suddenly cease to apply. How do I know that this won’t happen tomorrow? After all I can find no reason for why this big bag occurred when it did (if there was indeed a when), rather than a million years later. How can we know when the big contraction might occur?

But to worry about that would make science pointless, so I assume that the universe will not suddenly contract tomorrow. But having pointed out that science depends on assumption it is worth also making scientists realise that they perhaps ought not to be quite so arrogant about the truths they discover. There are scientists who appear to think that they have discovered everything, that they are like Alexander with no more worlds to conquer. But everything they have discovered depended on assumptions and ultimately it all depends on a leap of faith that cannot be proved. Scientists may dismiss this, but they shouldn’t firstly because the dismissal displays merely their ignorance and secondly because they are not alone.

Other forms of knowledge also depend on assumptions and leaps of faith. We assume that our memory of what we did yesterday is reasonably accurate. I cannot prove what I did in private on a particular day last month, but I assume that what I remember reflects reality. Not every truth is repeatable. I cannot repeat the fact that I had sardines for lunch two weeks ago. There is no experiment that can be repeated to demonstrate that truth. So, we allow truths that cannot be repeated by experiment. We assume that memories are accurate without being able to scientifically prove it. There are other truths beyond scientific truths.

Going further back, we assume that people who wrote about the past were not simply lying and that written sources of history give us knowledge about the past. But we cannot repeat the Battle of Hastings like an experiment. We only have what various people wrote about it. Sometimes we may doubt one source about the Battle of Hastings because it contradicts all the other sources, but if we doubted all the sources, we wouldn’t have any history at all. But this depends on an assumption. We assume that people who wrote about past events were not trying to deceive us. We assume that if large numbers of sources describe events in similar ways this gives us evidence. We say that for instance it is beyond a reasonable doubt that the Normans won the Battle of Hastings.

We may not be able to absolutely prove that I eat sardines two weeks ago or that King Harald was killed at the Battle of Hastings. Perhaps he was merely captured and the Normans for political reasons pretended he was killed. But we treat historical events like a trial. We cannot usually absolutely prove anything when someone is on trial. Perhaps all the witnesses were mistaken. Perhaps an unlucky set of circumstantial evidence convicts the wrong man. We know that in law mistakes have been made in the past and will continue to be made in the future. But we allow a standard of proof that is different from formal logic or mathematics. We allow the balance of probabilities. We allow something called proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Absolute scepticism is an unreasonable doubt. That is why the sceptic’s castle is left behind.

The same goes for science. We don’t allow unreasonable doubts to overturn the results of experiments or to overthrow theories that have worked for years. But the lesson from this is that not all truth is scientific, because most events cannot be repeated. We do not live in a laboratory under controlled conditions, but this does not mean that there is no truth outside the laboratory.

There are different standards of truth. There are the truths of mathematics and logic. 2 + 2 = 4.  NOT (p AND NOT p), All bachelors are unmarried etc.  It’s hard even to imagine that these could be false.  It’s perfectly possible to imagine however that I dropped a ball and it went up. Imagine for instance that I’m on a space station. But even the truths of logic depend on assumptions. They assume that there is nothing higher than human logic. They assume that there is no perspective beyond our means of understanding that can view logic differently. This may seem unlikely, but apparently there are more dimensions than three. There are things that science describes that are beyond our imaginations. I cannot imagine 13 dimensions. The words mean nothing. I likewise cannot imagine how 2 + 2 might not equal 4. But who is to say that hundreds of years from now some clever mathematician might explain that in 13 dimensional worlds the laws of arithmetic do not apply? Perhaps they can do so now. Perhaps parallel lines meet in some possible universe even if it involves a contradiction in my logic that they do.  

