Thursday, July 20, 2006

"And They Keeping Changing Their Story"

Last week in California, I stumbled upon a person in a monkey suit and a street corner preacher in a baseball cap exposing "The Great Lie" of evolution with an illustration that appeared to be lifted from a 70s Jack Chick tract.

The preacher trotted out old, alleged errors made by scientists before levying a final supposedly damning criticism of scientists: "And they keep changing their story!"

This is representative of a misconception popular among fundamentalists. Fundamentalists begin with an unalterable book and then proceed to reconcile experience with it. Science is the opposite. Science begins with experience and then proceeds with the creation of a book.

Unlike the book of the fundamentalist, the book of science is alterable. When there's a conflict between experience and the book of science, the book of science is updated to better reflect what is known.

The discovery of errors and new experiences is not heresy to a scientist; nor is it a sign of repeated failure. For the scientist, it's an opportunity for improvement, and scientists tend to find such discoveries exciting rather than disconcerting.

Coincidentally, while I was in L.A., I visited the Page Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits. One of the exhibits included this plaque noting "Each new fact may require us to completely restructure our previous concepts."

There's nothing wrong with science changing its story. That's how science works, and this is by design. If it's impossible to change the story when the facts say otherwise, it's not science.


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