All truth depends on assumption and we apply a different standard when judging the truths of mathematics, science, personal memory, history and trials. It doesn’t mean that one sort of truth is better or worse than another. There is no point attempting to apply the standards of arithmetic to history. Some of the things that we are most sure about we cannot prove scientifically. How would you go about proving that your big toe itches? Yet you are sure of it. More sure indeed than the fact that Harald got an arrow in his eye in 1066 or that the latest science is correct in every respect. Truths that are assessed in different ways do not rank from most likely to least likely. It does not follow that we believe most firmly in the truths of mathematics, then in the truths of science, then in history then in personal experience. We apply different standards to different truths. But all truth depends on assumption. Theology too depends on an assumption, that is arrived at by a leap of faith. There is a God. This is no worse, nor indeed any different from any other truth.

Part 2

Our standard of living today is almost exclusively down to science. If you compare how people lived in the early nineteenth century with today the difference is extraordinary. Even if I were rich in the days of Jane Austen, I would live in a house heated by wood and coal. The light after dark would be supplied by candles. Travel even within Britain would be long and arduous. To get to Australia would take months of dangerous travel. I would be at risk of dying from numerous diseases that are now easily cured or else eradicated. Many women would die in childbirth and a large proportion of children would die in infancy. The change between then and now we owe to science.

Science can justly say that it has brought about greater progress than any other human activity. Perhaps it is for this reason that there is a modern tendency to worship science and also medicine which is really a branch of science.

But science has a tendency to let its success go to its head. Scientists and doctors have become the modern equivalent of priests, dispensing wisdom and telling us how to live our lives. People go to the doctor as if they go to confession. Doctor, doctor forgive me I surpassed my alcohol unit limit last week. I eat too much chocolate. I smoked a cigarette.

But what has medicine really achieved? People on average live longer. It is much less likely that we will die as babies, or in childbirth or from typhoid, polio or a whole host of semi forgotten killers. But if the goal is simply to prolong life, what has really been achieved?

Most of us who are reasonably content with life want to live as long as possible. We know that we must die someday, but we hope to put it off for as long as we can. But for what?

Does it really matter if someone dies age 80 or 90? Of course, if I were 80, I would prefer to continue living for a while, but when I’m 90 I will still want to keep going. Eventually I will die. Will it matter at that point if I died when I was 90 or 80? Will it indeed matter that I didn’t die in child birth or as an infant?

Medicine focusses on extending life as long as possible. But medical science rarely asks why it should do this. Here is why it is necessary to think about what science is for and indeed what it is not for.

Medicine today takes the view that it should boss everyone around and tell us to drink less alcohol, eat less fat and sugar do exercises every day and never smoke. If we do all these things there is a greater chance that we will live to be 100 and possibly spend the last twenty of those years in a nursing home with dementia.

It isn’t unreasonable to have a goal of lengthening life as much as possible, but length on its own is not enough. A short journey is equally as pointless as a long journey if there is no destination.

Science needs to think more about the purpose of its discoveries. It’s all very well saying that we are only interested in truth as if scientists were merely doing metaphysics. But science has real world consequences.

Again, look at what science has discovered since the days of Jane Austen. It discovered the internal combustion engine and allowed us all to drive cars. It discovered the machine gun and the tank. The aeroplane and the possibility of such planes dropping bombs. It discovered phosgene and mustard gas. It discovered Sarin.

In Jane Austen’s time there was a limit to the damage that even someone like Napoleon could do. Muskets and cannon balls could kill lots of soldiers, but they could not destroy worlds.

Science gave us the means to destroy our world both by means of pollution and by means of nuclear destruction. Science too did much to destroy the faith that nearly everyone had in 1815.

So not only did we give up our sure and certain hope of eternity, we gave it up for mere longevity and a longevity so tenuous that it could be destroyed by any major war or any crazy dictator or terrorist who wanted to release whatever horrors science had discovered.

If we had had no science, or if we had stopped in 1815, we would have had all their disadvantages, but our world would not be pumping out pollution and carbon dioxide, our wars would not involve the deaths of millions. Did twentieth century medicine save more than science killed? How many may be killed by science if our world becomes uninhabitable?  

It is natural that human beings want to discover. There is no way we can just stop. Neither in 1815 nor 2020. But scientists should attempt to evaluate not merely what they can discover, but what they ought to discover.

Too many scientists in various universities around the world are simply doing what is necessary to keep their jobs. They make experiments, they present papers, but to what purpose? Not everything is worth discovering. Does it matter how a star so far away that we could never go there behaves? Will the sum of human happiness around the world be improved by this discovery or lessened?

Science has a record for good and for bad, but despite ethics committees it rarely questions itself fundamentally. Science has no understanding of morality, because morality is not subject to scientific proof. But morality is just as true as science is. It’s just a different sort of truth. Until and unless science takes morality seriously there is the clear and present danger that it discovers still another means of destroying our world. Science may be trying to solve the problems of climate change, but without science there would have been no problem to solve.   

Part 3

Since especially the middle of the nineteenth century science has been put on a pedestal. Here is truth. Here is knowledge. It has taken the place of the Church. There was a brief struggle between those who wanted to follow Darwin and those who didn’t. Darwin won. Since then with few exceptions almost everyone has taken scientific truth to be the highest truth available to us. There is of course a lot of justification for doing so. Doctors who dispense truth as they dispense pills are part of this. Doctors have studied the science of the human body and even the human mind. They know how each of us works. They know our innards and our outards. If we are sad, they can make us happy. If we are fat, they can make us thin. They have the power of life and death over us. This one we will save, this one we will put on the Liverpool pathway to death. I think it is for this reason that the NHS is treated as a sort of religion in Britain. It is the equivalent of the pre-Reformation Church. There may be inefficiency, there may even be corruption, but it would be heresy to even try to reform our wonderful, perfect, world beating NHS/Church.

But although I have always acknowledged the achievements of science and medicine, I have also questioned.  Like everyone else I have relied on scientific knowledge each time I fly, or each time I have been treated by a doctor. But I remember studying psychology for a couple of years and the assumptions were wholly deterministic. Medicine and especially the medicine that deals with the mind and the brain is almost wholly mechanistic. Certain chemical reactions are going on in your brain and these cause you to feel this way or that way. The more I looked into science the more I realised that the whole model was that the universe and everything in it was just one enormously complicated machine that was either determined or was random. There may at times be chaos. The causes may be so complex that we could not possibly discover them, but in the end, science believes that everything has a cause and that each of us is a stimulus response machine.

It is here that I began to question science. I did not question the results. I have no problem believing that modern medicine is highly successful at treating people and that physics, chemistry and biology accurately describe the world around us. It’s just that I think they miss something. The basic assumptions of science and medicine do not describe our basic experiences.

When I look at a post box, I see the colour red. But science tells me that the post box itself is not red. The experience of seeing red is merely the conjunction of light rays of a certain frequency interacting with my eye and sending signals to my brain. I am willing to accept the scientific explanation and yet it contradicts my experience. When I look at the post box I don’t in anyway doubt that it really is red. I might as well doubt that "I think therefore I am" than doubt that the post box itself is red.

Without this basic experience of seeing the world and believing that it really is as I experience it, I could not even begin to do scientific experiments. Is that ph paper red or blue, I don’t know it hasn’t any colour in itself, the colour is only in my brain. How far would chemistry reach if we proceeded in this way?

My fundamental experience of the world is not as science describes it. I see no atoms. I don’t think of chairs and tables as collections of protons, neutrons and electrons buzzing around each other and containing mainly empty space. I think of them as solid.

I don’t even think of a pet dog as a stimulus response machine. I think almost all animals can at least to an extent choose and that they can decide to go left or go right and that the choice that they make is not determined. It is simply impossible for me to think of myself as determined. I feel free. I feel that when I choose to cross the road, I could choose either way. I could do otherwise than I did.

The problem that science faces is fundamental. Science is epistemological. It is based on experience. Ancient science was frequently based on reason. The world is this way or that way because my reason tells me that it ought to be this way. Modern science broke away from this model in the Middle Ages and began to be grounded in experience. The whole success of science is based on observation. But right at the beginning modern science contradicts experience.

My experience of sadness is not an experience of my brain chemistry being misaligned. When I fall in love, I don’t feel that various hormones are rising or falling, nor that my brain is suddenly filled with serotonin or some other chemical. When I see a beautiful picture, I think that it really has this quality of beauty. When I see another person, I don’t think of him as a collection of atoms which form some enormously complicated kind of robot.

If I did think of other people as science thinks of them, I would be unable to convict them of any crime. Without freedom of choice, it is simply unjust to convict someone of murder. It wasn’t his fault that he shot her. A long chain of complex causes made him do it. Not only that. If a person is merely a collection of atoms, it wouldn’t matter if that person was killed anyway. Why value this collection of atoms more than that one?

Science is based on observation and experience, but there is a contradiction at the heart of scientific teaching. What we learn from science contradicts our basic experiences. But if my experience of freedom, love and beauty are inaccurate, why do I suppose that the experiences I use to measure scientific experiments are accurate?

The solution to this dilemma is neither to reject science, which would mean I couldn’t live in the modern world at all, nor is it to reject the fundamentals of our basic experience, but it is to recognise that science does not capture everything in the world. There are areas of life that go beyond science.

Just as science cannot tell me what I had for lunch last week. Just as science is extremely limited in what it can tell us about historical events. So too science can tell us little about morality, it can tell us little about freedom, love or beauty. It may try to do so, but invariably when it tries it misses the point.

I assume that I am free, that I can love and that I can experience beauty. I assume that chairs are solid and post boxes are really red. I assume these things because they are fundamental to my existence. I cannot assume otherwise. But these assumptions are no less valid than the other assumptions that science makes. I assume that the world is regular and that the future will be like the past. If we didn’t assume this, we couldn’t even begin to make experiments. But nor could we make them if we couldn’t choose to get up, choose to get on this bus rather than that one. In order to work at a university at all a scientist needs to be a moral being who interacts with other human beings with respect rather than as mere collections of atoms. If scientists really thought they were determined and not responsible for their actions, they wouldn’t even be able to get out of bed.

It is simply self-defeating for scientists to deny the truth of our everyday experiences, because without them science could not even begin. To question my ordinary experience, to tell me that it is wrong, or misjudged or untrue is the equivalent of a drilling a hole into the cup from which I am drinking.

Part 4

If we couldn’t learn from the past there would be no science at all. Science depends on the idea that if I do a series of experiments and they all come up with the same result, it is highly likely that they will do so in the future. This isn’t just how science works, it’s how we all behave in our ordinary lives. The problem is that we have to make an assumption that we cannot prove, that the future will be like the past. But because we cannot see into the future, we don’t know that the future will behave as the past did.

This can be illustrated in a number of ways. Every day a farmer arrives to take his cow to milking and to feed it. The cow sees the farmer arrive and says to itself I’m going to fed and milked. But one day the farmer decides that the cow is too old to be milked and sends it to the slaughter house instead. The cow does an experiment every day. When I see the farmer, I get fed. It assumes that the future will be like the past, but instead gets an unfortunate surprise.

In the middle ages there was an example that was used in syllogisms.

All swans are white.
Honker is a swan.
Therefore, honker is white.

It was assumed that by definition swans were white, just as bachelors were unmarried. But the discovery of Australia proved the syllogism wrong, or at least the assumption.

Science depends on the assumption that the past will be like the future, otherwise we couldn’t learn anything, but the most important lesson we learn from the history of science is that science is frequently wrong.

We know that people at various times believed that the Earth was flat and that the sun went around it, but it is not just scientific theories from ancient times that have proved to be mistaken or incomplete. Certain medicines that science thought were safe have turned out to be dangerous. Newtonian physics was superseded by Einstein. Knowledge of the past without which science could not proceed shows us therefore that science has frequently been wrong. The history of science is the history of its falsification. But then if the future is like the past, we should expect future science to prove present science to be mistaken, at least in part. Scientists in the nineteenth century simply could not imagine how Newtonian physics could be in any way less than a perfect description of the universe. They couldn’t predict Einstein, because he was a black swan. But we too cannot predict in what way our present knowledge may be superseded.

The future may in some unpredictable way be different from the past, but even if the future continues to resemble the past it may resemble it in our being mistaken.

From this we should not be overly sceptical about science. It still tells us more about the world and the universe than any other body of knowledge that we have. But we shouldn’t be overly arrogant about science either. Very many able scientists have been mistaken in the past. If the future resembles the past, we can expect very many able scientists to be mistaken now.

Truth is not democratic. It doesn’t matter if the overwhelming majority of scientists think that one particular theory is correct and only a tiny number think a different theory is correct. There have been many examples in the past where a lone voice was correct. Science progresses by theories being falsified. Ordinary scientists of course don’t want to falsify their theories they want to confirm them. They are like the cows waiting to be milked. Every day they confirm their theory. But the herd mentality is sometimes overthrown in a scientific revolution. It needs just one farmer to do that. One rogue scientist slaughters the whole herd and we have a new theory.

Part 5

Because of the success of science and because modern science and medicine has taken the place of religion, it has tended to acquire the absolutism that used to be present in the Church. In the Middle Ages the Church told everyone that it knew the truth about life the universe and everything. There was no room for doubt.

But this is how science and medicine behave now. If someone disagrees with a popular scientific theory, he is liable to be described as a denier. It may be that he is cast out from polite society. He might be not allowed anymore to publish his scientific papers or to appear on television programmes. In short, he is a heretic.

The success of science has gone to its head and this success has deceived many people into thinking that the scientific world view is the only one worth listening to and that if science denies something or fails to explain it then that thing cannot possibly exist.

But let me do an experiment. I get up. I sit down. Each time I want to do this I can. My observation is that I freely choose to do everything. I understand that objects around me are caused to behave as they do. If one snooker ball hits another, it moves. But I don’t feel like this at all when I move. I feel that each time I choose to do something I am an uncaused cause. My will chooses, nothing else causes my will.

Let us do another experiment. Science traces back each cause ultimately to something it calls the Big Bang. But what caused the Big Bang? Did it have a cause? If it did what caused this cause? Explanations come to an end somewhere. So, it looks as if we have another uncaused cause.

But what is an uncaused cause? It is something that happens outside the realm of causation. It is something that happens outside the laws of physics, that control how snooker balls behave. But the laws of physics describe how matter behaves. So, what is something that happens outside the laws that describe matter? It looks awfully like something that is not matter. But what do we traditionally call things that are immaterial? We call them Spirit.

So, we have two uncaused causes. We have the uncaused cause that I experience when I act and we have another that caused the universe to begin? The first I would normally call my Spirit or perhaps my soul, the other I would call the Spirit that caused the Universe to begin. The normal word for this is God.

But how do we describe things that are not governed by the laws of physics. One word that is frequently used for these things is miracles. Now this would mean that the Universe began with a miracle, but also that each of my actions, is also a miracle. Indeed, from our own basic experience everyday we observe miracles continuously.
But given that we observe ourselves as outside the laws of physics and as therefore immaterial, it is reasonable to assume that we are made in the image of the uncaused cause of the universe rather than the image of a snooker ball. So, we are made in the image of God. But how would we describe the uncaused cause of the universe. Well it is outside time. The beginning of the universe was the beginning of time. Another word for something that is outside time is that it is eternal. But if each of us is made in the image of something that is eternal, we too must be eternal.

Science denies all of these things. For science there is no spirit, no eternal, no freedom of the will, no soul, and above all no miracles. But science does not fit in with the basic experience I have every day when I choose to do this or that. Science denies miracles and so it rejects the teachings of the New Testament. Science has caused millions of people to reject them too. From the nineteenth century onwards, science thought it could replace the church and could safely deny everything. But science requires us to deny the most basic observations of all. But without observation there can be no scientific experiments. Science tells me that I am really essentially the same sort of stuff as the snooker ball. Everything I do is determined I am merely a collection of atoms. But this contradicts my basic experience. Why should I believe what contradicts what I feel and what I know to be true more than I know any scientific theory? This is the contradiction at the heart of the scientific method.

Part 6

The major flaw in science is the same flaw in humanity. Science is human, all too human. Scientists want to prove their theories, rather that falsify them. The process by which one theory is accepted and others rejected is in essence the same as the one by which one teenage girl is in the in crowd and another isn’t. It’s a popularity contest. What is popular commonly fits in with what is true, but not necessarily for the reason that it is true.

Science claims to be unbiassed, but this is the same sort of claim that the BBC makes about its lack of bias. Everyone is biased. We all have a world view that is governed by assumptions that we are frequently unaware of. It’s sometimes only when we meet people from very different places that we become aware of these assumptions.

Physics, chemistry and the various hard sciences may seem completely unbiassed, but they are materialistic, deterministic and seek to explain everything without reference to the experience each of us has of love, freedom, beauty and morality. All these things in the end will be reduced to chemical reactions in our brains and atoms hitting other atoms.

But these hard sciences are far less biased than those issues that are controversial or those issues that are at the heart of a political debate.

Take the following issues: climate change, transgender, homosexuality, race and differences between men and women. Does anyone seriously think that the science that investigates these issues is unbiassed?

I can think of no issue in modern times that has been investigated in such a partisan way as climate change. Left-wing people have tended to investigate in one way, while right-wing people have investigated in another. It doesn’t matter who is right or who is wrong. The fact that the investigation has been partisan has massively hindered the search for truth. We have had confirmation bias, we have had propaganda, exaggeration and alarmism. I have lost count of the number of times climate scientists have told us that a wolf will appear in two years, only for the wolf to fail to appear. There no doubt is a wolf and it no doubt will appear, but the alarmism has hindered our preparations to deal with it.

The scientific community at its worst is a chummy club. You peer review my paper and I’ll peer review yours. It excludes those who are outside the herd mentality and rejects those who question the current assumptions. The scientific community chugs along churning out papers that no one reads and waits for the next Einstein to actually discover something radically different. At first it will describe Einstein as a heretic, next it will try to burn him at the stake and finally it will follow him blindly until the next heretic arrives.

It should at least be possible to investigate climate without any political bias. It is after all in principle something that is objective. But with issues like transgender this is simply impossible. How can you objectively prove that a man can become a woman? You might as well try to prove that a bachelor can be unmarried. But anyone who questions that men can become women, will rapidly find their papers unpublished and their name trashed on social media.

Certain politically charged topics are treated today like the Medieval Church treated the sacraments. They are mysteries that are not to be investigated. We have been awakened to the correct view on certain matters and we must bow down before the alter of correctness.

But how can we find out the truth about some of the most important and controversial issues that dominate modern thinking if we are only allowed to hold one viewpoint and we are only allowed to confirm what that viewpoint thinks it already knows? It means that wokeness isn’t really awake, it is fast asleep saying don’t question, don’t touch, don’t make me think.

The conformity in modern life is stifling. It means that ordinary scientists think twice before stepping on the toes of anything that might challenge present orthodoxy. It is similar to how Soviet scientists and historians had to avoid anything that might question what the Party taught and commanded. It means issues are not tested, not investigated, not even thought about.

While political bias is a problem for some science, it is less of a problem with areas that social media is uninterested in. But there is a bias here too.

The greatest bias and indeed perhaps the greatest fault in science is that it thinks it can provide a complete theory. It forgets that it is human. Science is not merely arrogant in thinking it can build a Tower of Babel that reaches to the heaven, it seeks to explain and reduce to nothing those areas that it should not even be touching.

Science cannot explain why we value life. It cannot explain morality. It cannot explain love, nor beauty, nor freedom, nor what is sacred. When it tries to explain these things it simply destroys them. It turns morality into instinct. Love into hormones. Freedom into necessity. The things we all most value in the world science reduces to nothing, to mere illusion. You may feel free, but really its all just atoms hitting each other and chemical reactions in your brain.

But my basic experience is that this is not so. This basic experience is beyond science to explain and it cannot without self-contradiction be reduced, because we use our basic experience to observe and without observation science could not even begin. If you question my most basic observations, you make experimentation impossible. How do you suppose you are to observe the results?

Science explains the world that we observe externally but has little to say about the world that we all observe internally. My consciousness of myself is of a being beyond atoms and chemical reactions. Science may say that this is merely an illusion, but I could equally well say that science deals with mere appearance compared with the reality that I view internally.

With my sense of morality, with my sense of freedom, with my feelings of love I am able to touch something that is beyond human thought. Here is a truth that science cannot explain because it is miraculous.

Science rejects miracles. Water cannot be turned into wine. The dead remain dead and cannot be resurrected. Yet history is full of miracles. The British Army should have been destroyed in 1940. On ninety-nine times out of a hundred given the circumstances it would have been forced to surrender. The war would have been lost. The world would be different. In 1941 the Soviet Army suffered the greatest defeat in history. Under all normal circumstances Moscow should have been captured. Yet somehow it wasn’t. The German Army ought to have pushed the Soviets into the Volga at Stalingrad in 1942, but instead they were annihilated.

Patients who medicine expects to die are sometimes cured. People who have faith that they will get better more frequently do get better than those who think they are done for. When things look hopeless and we cannot imagine how they could possibly get better sometimes they do. Vesna Vulović was a flight attendant on a plane that blew up in mid air but survived the 33,000 feet fall.  Mere chance perhaps.

Science rejects what it cannot understand or else reduces it to something that it is not. Far too many people reject their own humanity when they agree with science.

Part 7

What is truth? There are different truths and different ways of judging whether they are true. Science has as much claim to truth as anything that has ever been discovered by the mind of man. But it is not the only truth.

We cannot prove what happened in history to the extent that we can prove that balls drop when they fall. But neither can we prove many of the other things in life that we take for granted. We cannot in the end prove anything that is not trivial.

All we have is our ability to reason and our ability to observe. The first thing we observe is ourselves and our own perceptions of the world. This is bedrock. But we are each partial observers and we are all full of prejudices. Prejudice allows us to function in the world. We pre judge based on our experience and the experience of those around us. If we didn’t, we would eat red mushrooms, because it is prejudiced to treat them differently. But this tendency also puts bias at the heart of our thinking, and it can mean we judge unfairly.

Science has given us the most wonderful discoveries that have both benefited and sometimes harmed humanity. But the triumph of science has also taken away something that was our birthright. Science selleth its birthright for a mess of pottage.

Our birthright was that we were free, spiritual beings made in the image of God. We experienced miracles at every step and could look forward to the greatest miracle of all with a sure and certain hope. We sold our souls in a Faustian bargain with science in order to become automatons and behold it was very good. We did all of this because we failed to understand that there were different sorts of truth.

Science turned the deepest truth that humanity ever discovered into a fairy story and people laughed and turned away from the nature they observed in themselves every day and thought they were something that they were not.

There are historical truths which every child knows for which there is actually minimal evidence.

Did Hannibal cross the Alps on elephants? Of course, he did. But this truth depends on two sources written by people who almost certainly didn’t witness the event. Not only this, these sources have come down to us in fragmentary form and the earliest manuscripts we have for them are from hundreds of years later.

This is not merely true of what we know about Hannibal. It is also true of what we know about Alexander the Great, the Battle of Thermopylae and Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Almost everything we know about Ancient Britain depends either on archaeology or on a few Roman sources. Yet we doubt none of the things that these sources tell us.

Our knowledge of the past without which we would know almost nothing about ourselves depends on what survived and, on the bias, or lack of it of those who told the story. But no one doubts that Caesar crossed the Rubicon nor that he was assassinated.

There is however one event in ancient history that has more evidence than any other. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There are more documentary sources for this event than for anything else from antiquity. These sources are the statements of eyewitnesses or they were told by eyewitnesses to various chroniclers a few years after the event. Manuscripts exist that are very close to the events that are described, much closer than any other manuscript from ancient times.

From these manuscripts thousands and thousands of historical sources have been made in hundreds of different languages in an unbroken chain from a few years later to the present day each describing the same core historical claim. Not only this, there are numerous non-Christian sources that show that there was a man named Jesus and that he was executed.

The core events of the New Testament are as certain as any other from the antiquity. More certain in fact because the sources are better than any other ancient event and invariably involve eye witness statements. We can trace modern Bible texts right back to ancient manuscripts with no gaps whatsoever. No texts have been discovered that either show eye witnesses to have lied or recanted. No texts or archaeological discoveries have disproved any of the central claims of the New Testament.

Does this mean that we all ought to believe in Christianity? No. It means that we should not simply dismiss what is in one ancient text while believing without question what is in another.

Why is Hannibal crossing the Alps believed without question while Jesus rising on the third day is dismissed as a fairy story. The reason is that modern science decided that miracles could not happen. If there were no miracles in the New Testament, then it would be believed without question, just like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. But if there were no miracles in the New Testament there would be no sources. There are next to no sources about obscure Jewish teachers. There are almost no sources at all about ordinary people in the ancient world. The fact that there are sources for the life of Jesus is because he was supposed to have done something miraculous. It is for this reason that people copied the manuscripts and translated them into numerous languages.

Could the Christian eyewitnesses have been mistaken? Of course, but then so too could the eyewitnesses about any other historical event. Could they have been biased?  Yes. But so too were the Norman chroniclers of the Norman conquest. Could they have made it all up? Yes. But what did those who made up these stories gain from their fantasies? Poverty, persecution and death. Why make up something that gains you nothing desirable, but instead puts you in danger?

There is as good a reason to believe the witnesses of the Resurrection as the witnesses of the crossing of the Rubicon except science has ruled out that miracles happen.

But science has only ruled out miracles because it essentially believes in a clockwork universe. Where every event has a cause and every cause has an effect. Science depends on a material universe, where there is nothing but matter. It depends on this because this is what it can understand and explain. Except it doesn’t explain me.

It is from looking inward that we discover that we are not merely atoms and we find the spiritual. We do not feel like we are the same substance as tables and chairs. We feel different to these things and we act differently. We do not love chairs. We do not think that mere things are unique and special. A table can be replaced, but a person cannot. I can destroy a table without being punished, but if I destroy a person, I’m a murderer.

Each birth of a human being involves a miracle not in the sentimental sense, but in the sense that two human beings are able to create a life. There is no life in the substance they used to create this baby, but the baby is alive. Life is the miracle. Science tries to explain it with biology, but it always misses something. Science misses our freedom, it misses the eternity which is in each of us and it misses the soul.

Science accurately describes the universe in mechanistic terms. But it is not the whole story. Each of us knows this, each time we get up and walk around. It’s so simple, you just have been looking in the wrong place.

But its only when you recognise the miracle that happens in you each day, that you can begin to wonder about the miracles that may have happened two thousand years ago. Because when you realise that miracles do occur, then there is no reason to suppose that they did not occur.